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Archive for January, 2011

Empire Magazine’s Kim Newman describes North by Northwest, one of Alfred Hitchcock’s many acclaimed movies, as “certifiable classic territory, Hitchcock’s glossiest entertainment is the closest the trickster ever came to an action movie”.  I would agree with the reviewer on certain grounds. While the movie itself did not impress me in the manner I expected to react to it, given everything I had heard about Hitchcock before watching the movie (this was my first Hitchcock film), I can definitely see how this motion picture won so much acclaim in the eyes of the theatergoers of the world in a time that we can only recall in the history books.

The presentation, brought to the viewer in color, would have elicited much excitement given that color film was still in its infancy in 1959. The plot follows Roger Thornhill, portrayed by Cary Grant, an innocuous ad man who is mistaken to be a spy in a story full of action and suspense that weaves its way across America. Putting myself into the context of the time, the 1950’s, I would have been taken aback by the movie in a similar fashion to the way I was taken aback by the dazzling CGI effects of James Cameron’s Avatar. The movie features many action packed scenes such as Thornhill’s encounter with the murderous crop dusting plane in the middle of nowhere and the literally cliffhanging suspense of the final scene that plays out on the surface of Mount Rushmore. Such action would evoke many chills and thrills in an audience that would be seeing filmmaking of this caliber for the first time.

Thornhill with his first run into Eve Kendall on the train. Slick shades Cary Grant.

The many camera techniques used in the movie, including the employment of parallel editing/crosscutting, well placed point of view shots, establishing shots that capture the essence of the environment, and a gripping score that compliments the different scenes by creating a good sense of suspense and continuity would have been witnessed for the first time ever by movie going audiences and filmmakers alike. The crosscutting used in the drunken car chase, the airplane attack, and the final scene were edited in a manner that would have created a great deal of excitement for viewers as they peer in closer to the amazing action that is unfolding in front of their very eyes. Other techniques in the film aren’t as overt. Subtle metaphors such as Eve Kendall’s black and white attire could symbolize her secretive nature and duality of allegiance to some viewers while it could stand for many other interpretations depending on the preferences of individual viewers.

Cary Grant running away from the killer crop duster. So cool, it made it to the poster!

For a viewer in this time and age where filmmaking is executed with aesthetic sophistication and cutting edge technologies, North by Northwest could be a movie that would elicit negative reactions due to the style of acting, effects, and plot. But for someone who would watch the movie with a keener focus on the historical context, with the time’s cold war politics and existing filmmaking technologies and techniques, the film could be a trip back to a time where Saturday nights were all about going to the movies. Personally, I thought that the film was not as great as many of the other great movies I’ve seen. But I’m not indifferent to how this movie could very possibly be a groundbreaking accomplishment in cinema in the silver screen of the time.

The Wright Brothers invented the airplane, and humanity is very grateful for that. But unfortunately, using the Wright’s airplane to fly a transcontinental flight today would be a quick way to a certain death. Likewise, Hitchcock paved the way for a generation of more sophisticated filmmakers that created a wholly new landscape of cinema for today’s viewers. His work should be recognized with the respect and accolades it so surely deserves.

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