Skip to main content

Review: Rope (1948)



Colour, as Alfred Hitchcock told François Truffaut in a 1962 interview, is nonexistent. Every image or vision can be reduced to the stark elements of light and shade. Lines and colours are the spectral creations that materialise momentarily when exposed to lights. In film there are more instances of metaphorical darkness (known in literature as "lacunae") than those of actual, plunging darkness- the fact that every story is in a sense only a fraction of reality conditions the extent of the reader’s knowledge: like peeping into the lives of others one does more divining than actual registering of information. Nonetheless we are intrigued, of what could possibly happen in the intervals of the course of events, the parts that the author decides to omit, or to deliberately keep in secret so the reader is unprepared for the surprise to come.

Every time I saw Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt I found myself wondering incessantly how Uncle Charlie and Young Charlie manage to conceal from others their growing aversion to each other and carry on their lives in the same house after the latter confronts her uncle his heinous crime. The film reasonably refrains from chronicling every detail of the characters’ domestic lives, and yet, oddly, those absent shots are what to me hold the greatest fascination. In this the metaphorical darkness somehow augments our awareness of what is present: the ambivalent reaction that Young Charlie takes to her uncle finally leaving the town- that of relief and forlornness- implies that hitherto she is painstakingly but willingly enduring the presence of a serial killer in the house. Charlie’s love for her uncle triumphs even the personal trials of her moral conscience.

Hitchcock’s earlier films tend to dwell on the capacity of the metaphorical darkness in regards to generating excitement for a story.Rope (1948), his first colour film, operates from the reverse- something horrible is already happening as the curtain unfurls. A pair of Ivy League elitists strangle their classmate to death purely as an intellectual experiment on the practicability of a perfect murder. The dead body is placed in a wooden chest, which is then used as a buffet table for a house party the two arrange on a whim, inviting the victim’s family and friends. Amongst the guests is publisher Rupert Cadell (James Stewart), whose lectures on Nietzsche’s Superman sparked the murderers’ intent on embodying just such a character: in their misapprehension, a superior being endowing with the incontrovertible right of treating all lower ones as animals and slaves.

Today Rope is perhaps most known for its continuous shot, an ingenious technique that Hitchcock had flirted with years ago inLifeboat (1944). The mood is claustrophobic and discomfiting: neither of the guests really comes close to opening the chest but the morbid knowledge of a dead body lying in the midst of an ostensibly lively party makes the viewing of the film increasingly unsettling. The deft interplay of contrasts- principally, the treating of a serious matter with an intentionally frisky manner- amounts to a benumbing alarmism that would reach its pinnacle in Psycho (1960).

Rope is one of Hitchcock’s most somber in tone but graphic in appearance. There are moments when the colours seem too gaudy and grisly that you fear the picture would suddenly combust into a chromatic mess. The director utilises colour to the same unnerving effect in his later colour films, but none seems to trump the emotional imbalance that Rope so effortlessly conveys.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Honore Daumier

“If you shut up truth and bury it under ground, it will but grow, and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through it will blow up everything in its way.”- Émile Zola
Exited Honoré Victorin Daumier, 10 February 1879, in an impoverishment that many of his contemporaries, especially his foes, would have thought was his long overdue retribution- the painter was blind, heavily in debt, and later relegated to a pauper’s grave. His friends, upon visiting his resting place, would, I imagine, see it a chance to admonish their children: “Now that’s a lesson for you cheeky devils whose tongues rattle off things that should better stay unspoken.” But Daumier devoted his life in revealing those “unspoken things.” His lithography ink proved sharper than most writers’ pens. He vented his rage and stigmatised others’ infamy in his satirical and, oftentimes, side-splitting cartoons. The tone was relentlessly acerbic but only because Daumier was exposing truths that, in the time…

Review: Gaslight (1944)

Despite its varied forms or narratives, all Gothic fictions revolve on a fundamental contrast: that between the tenuous comfort of an isolated self and the dangerous fascination of an intrusive otherness. The Victorian is an age characterised by its obsession with the supernatural – poised on the verge of modernity, with scientific advancements like Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species inspired missions to unlock the myths of the natural world, people began to take notice of what lay outside their limited knowledge of things, of anything that is external to the closed domain of humanity. This curiosity for the unknown provoked an appraisal for the known – the immutable social system was revealed as hostile to the cultivation of individual minds, and time-honoured ethics such as that dictating a woman’s role in a traditional domesticity a menace to the preservation of personal integrity.
The negotiation between the old and the new, the internal and the external, is the dominant theme of V…

Review: A Taste of Honey (1961)

Life is a mixture of comedy and tragedy- tragicomic if both aspects are given equal measure of awareness; melodramatic when the two extremes are ratcheted up to a boiling point. For most people, it is only natural that they take the good with the bad. An ingrained fatalism dictates their attitudes towards the vagaries of human fate; therefore in joy they wait agonisingly for the day their good fortune is suddenly wrested from them, and in sadness for the glimpse of light that signals a gradual upturn of the dire condition. “Nothing lasts forever”- this well-worn adage becomes almost the guideline of their survival, and a perpetual reminder that life is ever mobile and unpredictable.

Every current of life, regardless of the varying destination it tends to, returns and oscillates invariably between two points: suffering and the struggle to survive. They are as much the fundamentals of human condition as the impetus for the cultivating of human resourcefulness: it is the battle of will be…