Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Unit 4: Story Telling - Review - Alfred Hitchcock's Rope



Figure 1. Rope Poster Art

A film that sits in a single setting for the entire duration & why not? It works when the story climax is hidden in the room, waiting to be revealed. While the rather trite ideal that murder is an art form feels a little cliché, the need to create a perfect murder is an interesting principle which one could attribute to a form of art. The art itself is to not get caught.

•Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
•Written by: Arthur Laurents, Hume Cronyn & Ben Hecht
•Cast: James Stewart as Rupert Cadell, John Dall as Brandon Shaw, Farley Granger as Phillip Morgan, Cedric Hardwicke as Mr. Kentley, Constance Collier as Mrs. Atwater & Joan Chandler as Janet Walker
•Genre: Drama, Mystery & Suspense, Classics
•Duration: 80 Minutes (aprox)




Figure 2. "I’ve always wished for more artistic talent”

Rope, a film based on a play with the same name by Patrick Hamilton in the late 1920’s sees a rather sadistic Brandon Shaw & a cowardly Phillip Morgan kill one of their “inferior” high school buddies David Kentley. The film takes a strange twist from there which would usually see the body transported and disposed of, instead the body is left in the room with guests arriving for a dinner party. The viewer feels as though they are eavesdropping on a social event which ends up as more of a calamity then a social occasion, with the story climax buried in a chest. Reviewer Bosley Crowther observes:
“For apart from the tedium of waiting or someone to open that chest and discover the hidden body which the hosts have tucked away for the sake of a thrill, the unpunctuated flow of image becomes quite monotonous”. (Crowther: 2000)
The characters do help establish the motivation behind Brandon & Phillip’s need for murder but contribute very little else. Rupert is the most intriguing with his curious remarks that no other party goer has even dared ask. One cannot help but think the narrative was a little restrictive when all one wants after they know the body is in the chest is for someone to find it. This plot device keeps the viewers eyes glued to the screen but only because they have to see when this “perfect murder” falls to pieces, not because the dialogue exchanges offer up anything new or invigorating to the viewer.



Figure 3. "After all, murder is or should be, an art”

What is rather interesting about rope is its long take approach where the camera walks itself into these little clustered conversations as one would as a guest at the party. The static camera positions work just as well specifically in the scene where Mrs. Wilson removes the dinner service from the chest and goes to open it to put some books in. The viewer feels as though they are about to be caught, one almost wants to warn Brandon & Phillip possibly to avoid Mrs. Wilson’s piercing scream when she discovers what is inside that chest. Reviewer Fernando Croce observes:
“Far from just "recording a play," the suffocating long takes enforce ethical contemplation by refusing the relief of a cut (which, in the director's voyeuristic world, would have amounted to looking the other away)”. (Croce: 2006)
One could say that for the entire duration of the film Hitchcock just wanted to convey his characters as individuals coming together to engage exposing & crossing their personalities. Regardless, the film is lead by the ghost in the room with most of the conversation coming back to David. The few cuts within the film are usually masked by camera panning into the backs of characters which imminently flow seamlessly from one shot to the next. This method has the advantage of not breaking the audiences attachment to the party, but has the disadvantage of one’s need to turn away having to turn back immediately just in case they were to miss the big climax.



Figure 4. "I think we’re going to get caught”

Quite possibly the most intriguing aspect of the film is the integral question of “why?”. One really does feel the need to understand the motive of the crime, Rope feels as though it diminishes that a little with the characters playing as pawns to a bigger scheme – a scheme that is motiveless other than to just be able to commit the perfect murder. The prescience of Rupert helps one begin to establish the underpinnings of the central characters but to believe one man’s opinions had that much of an impact is a little hard to digest. One would like to think that Hitchcock just wanted to experiment with the construction of his narrative, providing the audience with a reason to keep their eyes pinned to the screen & what better way than to stage a body. Reviewer Ed Howard observes:
“In the case of Rope, certainly, it's fair to call it a warm-up exercise. Hitchcock wanted to see if he could make a film using as few shots as possible, simple as that”. (Howard: 2010)
It is fair to say that in an attempt to keep shot counts down Hitchcock decided to show the audience very early on what the story of Rope was about. If people see a murder immediately they will want to understand what came before it (the why, how, etc). From this point on he would have to consider how to keep the setting which is perfect for a dinner party, with his cast coming to him. It was mentioned earlier that the typical approach after a murder is disposing of the body but again that would result in changing scenes & losing his hosts to an “urgent matter”. This could be what inspired the rather sinister idea of “murder as an art form”, his cast are conducting an experiment, almost taunting their friends. This leaves the audience pinned just waiting for that moment when the body is discovered by the inquisitions of mentor Rupert.

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List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Rope Poster Art. (com) [Online image]. At: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_kSp8cgEN2sA/TUla0ojgk0I/AAAAAAAAAhs/0xSPPdGZpQk/s1600/419046231_6c3e606812.jpg (Accessed on: 15/02/12)

Figure 2. I’ve always wished for more artistic talent. (com) [Online image]. At: http://home.comcast.net/~flickhead/rope021.jpg (Accessed on: 15/02/12)

Figure 3. After all, murder is or should be, an art. (com) [Online image]. At: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_9wT1hk3wbl0/TUnNzrqOlpI/AAAAAAAAAz4/0y5wzbtqMlU/s1600/rope2.jpg (Accessed on: 15/02/12)

Figure 4. I think we’re going to get caught. (com) [Online image]. At:
http://hitchcockandme.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/00201.jpg (Accessed on: 15/02/12)

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Bibliography

Crowther, Bosley. (2000) Rope: An Exercise in Suspense. At: http://www.nytimes.com/library/film/081748hitch-rope-review.html
(Accessed on: 15/02/12)

Croce, Fernando. (2006) Rope Review At:
http://www.slantmagazine.com/dvd/review/rope/948 (Accessed on: 15/02/12)

Howard, Ed. (2010) The Conversations: Minor Hitchcock At:
http://www.slantmagazine.com/house/2010/05/the-conversations-minor-hitchcock/ (Accessed on: 15/02/12)

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