Tuesday, March 15, 2011
The Wrong House: The Architecture of Alfred Hitchcock.
An interesting book for those who love movies and architecture. ¨A must read¨ one.
From the Guardian, by Deyan Sudjic:
This is an excerpt from the excellent review by Ken Mogg, Australia:
‘Authoritative’ is how I would describe this book. Steven Jacobs, an art historian, lectures on film history at Sint Lukas College of Art, Brussels, and the Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent, and on urban studies at Erasmus University, Rotterdam. Hitchcock scholar Michael Walker had the pleasure of participating with Jacobs in a recent symposium, and emailed me afterwards: ‘Steven Jacobs knows his stuff’. The Wrong House is more than a taxonomy of the buildings in Hitchcock films, or a small history of interior and exterior design traced in those buildings, or a description of architectural motifs (staircases, windows) that recur in the films. It is all of those, but is finally about filmmaking itself. The stimulus is Hitchcock’s holistic vision which respected the work of numerous skilled colleagues - and Jacobs is clearly up to taking the measure of the visual components of that vision.
As good a film as any to demonstrate what I mean may be the underrated Dial M for Murder (USA 1954). For a start, it reflects both the German and English strains in Hitchcock’s work, present from the start of his career (and whose first two features were in fact shot in Germany). As Jacobs emphasises: “Rather than expressionism, the Kammerspielfilm, which also developed in German film culture of the 1920s, proved influential for Hitchcock’s entire career. … The combination of intimacy, careful exploration of domestic interiors, use of highly charged objects, and mobile camera work … also characterize several of Hitchcock’s films …”. (pp. 16-17) A possible stumbling-block for Jacobs in the case of Dial M for Murder is its diabolical would-be wife-murderer Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) who surely owes his basic devilry to such mastermind figures as Doctor Caligari and Doctor Mabuse, and the Devil himself in Murnau’s Faust (Germany 1926) - that is to say, to the non-Kammerspiel German films. (Gavin Elster in Vertigo  may have a similar provenance.) But of course Wendice’s scale of operations is definitely narrower, more domestic, than theirs. Jacobs’s essential point stands.
At the same time, an emphasis on domesticity - on hearth and home - can’t easily be separated from Hitchcock’s Englishness. John Ruskin had called the Victorian home “a temple of the hearth watched over by Household Gods” (p. 33) For his part, Hitchcock was always intrigued by the relatively ‘cosy’ nature of English murder. From The Lodger (UK 1926) to Dial M for Murder is a straight line. Perversely, the Warner Brothers managers on Dial M opposed Hitchcock’s hope of shooting the film in London (on location and at the Elstree Studios). They couldn’t see any difference between a Brownstone New York street on their back lot and the characteristic Edwardian mansion houses in Randolph Crescent, Maida Vale, which Hitchcock had earmarked for his fictitious ‘Charrington Gardens’. Still, and despite further problems with what he called the ‘shocking taste’ of his set-dresser, he was able to impose a look on the apartment interior that reflected the Wendices’ sophistication. Jacobs details their many artworks, including a Fragonard-like painting in the bedroom. Furthermore, at one point Margot Wendice (Grace Kelly) leaves her purse on a table where we see art books on Leonardo da Vinci, Giovanni Bellini, and French Impressionism. The studio now saw fit to issue a press release stating that “because he is a man of taste and culture, Hitchcock hand-picked many of the props, including an original Rosa Bonheur oil painting, long hidden in Warners’ property gallery, and a pair of valuable Wedgewood vases”(p. 107). My guess would be that the holistic Hitchcock dictated that press release himself.
Image from archined.nl