Blog Directory CineVerse: Going into the trunk and coming out of the closet

Going into the trunk and coming out of the closet

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Considered by many film critics, scholars and historians as a minor work in Hitchcock's filmography, "Rope" still stands as a marvelous technical achievement and a daring not-so-subtle depiction of a homosexual relationship at a time when even talking about such matters was decidedly taboo. To recap our CineVerse discussion on "Rope," read on.

This picture was a series of firsts for the director – it was his first color film, his first casting with James Stewart, and his first independently produced movie (from this point on, Hitchcock produced every movie he would work on).
It was also arguably Hitchcock’s greatest technical experiment attempted to date: the shooting of long, uninterrupted takes to produce single, continuous shots joined together with inconspicuous editing to generate the illusion that, like viewing a stage-bound play, we are watching a movie filmed in one complete, unbroken take, shot in real time without any cuts. 
o The goal is to create a “you are there/fly on the wall” voyeuristic experience for the viewer, as if they are an invisible witness to the crime and ghoulish parlor games played by the murderers.
o The long takes also deny the viewer any break in the suspense a la juxtaposing shots like a reaction shot or close-up. You cannot look away from this twisted situation or escape its discomfort. Consider how the camera turns to show the murdered son’s father peering out the window and contemplating where his missing son might be.
o “The camera’s eye does the job that editing would normally do, focusing our own eyes on key points, directing us to see things in ways the characters do not, giving us an all-seeing presence enhanced by the suspense of our not being able to physically interact with the characters surrounding us,” wrote reviewer Mark Bourne.
This was also Hitchcock’s most brazen and controversial attempt yet to suggest a homosexual subtext and gay characters in his films, although the production code of the time prevented him from using any direct language or insinuating anything overtly that defined the characters as” gay” or their relationship as “homosexual.” 
o Hitchcock had to be extremely careful and how he depicted these characters and the nature of their relationship.
o Even though there is little concrete evidence to confirm the pair’s homosexuality, there are enough clues left to come to this conclusion. Consider that the plot is based on the real-life Loeb-Leopold killings in which to college students stab a 14-year-old boy to demonstrate Nietzschean theories about moral superiority, as well as the speculation that Farley Granger was intentionally cast because he was an openly gay actor at that time, who’s then-lover is the movie’s co-screenwriter, Arthur Laurents.
The story is not focused on the whodunit angle, which is different from other suspense films and film noirs of this period. 
o Instead, the filmmakers are concerned with tapping into the perverse and sociopathic motivations of the murderers.
o The suspense is built on more of a “will they get caught” intrigue as well as the guilt that Hitchcock evokes from the viewer.
o In writing for The Guardian, Pamela Hutchinson wrote: “Hitchcock always wanted to make his audience suffer, and with Rope, guilt, the guilt that Brandon should be feeling, is what makes us miserable. The murderers need an audience to applaud their crimes, and with their dinner guests in the dark, our privileged knowledge of what’s in the trunk makes us uneasily complicit in what they’ve done.”
This film is a rare example where you might pay less attention to the plot and more attention to its technical bravura (asking yourself, how do they move that big, heavy Technicolor camera around from room to room, or how are the actors able to deliver their performances without mistakes for up to a 10 minute take?).

The excitement of showing off and trying to get away with the crime by being clever. 
o This is not only true of the two killers, but also Hitchcock himself, who wants to be appreciated for this movie’s technical and cinematic achievements.
o As Hutchinson posited: “Hitchcock is torturing his audience, for sure, but he is also parading his own cleverness, and like Brandon, on some level he wants to be found out, too. There are, after all, cuts in the film; you only notice them if you’re watching the direction rather than the story. Once you’ve spotted one, you’ll want to know why it’s there and then, bam, you’re thinking about Hitchcock.”
The cultured, suave, sophisticated villain who has complex psychological motivations. This type of antagonist character is used often in Hitchcock films – from the original “The Man Who Knew Too Much” to “North by Northwest.”
The idea that homosexuality is deviant and perverse, serving as a catalyst to commit murder.
o The suggestion in this movie is that Philip and Brandon are heartless, lawbreaking sociopaths because they’re gay.
o The  cliché notion of the murderous gay or lesbian character had been explored in previous Hollywood films, including Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca, Joel Cairo in The Maltese Falcon, and Waldo Lydecker in Laura.
o In Rope, “their crime clearly stands for another illicit act,” and “it is just as valid to see the murder is not so much a perversion of their mentor’s teachings as a perversion of the feelings they are not allowed to express for each other,” wrote Fernando Croce in Slant Magazine.
o According to Croce, “Brandon and Philip recompose themselves as if awkwardly cleaning up post-coitus, complete with a was-it-good-for you cigarette to soothe jangled nerves,” and “it’s fitting that Hitchcock’s themes of death and sex culminate in a pistol’s climactic ejaculation out the window.”
o Yet, Croce believes “Hitchcock is more interested in examining the way violence erupts out of oppression than in using gays as a convenient shorthand for boogeyman.”
Verisimilitude viewing: As stage-bound, contrived and carefully choreographed as Rope is, the intention is to create the illusion that we are invisible spectators who are provided a privileged inside view, in real time, of a crime and what happens in the 75 minutes that follow. Hitchcock’s ultimate goal with this experiment is to ratchet up the suspense, but also the temporal realism in a confined space (he first experimented with a limited setting with Lifeboat in 1944).

The MacGuffin is the murder weapon itself – the film’s titular object, the rope itself.
The director’s cameo occurs at approximately the 55-minute mark, where we can see his famous silhouette in a red neon sign out the window.

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