Tag Archives: Alfred Hitchcock

Rocks In The Attic #753: Led Zeppelin – ‘In Through The Out Door’ (1979)

RITA#753I’ve just finished the new Led Zeppelin book, recently released to mark the band’s 50th anniversary. A coffee-table book the size of a small coffee-table, it features heaps of unseen photographs as it charts the bands from their early days at the end of the ‘60s to their reunion show at the O2 in 2007.

Put together with the same care and attention as the similarly monolithic Jimmy Page book from 2010, it’s good for a quick glance while you’re sat on the toilet, but I don’t know why anybody would stump up the cash required to buy these massive tomes. I borrowed both from my local library.

RITA#753aWell, I tried to borrow the recent one from my library, but was heavily delayed by the usual lack of common sense of civil servants. Having ordered the book months before it was released, I finally got an email notification that the book was now ready to collect. I looked at the date: didn’t the library close today for a month of renovations?

I fired an email back. ‘Where can I pick up the book from? Surely it wasn’t delivered to a closed library.’

‘The book was delivered to the library on Saturday’, came the reply.

‘But you didn’t email me until the following Monday, after the library had closed?’

‘Yes, the system only sends out those emails from Monday to Friday.’

I guess you get what you pay for. A month later, I finally got my hands on it, from the freshly carpeted library.

One thing the book made me do was to revisit In Through The Out Door, probably the Zeppelin album I listen to the least (alongside Coda). Both are well worth a listen, but fall extremely short of the high standards set by the rest of the band’s back catalogue.

I’ve always liked certain aspects of In Through The Out Door – the drone of In The Evening, the funk of South Bound Suarez, the 8-bit computer game music breakdown halfway through Carouselambra – but the classical feel of All My Love, and the overall keyboard-heavy instrumentation across the record make it almost indistinguishable from earlier Led Zeppelin. If studio album number eight sounded this different, I hate to imagine what their ninth would have been like, had the band not lost John Bonham.

RITA#753bOne thing I’ve always liked is the cover design. A sepia image of a man sat at a dusty bar, with a series of alternate covers depicting the viewpoints of the bar’s other patrons. And if that wasn’t oblique enough, the album was packaged with a paper bag as an outer sleeve. The inner sleeve also features a line drawing, which if wet with water would become permanently coloured; but I’ve never been brave enough to test this out on my original pressing.

I was such a Zeppelin fiend throughout my teens, I would have given my right arm to listen to some of the unreleased tracks and alternate versions that have subsequently come out over the last decade of reissues. I’ve only dipped my toe into them, as I fear they will be the final ‘new material’ we will get from the band, and I don’t want to consume them too quickly (in much the same way as I have an unwatched DVD of To Catch A Thief, the last of Hitchcocks’s golden period films I haven’t seen).

I’ll get around to all of those unreleased tracks one day. And weirdly, despite them being my least favourite albums by the band from their initial run, it’s the bonus stuff from In Through The Out Door and Coda that I look forward to hearing the most.

Hit: All My Love

Hidden Gem: Carouselambra

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Rocks In The Attic #699: Thomas Newman – ‘The Shawshank Redemption (O.S.T.)’ (1994)

RITA#699“You looking for something, mate?”

“Er, yeah, can you sort me out with season 5 of House Of Cards?”

“Sure, boss, you want some season 9 of Curb Your Enthusiasm, with that? I’ve just got it from my man at the docks – it’s pretty good. Pretty, pretty, good.”

*

This is a fairly accurate representation of what I’ve had to do to watch quality television whilst living in the cultural backwater of New Zealand in the last ten years. Not only is the country infatuated with one of the dullest sports ever invented, the populace also seems to be content with some of the most mediocre television created. I expect Kazakhstani TV to be more exciting than it is here.

From the endless reality shows and soap operas, to the fact that TVNZ once unwittingly transmitted Thunderball at prime-time on a Saturday night just seven days after it transmitted its 1983 remake, Never Say Never Again­, I imagine the programming schedules are drawn up by work-experience kids, or –worse still – programmers who have never left these shores and aren’t aware of how good other countries can be.

We joined the rest of the planet a few weeks ago, and finally got Netflix. After ten years in the wilderness, I’ve finally returned to the act of channel-surfing (although in a slightly different way to broadcast television).

RITA#699bI’ve been waiting months to see the new Psycho documentary 78/52 – the title referring to the number of camera set-ups and edits in Hitchcock’s infamous shower scene. As I’m pretty sure the documentary is still doing the rounds on the festival circuit, I thought I’d have to contact my dealer hanging out behind the local library. Forget it, it’s on Netflix!

Looking to score the stand-up special, Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life? Forget it, it’s on Netflix!

Looking forward to the second season of GLOW? Forget it, it’s on Netflix!

My dealer’s going to go out of business, and might have to resort to supplying the local kindergarten kids with pirated episodes of Peppa Pig.

One of the unexpected advantages of Netflix has been the joy of stumbling upon something unexpected. I got such a great grounding in film from watching films and documentaries in the middle of the night on the BBC or Channel 4, from curated retrospectives of particular directors, to seminal cult films and forgotten classics. I let the programmers shape my tastes.

A recent Netflix find was one of my favourites to watch in the early hours as a teenager – Don Siegel’s Escape From Alcatraz, his fifth and final collaboration with Clint Eastwood, from 1979.

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It’s still a great film, from Eastwood’s underplayed, optimistic hero, to Patrick MacGoohan’s calculating prison warden, and having not seen it for around twenty-five years, I really enjoyed it.

It is, however, not a patch on The Shawshank Redemption. Before the genre-bending, narrative revolution of 1990’s cinema, prison films were almost a lost art, a masculine relic of bygone times. Escape From Alcatraz, Papillon, and Midnight Express were the genre’s three high watermarks. What could a prison film do that we haven’t seen before?

Enter Frank Darabont. Originally a horror screenwriter (The Fly II, The Blob, A Nightmare On Elm Street III: Dream Warriors), his 1983 short film adaptation of Stephen King’s The Woman In The Room, led to an ongoing and successful collaboration with the writer. After giving us the greatest prison film of the decade, he followed it up with The Green Mile, the second-best of the genre.

Originally a short story titled Rita Hayworth & Shawshank Redemption from King’s 1982 Different Seasons collection – which also spawned 1986’s Stand By Me and 1998’s Apt Pupil – the premise is simple: an innocent man gets imprisoned for his wife’s murder, and escapes from the prison against all odds.

In fact, it’s a little too simple, isn’t it? But when you consider that this was made in a post Die Hard world, the film’s lack of action is its greatest gamble. If 1996’s The Rock was the prison film made for hopped-up ’90s teen audiences; Shawshank was directed at their nostalgia-hungry parents.

From Morgan Freeman’s career-defining voice-over, to Tim Robbins’ downbeat protagonist, and an ensemble cast of future Darabont regulars, it’s a joy to watch, easily earning its seven Oscar nominations. Ultimately the film went home from the Academy Awards empty-handed, losing against Forrest Gump for its three big nominations – Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay.

The glue that holds Shawshank together is its ethereal score by Thomas Newman, who by this time was well on his way to his 1999 career peak with Sam Mendes’ American Beauty. Newman’s score fits the 1940s/1950s setting effortlessly, and is enhanced by period songs from the (always fantastic) Ink Spots and Hank Williams.

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A hidden (behind a poster) gem of my collection, this double LP set is on ‘suds on the roof’ yellow vinyl, and includes a replica of Andy’s ‘blank’ postcard to Red.

Hit: Shawshank Prison (Stoic Theme)

Hidden Gem: Elmo Blatch

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Rocks In The Attic #662: Brian Gascoigne – ‘Phase IV (O.S.T.)’ (1974)

RITA#662.jpgIf I walk into my local branch of the Warehouse (a general merchandise superstore chain in New Zealand), I can find practically anything. High-end TVs, underwear, plants, shoes, deodorant, children’s toys – there’s practically no limit to what they range.

In the last decade, they’ve started to stock LPs. I’ve had a few good deals from there over the years, but mostly they deal with common denominator titles. As soon as I approach the racks – usually very poorly displayed – I know what I’m going to see. Brothers In Arms sits next to every AC/DC studio album under the sun, three corner-dinged copies of Dark Side Of The Moon will be there, sat behind the latest overpriced Ed Sheeran record, but if I’m lucky there will be something that takes me completely by surprise (Aerosmith’s awesome 1973 Paul’s Mall bootleg being my greatest find so far).

In fact, I’ve seen so many copies of AC/DC records there, I actually think it might explain why Back In Black is one of the best-selling records of all time – the Warehouse made a stocktake error, and there are still eight million copies sat on their shelves.

It just goes to show that while the big chain stores try to get on the vinyl revival bandwagon, they’ll nearly always miss the needs of the niche record collector.

At the other end of the spectrum exists a boutique record label – Waxwork Records – founded by Kevin Bergeron in New Orleans in 2013. Their primary focus is the preservation and release of horror soundtracks – particularly cult films from the ‘70s and ‘80s – but their output so far has ranged from soundtracks as diverse as Bernard Herrmann’s Taxi Driver, Éric Serra’s Leon: The Professional, and Barry Devorzon’s The Warriors, to original music like PILOTPRIEST’s Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (currently glued to my turntable).

RITA#662aTheir specialty however is sourcing out-of-print soundtracks or, in some cases, music from films that never had a soundtrack release in any format upon release. There’s a detective element to their work then (more information on which can be found here); a level of research that you would usually only see from archivists and historians on the behalf of major-label acts (the nth Beatle Mark Lewisohn, for example).

1974’s Phase IV is one such film that never had a soundtrack commercially released in any format. The score was therefore considered lost until Bergeron and team tracked it down and issued it as catalogue number WW008.

The film is probably best known for being the sole directorial work of legendary graphic designer Saul Bass – the man behind the artwork and title sequences of films by Otto Preminger, Alfred Hitchock, Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese. It’s a little-known science-fiction horror, concerning the work of two scientists as they attempt to prevent the spread of killer ants.

What sets the film apart from other sci-fi and horror films are the sections showing the behaviour of the ants. Filmed in extreme close-up, the shots of these real ants are more natural history documentary than what you’d expect to see from a film in either genre, but the impact is more effective than any special effect could muster. In such close detail, the ants are as terrifying and horrific as any alien or movie monster could be.

The music, from composer Brian Gascoigne, is a synth-laden slice of 1970’s futurism fused with more traditional instruments which give the film a whistful, rustic feel. Split into four tracks, named after each section of the film – Phase I, Phase II, Phase III and Phase IV – the soundtrack feels more like a prog record in its attempt to evoke an eerie tone, rather than the traditional soundtrack approach of individual music cues.

One interesting sidenote is that Phase IV features the first cinematic depiction of a geometric crop circle (built, in this case, by the killer ants). The initial release of the film came a full two years before any news reports of crop circles in the UK, and is therefore seen as a potential influencer on those who started the practice in the late ‘70s.

Hit: Phase I

Hidden Gem: Phase III

Rocks In The Attic #630: Krzysztof Komeda – ‘Rosemary’s Baby (O.S.T.)’ (1968)

tp0004c_SP_DPGate_CoverThere’s a moment in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby where, during what we’re initially led to believe is a dream sequence, Mia Farrow’s Rosemary is raped by an unseen person while the residents of her apartment complex look on, naked. As the camera pans across the small crowd, from left to right, we spot Rosemary’s husband, Guy.

‘She’s awake, she sees,’ he says to their neighbour Minnie.

‘She don’t see,’ Minnie replies.

‘THIS IS NO DREAM! THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING!’ shouts Rosemary.

This small exchange is one of the most horrifying moments in American cinema. The prospect of being targeted by a Satanic cult is one thing; the realisation that your husband and protector might be part of the conspiracy is even more shocking.

RITA#630b.jpgIt provokes the same gut-wrenching sense of doom as the final moments of Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III: Season Of The Witch (1982), in which Tom Atkins’ character screams down the phone to the television company, pleading with them to not play the commercial that is going to cause so much carnage.

This is when horror really connects; when it really matters. Hollywood loves jump-scare horror, because it sells tickets, but psychological horror is far more effective. The truly disturbing thing about Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) isn’t the shower scene, it’s the thought that one day you might stay at the seemingly benign Bates Motel; and no matter what precautions you take, that nice motel manager you just met always has a key to your room.

RITA#630aSpielberg’s Jaws (1975) – often derided when labelled as a horror film – is just as shocking as Polanski and Hitchcock’s work. What could be more horrific than the thought, just the lingering idea, that a killer shark might be circling in the gloomy darkness beneath you as you swim? It plants a seed, just like the prospect of Norman Bates making plans behind closed doors.

Released in June 1968, Rosemary’s Baby is an oddity for the horror genre. It’s an urban horror, taking part in a metropolitan area (New York) as opposed to the conventional rural- or suburban-set horror. The lighting of the film also goes against type. This isn’t a film of shadow and darkness; much of the picture takes place during the daytime, and in the scenes that do take place after the sun has set, most shots are well lit. This isn’t the kind of film where evil lurks in the shadows; instead it exists in plain sight where you’d least expect it.

Komeda’s score is the strongest indicator that the film rightfully belongs in the horror genre. The location, the cast and the script might all scream drama – or at most, thriller – but the music is right out of a haunted house. Most unnerving is Mia Farrow’s lullaby over the waltzing opening titles; an ominous foreboding of innocence corrupted.

The film left a sour taste in popular culture. Not only are there the obvious parallels with the murder of Polanski’s pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, a year later at the hands of the satanic Manson cult, but the final shot foreshadows yet another tragedy.

RITA#630c.jpgThe film’s end credits roll over a high crane shot looking down at Rosemary’s apartment complex, the Bramford. In reality, the location is the Dakota complex in Manhattan, which was used for external shots only. Well-known as the residence of John Lennon and Yoko Ono from 1973 onwards, the Dakota’s architecture looks well-suited as the location of a film about devil worship in New York City. As the camera pans down, the final frame of the film shows two people walking into the building’s south entrance, the same archway through which Lennon was walking as he was gunned down by his assassin, Mark Chapman, in December 1980.

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: Furnishing The Apartment

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Rocks In The Attic #617: John Barry – ‘Diamonds Are Forever (O.S.T.)’ (1971)

RITA#617Sean Connery is back! Shirley Bassey is back! Director Guy Hamilton is back! Everybody’s back!

Bond producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli’s attempts to reproduce the success of 1964’s Goldfinger were thinly veiled. Get the original 007 back in the role, get Goldfinger’s director back, and the singer of its theme song. Get Richard Maibaum, the screenwriter of Goldfinger, to write the script, and instruct him to set most of the film in America, much like the 1964 film. Hell, even the subject matter of the film is similar – where the subject matter of Goldfinger deals with gold, Diamonds Are Forever deals with, erm, diamonds.

The only problem is that the film it isn’t anywhere near as good as Goldfinger. The plotting is messy, and the film feels a little lost at sea between the swing of the sixties, and the sleaze of the seventies. It’s lucky that the Bond producers were able to bring Connery back, as the film might have suffered more without his magnetic presence.

The previous Bond, George Lazenby, had been offered a contract for seven films but left after only one (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). In his place, the role almost went to American actor John Gavin – the heroic brother-in-law in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Gavin even signed a contract to play Bond, before the producers were able to lure Connery back, and Gavin was again set to play Bond in Live And Let Die before they changed their minds again and settled on Roger Moore.

Connery looks a little heavy this time around – and his ever-present hairpiece looks more obvious than it ever had, John Barry’s score comes a little too close to sounding like James Last in his attempts to replicate the lounge music of the Las Vegas setting, and Charles Gray’s portrayal of Ernst Stavro Blofeld loses all the menace that Donald Pleasance had brought to the role (admittedly this had been lost with Telly Savalas’ portrayal in OHMSS).

But I love Diamonds Are Forever regardless. It features my favourite Bond girl – the top-heavy Lana Wood – despite her role being very short and sweet. The theme song remains one of my favourites, and I was lucky enough to see Bassey perform it one year at Glastonbury in a medley of her Bond themes. Bond’s gadgets are reined in before the silliness of the Roger Moore era, and the film feels like one last hurrah for Connery’s 007 (although of course he would return to the role one more time in 1983’s Never Say Never Again).

The only drawback about the film is the stunt work, particularly in the mistakes they made with the Ford Mustang car chase. First of all, the thrilling police pursuit through the streets of Las Vegas is partly ruined by the fact that the sequence is clearly being watched by crowds of onlookers – as the producer’s were unable to close off the city’s streets from pedestrians.

RITA#617aSecondly, and most damning of all, the chase’s finale where Bond escapes the police by driving on two wheels through a tight alleyway was filmed incorrectly. They filmed the approach using two wheels on one side of the car, and filmed the shot of the car emerging from the alley on the opposite two wheels of the car. How terrible, and one wonders whether the continuity person – or in fact anybody working on this particular stunt – could ever hold their head high in Hollywood ever again. As a movie mistake, it’s up there with the Star Wars stormtrooper hitting his head on the Death Star doorway, or Charlton Heston supposedly wearing a wristwatch in Ben-Hur’s chariot race (an urban legend that has since been quashed).

Editors Bert Bates and John Holmes couldn’t have solved the mistake by reversing the film as both shots featured writing on buildings and advertisement hoardings, and so the only way out was a shot mid-alley which was made to look like Bond switched sides of the car mid-stunt. James Bond 007, licence to defy the laws of physics. As far as Bond mistakes go, this is even worse than choosing to soundtrack The Man With The Golden Gun’s barrel-roll stunt with a slide whistle.

RITA#617bDiamonds Are Fever’s lovable villains, the vaguely homosexual Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd deserve special mention, and not only for their great performance in the film as the murderous duo. Mr. Wint was played by actor Bruce Glover – father of Crispin ‘George McFly’ Glover – while Mr. Kidd was played by musician Putter Smith, bass player on sessions for, among others, Thelonius Monk, the Beach Boys and the Righteous Brothers.

Hit: Diamonds Are Forever (Main Title) – Shirley Bassey

Hidden Gem: 007 And Counting

Rocks In The Attic #616: Alfred Hitchcock – ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents Ghost Stories For Young People’ (1962)

RITA#616I took part in a trivia night last week, an annual event organised by the company I work for. Our team came a respectable sixth out of twenty five teams, but as always with these things a couple of questions really got under my skin.

In the Entertainment round, one of the questions was Which individual has won the most Oscars (28 in total)?

Now I should know this sort of thing. Ask me about which film has won the most, or which actor or actress has won the most, or even which three films have won all five major Oscars, and I’ll answer spot on, but this one had me stumped.

The rest of my team immediately suggested famous actors. I knew it wouldn’t be this – most actors do one thing and one thing only, with a small handful of people spreading their talents to directing or producing. Somebody else suggested Hitchcock, but if there’s one thing I do know, it’s that the Academy famously snubbed Hitch (he was nominated five times for Best Director, never winning, and only won once for Best Picture with 1940’s Rebecca).

Somebody else suggested Weta Workshop, Peter Jackson’s special effects studio – as New Zealanders love to talk about their own accomplishments, so the quiz writers could have put this in purposefully – but the question did state ‘individual’, and anyway, if it had been Weta Workshop all of New Zealand would know about it (and I’m sure a long-standing effects house like ILM would have won more craft Oscars than a relative newbie like Weta).

It had to be a producer, I thought, somebody who would spread their mark over a number of projects or even take the credit for the work of others. The mention of Hitchcock led me to think of Hitchcock’s American producer before he broke away and signed with Universal. But what the hell was his name? A big name producer, the kind of man with a name as big as the movies he made.

Hitchcock’s producer, Hitchcock’s producer, damn, what was his name? This reminded me of the time I started my GCSE History exam question on the development of the assembly line and mass production, looked at the question and immediately pulled a blank on the name of Henry Ford. Without remembering his name, I couldn’t tackle the question and had to resort to answering the alternative question instead.

What the hell was Hitchcock’s producer’s name? At any other time, I’d be looking on my phone for the answer, but they tend to frown on that sort of thing when you’re in the middle of a pub quiz. I had to rely on my failing memory instead.

Of course, if I had remembered David O. Selznick’s name, it would have been wrong anyway. He only won two Oscars for Best Picture (Rebecca and Gone With The Wind).

The answer – the individual who won the most Oscars – was Walt Disney of course; all for short films and documentaries. Everybody around the table kicked themselves, and we moved onto the music round, which we aced.

Just like I had predicted with my original idea around a producer taking the credit for the work of somebody else, I wonder if Walt had won his Oscars fair and square? Maybe it was a case of – to paraphrase a joke – What’s the difference between Walt Disney and Bing Crosby? Bing Crosby gives credit to others, but Walt Disney.

Hit: The Haunted And The Haunters (The Pirate’s Curse)

Hidden Gem: Johnny Takes A Dare (The More The Merrier)

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Rocks In The Attic #594: Manic Street Preachers – ‘Postcards From A Young Man’ (2010)

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I’m pretty sure the Manics have been making the same album over and over again since – at least – This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours. The first four albums all sounded different than the ones that went before them, for better or for worse, but from album number five they seemed to reach a level of complacency that has also seen them become darlings of BBC’s Radio Two.

The finger pointing usually goes to the disappearance of Richey Edwards – what band wouldn’t be affected by this? – and I find myself blaming his absence like everybody else. To be fair, I haven’t heard 2009’s Journal For Plague Lovers, the record written using posthumous lyrics by Edwards. I want it to be great, but there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to ever hear that record, just in case it’s terrible. It’s the same fear that’s kept me from watching the DVD of To Catch A Thief that I bought 15 years ago, because it’s the only film from Hitchcock’s golden period of the 1950s that I haven’t seen.

The one thing in the last couple of years that really killed the Manics for me was seeing the music video for their song Together Stronger. Subtitled ‘(C’Mon Wales)’, this was the official song of the Wales football team for the 2016 European Championships. What were once angry young men…

The Super Furry Animals’ unofficial Bing Bong was a better song anyway…

Hit: (It’s Not War) Just The End Of Love

Hidden Gem: Auto-Intoxication