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Review: Rear Window (1954)

Obsession is a disease, the gnawing void of a heart that can never be filled but is ever expanding. As is warned by Virginia Woolf- “All extremes of feeling are allied with madness”- any obsessive has the making of a madman. The causes are more often than not inconsequential: one simply pricks ears too incessantly at the subtle goings-on next door, gaping too indiscreetly at a habitué of the local diner, or harbouring too absorbedly amorous illusions of someone one knows never truly exists. In the long run an obsession invariably extends to something pathological: the overriding, engrossing focus on an object exterior to oneself comes to assume the importance of life and death, as though it were the indispensible excrescence of one’s growingly implausible existence.
Obsession hovers around the diverse nominal subjects of Alfred Hitchcock’s films, most of which are at their core studies of human desire when bordering on destructive fixedness. Hitchcock has an unavowed proclivity of driv…

Review: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

In an interview with Paris Review James M. Cain made no bones of his aversion to films: “There are some foods some people just don’t like. I just don’t like movies.” Whether the avowal was merely an impulsive remark, or a manifestation of latent condour, it contradicted Cain’s fame with Hollywood and his past occupation as a screenwriter. From what can be gathered of the author’s reception of films that were derived from his works- the three most famous: Double Indemnity,Mildred PierceThe Postman Always Rings Twice were released successively from 1944 to 46- there is little indication of an abrupt shift of opinion later in life. Maybe it was less of a sudden repugnance of films than a nagging insistence of separating the authenticity of the books from the reduced value of their filmic translations.
It is no easy task adapting Cain’s novels into films. His debut, The Postman Always Rings Twice, was published in 1934 but it had taken Hollywood a decade or so to finally flesh it out on …

Review: The 39 Steps (1935)

John Buchan wrote what is perhaps his most known novel, The Thirty-Nine Steps, the first of the five espionage thrillers that feature a bumbling, relatable hero Richard Hannay, in bed with a stomach ulcer. The bodily pain that accompanied the writing, and henceforth dogged his entire life, was recompensed with the fulsome reception of the book, especially from those who were fighting in the trenches during WWI. A soldier wrote Buchan: “The story is greatly appreciated in the midst of mud and rain and shells, and all that could make trench life depressing.”
Buchan’s classic has all the stock materials that make up for a potent morale-booster: an everyman stumbles into an international conspiracy, undergoes every conceivable hazard and hardship, grapples with his limited means and amidst troubled water, finally and narrowly salvaging his own country from the boiling soup. Published in 1919 and at a time when the nation is battening down hatches for the imminent war, the story’s narrative…

William Eggleston and Under Capricorn (1949)

In 1946 the great American photographer Edward Weston, when being proffered the opportunity of capturing Point Lobos in Kodachromes, then a new invention, readily declined. He suspected that the intrusion of colours in a photograph would mar the peculiar beauty that only monochrome could achieve. Later, however, Weston confronted his undue reservations: “The prejudice against colour comes from not thinking of colour as form. You can say things with colour that can’t be said in black and white.” The notion of colour as form turns colour into an entity independent of the object to which it assumes an ontological subservience. In this new way of seeing we can say that an orange is regarded not as a fruit coloured with orange but a fruit that entails a contiguous existence of the colour orange. “Those of us who began photographing in monochrome spent years trying to avoid subject matter exciting because of its colour […] we must now seek subject matter because of its colour.” Weston urged…

Spellbound (1945) and Freud

There is a Latin epigram that goes: Quidquid luce fuit, tenebris agit, in English: what has taken place in the light continues in the dark. The reverse seems also true, though thousands of other epigrams also warn of the illusions that darkness elicits, the insidious workings that can so easily escape our beclouded vision. The riddle cannot be better illustrated through an even more insoluble enigma- that of dreaming. Nietzsche, in 1886, discovered that a man who acquired the ability to fly in his dream related this gravity-defying “upwardness” to an uplifted happiness he felt in his waking moments. From then on that man’s notion of happiness had been dramatically altered- whatever feeling that failed to evoke that peculiar upwardness would seem to him too heavy and, on a superior note, too “earthly.”

The entrance of Sigmund Freud, in his audacious quest of unlocking the age-old mysteries of dream, effected a startling change in the psychological study of the subject. His seminal work,…

Review: The Night of the Iguana (1964)

Of all those that explore the troubled frontier of human psyche, there can be a few who have subjected it to a more penetrating study, and with a greater avidity for the discovery of its intricacy than Tennessee Williams. His plays centre on the lonely, the grotesque, the misunderstood, the crazed, the perverted and, ultimately, the tragic. One is surprised to know that one of America’s most loved playwrights is such a morbid purveyor of unhappy tales. And a wayward maverick, too, unafraid to challenge censorship by evoking themes like homosexuality and substance abuse. In Williams’s memoir he enumerates the countless events in which he made for “long, agonising exits” when his plays were roundly booed by the audience. Common to those who rebel against an established tradition, Williams was both reviled and admired, the acknowledgement of his astounding impact on America’s theatrical culture however unanimous. In the late 50s and early 60s especially he became a favorite amongst serio…

Review: Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967)

The economy of words is a literary device that is difficult to come by. It was accorded a prominent place in modernist literature, the most masterful writers of which deployed the artistry to an extent that rivals the beauty of poetry. Language had by then transcended its traditional role as a tool of expression, and revealed its nature as something akin to a magician’s trick. Novelists of this period began to explore and experiment with the various facets and potentials of language. In the case of D.H. Lawrence, for example, there would be no better way to articulate the complex human conditions than resorting to the repetition of a few significant epithets. Conversely, Ernest Hemingway would advice the aspiring writers to steer clear of superfluity at all costs- for him an absence of words always generates the loudest bang.
The development of modernism coincided at some point with the advent of motion picture, and curiously both share this penchant for textual ellipticism that invari…

Review: Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

When we were young we resented being treated as children, being considered naïve, immature, unformed, being always the negligible inferiors tagging along their elders like lapdogs. This sense of inferiority dogged us, throughout the unendurable years of childhood, limited our freedom and, most exasperatingly of all, barred us from the fascinating world of adults. From time to time we would gaze with our burning eyes at the stars and wish for miracles- is it possible that we’d be grownups within a few blinks of an eye? Or perhaps a mysterious someone would suddenly materialise to save us from our protracted misery?
Flannery O’Connor says it best: “Anyone who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.” In truth, whoever suggests that his childhood was as idyllic as the ones cloyingly depicted in those edifying children’s books is, more often than not, holding in his hand the broken glasses of his shattered dream. Our first awareness of …

Review: Sweet Bird of Youth (1962)

Throughout his career, Tennessee Williams had written plays that deal squarely with his interest in violence. Violence not of a senseless, excessive kind but one that is nevertheless destructive, and targeted most of all to bring out the vulnerability of the others. The lack of any outrage that attended his violent plays emboldened him in furthering his involvement with graphic materials, and it climaxed with the release of Suddenly Last Summerin 1958, a one-act play that draws on issues like lobotomy and cannibalism. Williams was almost certain then that he’d be tarred and feathered, but the play proved a commercial and critical success. This says much about the social currents of the time, which fed on narratives like that to help coping with the bitter reality and malaise. In this case the public was obviously taken to Williams’s measure of honesty, savagery and explosiveness.
In the preface of Sweet Bird of Youth Williams attributes his propensity of violence to a means “to contend…