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I seem to remember talk or speculation about wanting to try for at least getting one Alfred Hitchcock film in A&F's Top 100. Interesting. I don't particularly care if it works out that way or not. But I just realized Vertigo has been nominated and seconded. Vertigo's a smashingly good yarn. I highly enjoyed it. But I can't say it ever really challenged me or tried to make me think. I can't say Vertigo ever made me ask any big questions about life and death, moral law, or the spiritual realm. But one Alfred Hitchcock film did make me do that, however, and it was Rope.



It's rare that I try to watch a film that I suspect may make me sick. But, against my better judgment, I did that a couple years ago with Michael Haneke's Funny Games. I left the theater sick to my stomach. The entire film was torture. The camera was exploiting fear, cruelty, both psychological and physical torture, and I didn't see the point of it. All that talk about it being so incredibly hard to tell the difference between reality and fiction. Haneke thought all of that good fun. And it reminded me of Rope. In Rope, Brandon and Phillip thought it was all just good fun, just like Peter and Paul did in Funny Games.

The themes and storylines between both films are very similar. Both involve murder(s) committed out of whimsey by college age young men, who are essentially bored, and have decided to amuse themselves with evil. Both sets of young men have developed philosophies to justify their actions. In Rope, Brandon at least has been reading and absorbing the philosophy of Freidrich Nietzsche, all about the will to power and supermen (superior beings). In Funny Games, they're more into postmodern philosophy - focusing on blurring the line between fiction and reality, between what is real and what isn't, between what is right and what is wrong. But, in both cases, the results are the same. You suddenly have human beings who amuse themselves by murdering other human beings.

It's not that I demand a happy ending. It's the covert little smiles, and little amusing tricks Haneke does in his film that I immediately hated. Haneke was proud of breaking the fourth wall, both with his characters, and with his themes of taking pleasure in the distress and despair of others. In Rope, Brandon and Phillip are taking pleasure in the distress and despair of others as well. They invite certain people over for dinner on purpose, both because they want to glory in their own little ironies, and because they want to watch David's friends and family's reactions once they realize that he is missing.

But, unlike Funny Games, Rope has a moral center. At first, it's just good ol' Sir Cedric Hardwicke, all by his lonesome, but Jimmy Stewart's character, Rupert, proves the most interesting. Stewart is the provokative college professor, who has almost unwittingly goaded Brandon and Phillip into committing the crime they committed. In every conversation he gets in, he's always asking questions. It's unclear whether he's just joking or searching for truths, but whoever talks to him has to pause and start thinking about what they say. Rupert obviously plays with ideas like those of Nietzsche, but as the oppressive 80 minutes continues, you start to notice that, while joking about right and wrong, he does believe in it. But while trying to explain a "higher" right and wrong, Brandon does not believe in it. As the story comes to an end, you see two completely opposing philosophies heading for collision. Once they understand each other, each side will not be able to abide the other.

Anyhow ... it may be one of his slower ones, but in my opinion, Rope is Hitchcock's most thoughtful and provoking film. And it's appropriate that Hitchcock's most thoughtful film is a philosophical examination of the underpinnings for and against murder.
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I've got a bit of affection for this movie. The gimmick of trying to give the illusion of a single take only lasts a couple of reels, but it does a nice job of giving the whole thing a sense of claustrophobia. Stewart is good, though I find his performance a little weak (more on that in a bit), and Farley Granger is far more compelling in Strangers on a Train (which mines similar themes to greater effect, imho), but the cast carries the movie very well. After all this time (and endless iterations of the "superman murderer" theme) the film's philosophy seems a trifle well-worn, but I have no doubt that that's my own jaded perspective talking (though if you compare the film to the original stageplay, I think you'll find that Laurents is nowhere near as bold in his handling of Rupert as Patrick Hamilton was).

Jimmy Stewart's character, Rupert, proves the most interesting. Stewart is the provokative college professor, who has almost unwittingly goaded Brandon and Phillip into committing the crime they committed. In every conversation he gets in, he's always asking questions. It's unclear whether he's just joking or searching for truths, but whoever talks to him has to pause and start thinking about what they say. Rupert obviously plays with ideas like those of Nietzsche, but as the oppressive 80 minutes continues, you start to notice that, while joking about right and wrong, he does believe in it.

I'm not so sure he believes in it so much as takes it for granted. Stewart's character (though not so much as in the original stage-play) is a bit of a bore. He talks high philosophy and all that, but in the end he doesn't believe it because he can't be bothered to believe anything. It's only as he begins to see how the younger men have taken his talk that he shows any sort of moral sense, but it's less a matter (as I see it) of believing in anything than one of being gut-level horrified. Having Stewart in the role (as Arthur Laurents grumps in his special on the DVD) changes the dynamic a bit, since Stewart has a very particular sort of screen presence that is very difficult to subvert (although, of course, Hitchcock does subvert it in Vertigo).

To be honest, I can't help but think that Stewart's high moral fervor in the last scene rings just a tad hollow, and that the tension between Stewart-as-Stewart and the role as written undermines the whole thing just a little; in other words, with Stewart the movie comes to an end with two opposing worldviews clashing, but as written it's more the story of a man being confronted with the fact that he's seeing his own hubris brought to life before his eyes.

Edited by NBooth
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We discussed Rope a few years ago in the Favourite Hitchcocks thread. Most of the discussion started here after I watched the film and discussed the places where the film moves from one shot to another. Usually this is blended but there are several deliberate cuts.

One of the things that is interesting about this film in Hitch's oeuvre as a whole is that it marked the end of his experimentation with long takes which swung him to the opposite end of the spectrum with a heavy emphasis on editing and the way it manipulates the viewer (which he called pure cinema). Of course, by implication this marks out Rope as Hitch's most impure cinema, or I suppose his most 'real' which is interesting in the comments you've made above.

Matt

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I can't say Vertigo ever made me ask any big questions about life and death, moral law, or the spiritual realm.

Really? I've always thought VERTIGO to be Hitch's strongest and richest film; it's the best film ever made about idolatry of image. If any Hitch film deserves to make it on to the A&F T100, it's that one.

As for ROPE, it has some nice ideas--it's a bit like Hitch's take on CRIME AND PUNISHMENT--but I think it flounders in execution. The "one take" idea is interesting, but it's really little more than a gimmick (Hitch would later admit as much), and the cast is seriously uneven. Jimmy Stewart, as always, is charismatic, if less than a terrific fit for his character, but our central figures--the schemers--are kind of, well, lousy and unconvincing.

One of the things that is interesting about this film in Hitch's oeuvre as a whole is that it marked the end of his experimentation with long takes which swung him to the opposite end of the spectrum with a heavy emphasis on editing and the way it manipulates the viewer (which he called pure cinema). Of course, by implication this marks out Rope as Hitch's most impure cinema, or I suppose his most 'real' which is interesting in the comments you've made above.

Well, Hitch would later attempt KALEIDOSCOPE, a film shot entirely from the POV of the killer (test footage from the film exists). He abandoned it for FRENZY, I believe.

Edited by Ryan H.
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As for ROPE, it has some nice ideas--it's a bit like Hitch's take on CRIME AND PUNISHMENT--but I think it flounders in execution.

You know, it occurs to me that part of the problem might be a lack of clarity on the production end as to what the movie was actually about. Watching Arthur Laurents, it seems like he had the idea that his original screenplay was some sort of subversive gay thriller, and that the studio neutered his concept by insisting that the movie not be too gay and by casting Jimmy Stewart rather than, for instance, James Mason (who honestly would have been a better choice).

Now, I think Laurents crashes on a little too much about how brilliant and subversive etc etc etc his screenplay was, but I think the fact that the screenwriter seems to have little or no interest in the ideas found in Hamilton's play could be part of the reason the execution of those ideas seems so muddled.

EDIT: Having taken the opportunity to revisit the film, I'm more convinced of this last point than ever. The Nietzsche stuff is pretty lightly sketched and just sits on the surface of the movie; it's evident that the script is more interested in other things. Indeed, the movie is most alive when Nietzsche and Stewart are both offscreen. Stewart is badly miscast here, I'm afraid; he says things that sound dissolute and worldly, but he says them in that folksy drawl of his. All of that to the side, there's a pleasant creepiness to most of the film that I find it difficult to hate (I'm thinking of the famous shot of Brandon dropping the rope in the drawer, or the meticulous scene-setting for the party).

Edited by NBooth
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The themes and storylines between both films are very similar. Both involve murder(s) committed out of whimsey by college age young men, who are essentially bored, and have decided to amuse themselves with evil. Both sets of young men have developed philosophies to justify their actions.

I will never criticize anyone for being repulsed by or hating FUNNY GAMES (it is an intentionally dislikable film). But this gets the character of the two killers exactly backwards and also misses what FUNNY GAMES is really about -- not murder itself, but spectatorship; not the world, but movies.

The killers in ROPE do rationalize their actions, do feel they need a philosophy to provide reason for it. That does not describe the two killers in FUNNY GAMES, who have no motive, no philosophy. They explicitly mock ("I came from a broken home," Frisch says) the idea they should have one or that they need one.

In Funny Games, they're more into postmodern philosophy - focusing on blurring the line between fiction and reality, between what is real and what isn't, between what is right and what is wrong.

I really don't even know what this could mean. The killers never blur any of those lines, unless you're referring to the fourth-wall breaking. But that's done by the film-maker not by the characters, indeed that's the part of the whole point of the film and its attack on violent spectatorship -- everything in a movie is gratuitous, could be or not be as the director wishes.

As the story comes to an end, you see two completely opposing philosophies heading for collision. Once they understand each other, each side will not be able to abide the other ... And it's appropriate that Hitchcock's most thoughtful film is a philosophical examination of the underpinnings for and against murder.

The last scene almost kills the movie. It's the kind of Noble Speech that always leaves me rolling my eyes. I mean ... really, if there's anyone in 1948 or 2010 who needed to hear a Speech about the case against murder, he shouldn't be watching a movie (and probably wouldn't have "got it" if he had).

Yeah ... well ... I'm gonna have to go ahead and disagree with you there on that one.

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I've always thought VERTIGO to be Hitch's strongest and richest film; it's the best film ever made about idolatry of image. If any Hitch film deserves to make it on to the A&F T100, it's that one.

I'll have to watch it again soon.

I will never criticize anyone for being repulsed by or hating FUNNY GAMES (it is an intentionally dislikable film). But this gets the character of the two killers exactly backwards and also misses what FUNNY GAMES is really about -- not murder itself, but spectatorship; not the world, but movies. The killers in ROPE do rationalize their actions, do feel they need a philosophy to provide reason for it. That does not describe the two killers in FUNNY GAMES, who have no motive, no philosophy. They explicitly mock ("I came from a broken home," Frisch says) the idea they should have one or that they need one.

Yes, I remember all the talk about how Funny Games was a social commentary on spectatorship. But, the problem there is that you have to subject yourself to it - and participate with Haneke's little game - in order to watch his film. He asks us to watch a film that is supposed to be implicitly criticizing the fact that I'm watching his film? Forget it. I learned nothing from doing so. I've read some of Haneke's interviews and I simply disagree with his philosophy. The two killers in Funny Games rationalize what they're doing in a different way than the two in Rope do -

The killers never blur any of those lines, unless you're referring to the fourth-wall breaking. But that's done by the film-maker not by the characters, indeed that's the part of the whole point of the film and its attack on violent spectatorship -- everything in a movie is gratuitous, could be or not be as the director wishes.

I don't think it's an accident that film ends with a discussion concerning the inability to distinguish between reality and fiction.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ou9_NEQ8jPg&feature=related

The last scene almost kills the movie. It's the kind of Noble Speech that always leaves me rolling my eyes. I mean ... really, if there's anyone in 1948 or 2010 who needed to hear a Speech about the case against murder, he shouldn't be watching a movie (and probably wouldn't have "got it" if he had).

Except that Friedrich Nietzsche is still an incredibly popular philosopher. The ideas that he wrote and taught are very influential in our modern culture. And the point is that his ideas can logically be used to justify murder. Rupert's problem is that he was flirting with and enjoying the ideas without considering their logical consequences. Hardly anyone in 1948 or 2010 would openly advocate the case for murder. But plenty of people in 1948 and 2010 would advocate Nietzsche's ideas (will to power, Ubermensch, and the relativity of good and evil). Rope, and particularly the last scene, suggests that there are actions and consequences that logically result from these philosophical ideas. Ultimately, you accept them or you don't - the ideas and their logical consequences together. I think that's advocating an unpopular point of view (at least today it is, if not back right after WWII).

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Do people really go around burbling about the Ubermensch? Clearly, I've been going to the wrong parties. ;)

The truth is, I don't see much pining for a man who is beyond good and evil; if anything, people seem to want to pardon evils large and small by appealing to 'the greater good' or something like that. In that sense, "Hot Fuzz" speaks a far more unpopular message than "Rope" ever did.

I think the real problem here isn't that "Rope" preaches a message, but that it preaches it poorly. In the end, the film really isn't interested in the question, which is why the moral is conveyed in the above-mentioned speech and not portrayed instead through the characters' actions. The comparison to "Crime and Punishment" is apt; Dostoevsky puts Raskolnikov through the wringer, and we're made to feel every bit of it. In contrast, "Rope" is twisted and funny, but hardly a vision of outraged morality.

Edited by NBooth
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Except that Friedrich Nietzsche is still an incredibly popular philosopher. The ideas that he wrote and taught are very influential in our modern culture.

His influence is more historical than anything. I'm not sure there are very many Nietzscheans walking around today.

The comparison to "Crime and Punishment" is apt; Dostoevsky puts Raskolnikov through the wringer, and we're made to feel every bit of it. In contrast, "Rope" is twisted and funny, but hardly a vision of outraged morality.

Yup.

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  • 2 weeks later...

To be honest, I can't help but think that Stewart's high moral fervor in the last scene rings just a tad hollow, and that the tension between Stewart-as-Stewart and the role as written undermines the whole thing just a little; in other words, with Stewart the movie comes to an end with two opposing worldviews clashing, but as written it's more the story of a man being confronted with the fact that he's seeing his own hubris brought to life before his eyes.

This sums up really well how I felt during that speech, though I wouldn't have been able to put words to it at the time. I love a good riled-up-Jimmy speech any day of the week, but this one definitely felt out of place.

Overall, I quite enjoyed watching it, largely for John Dall's incredibly creepy performance (Granger, by contrast, overdid it quite a bit). It's a shame Dall's career never really recovered from Rope's failure. And I'd agree that the one-take experiment really fails the film when it needs to be snappy; just witness how long it takes to pan to the boys' reaction when they see the rope in Stewart's hand. It just does not work.

Edited by N.W. Douglas
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Truffaut discusses Rope with Hitchcock.

I've not read Hitchcock, though I should; this is, of course, part of the interview that produced the book, so there won't be any surprises for folks who have read it. But for the rest of us, this is bound to be fascinating. (More recordings here)

Edited by NBooth
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Thanks for the bump, NBooth. This may be my next Hitch. You also showed me I need to correct the film year on Notorious (1946).

Edited by Persona

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Farley Granger dies at 85

Farley Earle Granger II was born July 1, 1925, in San Jose, Calif., the son of a well-to-do auto dealer, who lost his business during the Depression and moved his family to Los Angeles. Actor Harry Langdon, a friend of his father, suggested that Granger try out for a play called The Wookie. A casting agent spotted him and brought Granger to the attention of Samuel Goldwyn. While he was still a student at North Hollywood High School, Granger signed to a seven-year contract.
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From the Gravity thread:

I had an idea that each shot was the full reel, that he made as few and subtle cuts as he could - and that's essentially why Rope is held up as an example. Maybe I'm confusing it with another film because besides the Wiki someone mentioned cuts in Rope being distinct.  

Yes, for the most part, Hitch made as few and as subtle cuts as he could.  A few of the cuts have a dramatic purpose, (highlighting a shift in tension or refocusing the audience's attention on certain character with a certain line of dialogue) which is why he did not always follow the process of masking cuts at the end of a reel.  But for about 85% of the film, Rope does have the feel of a single take movie.

 

Wasn't there only 4 cuts in Rope, being whenever the camera ran out of film.

A reel of film was ten minutes; an eighty minute film would need a minimum of seven cuts.  The first time I watched Rope, I only noticed five cuts; several of them are really hard to notice unless you're paying careful attention.  The ten that Wikipedia lists seem correct to me.

Edited by Evan C

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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Attica, you probably *are* thinking of another film, shot in 16mm.

 

I was thinking of Rope though. I looked online & promptly found a few references to 8 takes and a book that calls it a persistent misconception.

(I also thought a shot was a take, except when you append 'long' &c., and that 35mm reels ran 11 or 12 mins, till the Gravity discussion) 

I've never tried counting the cuts and if not for having a few pointed out, would never have caught the disguised ones. Thank you for explaining this and  MultiQuote! 

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Oh.  I was thinking of rope, but it's been years since I've seen it... so.

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Lo and behold, look what turned up on the interwebs today (it was actually posted to Vimeo four days ago, but The Playlist only linked to it today):

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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