Monday, 28 February 2011

Monday, 21 February 2011

The Birds (1963)

Fig. 1 Theatrical Poster

Only loosely based upon the Daphne du Maurier book of the same name, this film focuses upon an impulsive and irresponsible young woman who spends a weekend in a small seaside "town" (village) only to find that the local avian population have decided to declare war on humanity,
It must be noted that the effect of the film is not down to the plot; rather the plot provides an excuse for some very effective set-pieces that have gone down in cinema history.  Apparently, (at least according to Phil) most commentators interpret it as a commentary on women's empowerment and sexuality; however it seems to me that there is just as strong an argument that it is a study of the impact of outsiders on small rural communities (the distraught mother accusing Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) of causing all the mayhem).

The films opening credits are filmed against a backdrop of a flock of shrieking starlings, and this introduces the recurring visual motif of the film - that of flapping, squawking menace.  However, Hitchcock takes care to mislead the viewer; all of the early sights of birds are benign, everyday background scenery.  The flock of seagulls circling over a city street - they must have been driven inland by a storm at sea - the caged birds in the pet shop, quietly chirping away in the background.  When the first bird attack occurs - a single gull pecking at Melanie's head - the effect is shocking.  The counterpoint of the bizarre - a seagull attacking a human - with the ordinary banality of the film up to that point causes the audience to question their assumptions about the film (Crowther, 1963).

Perhaps the most famous shot of the film (certainly the most referenced) is the scene where Melanie sits on a bench outside Bodega Bay school, smoking a cigarette.  Inside the school, the children are singing, and behind Melanie some crows are perched on the climbing frame.  Every time the camera cuts back to Melanie smoking, the number of birds on the climbing frame increases.  The tension slowly builds, as the audience waits anxiously for her to turn round and spot the avian menace behind her; at the same time the way the crows sit still and silent is highly unnatural and unnerving.
Fig. 2 Film Still [Close Up]
The film doesn't use background music in the traditional sense; all of the soundtrack is actually happening, in the film world.  There are moments of music, when Melanie plays the piano, or the radio is on, but on the whole the only sounds the audience hear are the everyday sounds of life.  This ensures that whenever the birds attack, the audience's ears are assaulted by a cacophony of squawks and shrieks; the effect combining with the flapping, darting images and quick cuts onscreen to make the audience feel that they too are under attack (Time, 1963).

Fig. 3 Film Still
There are other memorable images in the film: an overhead shot of the village, its gas station burning in the wake of an avian attack, seagulls circling in the foreground (fig. 3); Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) opening the door of his house after a night of being under siege to discover birds covering the ground, the roof and the trees outside; the elderly farmer lying dead in his bedroom, the first victim of the birds, covered in scratches and with his eyes apparently pecked out (fig. 4)
Fig. 4 Film Still [Close Up]
Perhaps the most memorable feature of the film is the ending, which still feels modern despite it's age.  As the small group of characters the film has focussed on get into their car and try to drive to safety, surrounded by flocks of watching birds, the film fades to black without the traditional "The End", suggesting that while this is the end of the film, it is in no way the end of the avian threat (Film 4, 2011).  The audience is left to wonder what happens to Melanie and the Brenners - do they make it to safety; is there even any safety to reach?

List of Illustrations

Figure 1.   Universal Pictures (Org) (1963) "The Birds" Theatrical Poster [Digital Image] At: (Accessed on 11/02/2011)

Figure 2.   Universal Pictures (Org) (1963) The Birds [Film Still] At: (Accessed on 16/02/2011)

Figure 3.   Universal Pictures (Org) (1963) The Birds [Film Still] At: (Accessed on 21/02/2011)

Figure 4.  Universal Pictures (Org) (1963) The Birds [Film Still] At: (Accessed on 21/02/2011)


Crowther, Bosley (1963) "The Birds": Hitchcock's Feathered Fiends are Chilling In: The New York Times [Online] At: on 15/02/2011)

"Film4" Staff (2011) The Birds (1963) In: [Online] At: (accessed on 21/02/2011)

"Time" Staff (1963) Cinema: They Is Here In: Time Magazine [Online] At:,9171,830097,00.html (Accessed on 20/02/2011)

Friday, 18 February 2011

Terrible Beauty

Having just watched Dr Strangelove for my essay, I was reminded of a series of photographs of a world-changing moment...

Whilst it may seem macabre, I can't help feeling there is something beautiful in these images of pure physics in motion

Panning Shot

Again, put together with premier pro

Anyone reminded of the saying about life being like a bird flying through a room?

Monday, 14 February 2011

Essay Introduction

Here is the introduction as it stands at the moment            

This essay is an investigation of the relationship between story and structure in film, specifically Dr Strangelove, directed by Stanley Kubrick.  It focuses upon the stylistic, directorial and editorial choices in the film, as well as the use of filmic devices such as montage and musical themes.  Key sources include Luis Mainar’s “Narrative and Stylistic Patterns in the Films of Stanley Kubrick”, which deals with the style and narrative of the films of Stanley Kubrick, and James Naremore’s “Stanley Kubrick and the Aesthetics of the Grotesque”, which looks at the juxtaposition of ridiculous and unsettling elements to create unresolved tension in the audience.  The assignment will start by analysing the narrative structure of the film, in particular the use of a limited number of settings and characters, before moving upon to the design and photography of these scenes.  Finally, it will examine the context and underlying themes of the film.

Story Premise

After looking at my story, I think the premise is:

"It's never too late to fulfil your childhood dreams"

Pendulum Animation

Yay for simple harmonic motion

Script version 1

Storytelling Script

The name may need work ^^;

Friday, 11 February 2011

Science versus the Critics

Apparently, neuroscientists have shown that (of all the directors they have so far investigated) Alfred Hitchcock is the director most able to manipulate the emotions of audiences watching his films.

Interesting thought, isn't it?
Marshall, J (2011) Gripping Yarns In: The New Scientist 12th February 2011 p. 47

Bouncing Ball 2

I know it strobes a bit, but I couldn't get rid of it ^^;

Lifedrawing 08/02/2011

The last exercise was probably the most fun I've had in lifedrawing for a while

Psycho (1960)

Fig. 1  Theatrical Poster
Filmed on a tiny budget using crew from his television series, Psycho is Hitchcock's demonstration that good plot and direction can make a film a classic, regardless of resources.  Much of its effect is due to Hitchcock's careful manipulation of the audience's expectations and sympathies, misdirecting them in the manner of a conjurer.
Indeed, almost the entire first third of the film is a misdirection, (described by Empire critic David Parkinson as "the biggest and most glorious macguffins of Hitchcock's career - the life and crime of Marion Crane (Leigh)" (Parkinson, 2006)) with Hitchcock suggesting that the film will be about Marion's attempted evasion of the sinister policeman (rather like North by Northwest)

Fig. 2 Policeman
The famous (or infamous, depending upon your point of view) shower scene is notable for the way in conveys violence withought explicitly showing it.  The fast cuts (some counts put the number as high as 87) and shrieking strings in the soundtrack combine to create the impression of a violent attack, and the use of close-ups brings the audience into the action. There is also a contrast in the way that the two characters are shot - the victim (Marion) is clearly lit and filmed in close-up, while the attacker either a silhouette or filmed from the back, concealing their face and dehumanising them.

Fig. 3 Attacker
By this point, the audience's emotions are so confused, Hitchcock is able to pull of one of the most daring "tricks" in cinema history; he persuades the viewer to sympathise (at least unconciously) with the character of Norman Bates (Ebert, 1998).  We can understand his actions in cleaning up the crime scene and disposing of the evidence in the swamp at the back of the property - after all, he is trying to protect his elderly mother (even if she has just killed someone, she is the only relative he has).  Norman (Anthony Perkins) is an amiable young man, slightly awkward at times, and with somewhat macabre hobby (taxidermy), but his horror at discovering Marion's body is convincing.

Even if you have seen it before and know the twist at the end, it doesn't really spoil your enjoyment of the film; indeed if anything the knowledge helps you spot the ironic black humour that permeates the film almost from the beginning ("Mother isn't quite herself today"), and the slow and steady buildup ensures that you are still shocked whenever violence suddenly errupts.

Arguably, the most memorable scene of the film is the very last, where Norman sits, wrapped in a blanket, in a bare cell, his huddled figure in contrast to the stark white walls.  Over a slow zoom into his face, the voice of Mrs Bates talks about how she will convince them that it was all Norman's fault, and how she wouldn't hurt a fly.  Then, as Norman looks up with a sinister smile, there is a cross fade to the face of Mrs Bates.  It's over so quickly the viewer is unsure that they saw anything, the effect is electrifying.

Fig. 4 Norman Bates

List of Illustrations

Figure 1.   Shamley Productions (Org) (1960) "Psycho" Theatrical Poster [Digital Image] At: (Accessed on 10/02/2011)

Figure 2.   Shamley Productions (Org) (1960) Psycho [Film Still] At: (Accessed on 10/02/2011)

Figure 3.   Shamley Productions (Org) (1960) Psycho [Film Still] At: (Accessed on 11/02/2011)

Figure 4.   Shamley Productions (Org) (1960) Psycho [Film Still] At: (Accessed on 11/02/2011)

Crowther, Bosley (1960) Hitchcock's Psycho Bows at 2 Houses In: The New York Times [Online] At: (Accessed on 11/02/2011)

Ebert, Roger (1998) Psycho (1960) In: [Online] At: (Accessed on 11/02/2011)

Film4 Staff (2011) Psycho In: [Online] At: (Accessed on 11/02/2011)
Parkinson, David (2006) Psycho In: [Online] At: (Accessed on 10/02/2011)

2 Person Conversation

Bonus points to anyone who can tell me what I'm referencing

(Assembled in Premier Pro)

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

La Jetee (1962)

Fig. 1 La Jetee Theatrical Poster

Not really a film in the conventional sense of the word, this is the story of a survivor of a future war told using a montage of stock photos and special shot material.  The story is narrated by the main character, starting with his visit to Paris' Orly Airport during which he witnesses a man being killed.  "Shortly afterwards, Paris was blown up" he informs us blandly, as soaring choral music provides the soundtrack to a montage of images of bomb-damaged cities from WWII.  In some ways, this is the most conventionally "filmic" scene of the movie - to any viewer aquainted with war films the combination of  classical music and scenes of destruction will be familiar.
The survivors of the war are forced to live underground as a result of radiation, and the victors use their captives (including the protagonist) as guinea pigs in unspecified experiments that are described as leading to death or madness.  One day, the protagonist is chosen for experimentation, and taken to meet the scientist in charge.  While the other victors wear strange and sinister glasses (probably to dehumanise them and enhance the audience's perception of them as "bad guys"), the scientist is revealed to be a perfectly ordinary-looking man, who explains that he is working to try and save humanity.

Fig. 2  La Jetee [Film Still]

The rest of the story involves his repeated visits to the past, during which he starts a relationship with a woman he remembered seeing at Orly Airport, before he successfully contacts the future and delivers his message.

When watching the film, it is interesting to note the way that the prewar period is photographed in a relatively well lit way, while the postwar scenes have a high contrast (accentuated by the black and white film) with stark shadows and harsh lighting.  Meanwhile, the scenes where the protagonist makes contact with the future are the most abstract, with strange abstract patterns resembling cloud-chamber tracks overlaid upon black clad figures standing against a black background.
Fig, 3 Future Humans [Film Still]
Although the film is formed almost entirely of still photographs, there is one instance of actual film.  While the protagonist is visiting the past, he has formed a relationship with the woman he remembers.  Despite the difficulties caused by his haphazard appearance (due to being sent back in time erraticaly), they fall in love, and during his final visit to the past there is a shot of her lying in bed and slowly opening her eyes.  Coming after so many still images, the effect of this slight movement is amplified.  As the TimeOut reviewer notes, "The...fluid montage leads the viewer into the sensation of watching moving images. Until, that is, an extraordinary epiphany when an image genuinely does move: the man's sleeping lover opens her eyes." (TimeOut, 1962).

List of Illustrations

Figure 1.   Argos Films (Org) (1962) "La Jetee" Theatrical Poster [Digital Image] At: (Accessed on 08/02/2011)

Figure 2.  Argos Films (Org) (1962) La Jetee [Film Still] At: (Accessed on 08/02/2011)

Figure 3.  Argos Films (Org) (1962) La Jetee [Film Still] At: (Accessed on 09/02/2011)


Crowther, Bosley (1967) Movie Review - Castles for Two (1917) - Screen: Short-Film Show: New Cinema Brings Back Some Favourites of Cinema 16 for Lincoln Center Series In: The New York Times [Online] At: (Accessed on 09/02/2011)

Film4 Staff La Jetee (1962) In: [Online] At: (Accessed on 09/02/2011)

TimeOut Staff (1962) La Jetee Review In: TimeOut London [Online] At: (Accessed on 09/02/2011)

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Rope (1948)

Fig.1  Theatrical Poster
Often referred to as an "Experimental" film due to Hitchcock's decision to shoot it as a single continuous shot (actually composed of 10 minute shots joined by "invisible cuts" due to technical limitations) (TimeOut, 1948) Rope is a film about 2 young men who commit a murder out of a Nietschien sense of superiority and then invite the victims family round for a party in the room where the body is concealed.
Hitchcock said that the reason he confined himself to a single shot was to emphasise the fact that the action occured in "real time"; he believed that, like the play the screenplay was based on, if there were any jumps in the action then there would be no suspense - the possibility would have been raised that the body might have been moved when the audience couldn't see it (Ebert, 1984).
At the time of its release, many reviews were critical of its "slow" pace and lack of interest, with the New York Time review observing that "...the tedium of waiting or someone to open that chest and discover the hidden body...(and)...the unpunctuated flow of image becomes quite monotonous." (Crowther, 1948).  Even Hitchcock expressed reservations about the film, describing it as "An experiment that didn't work out" (Ebert, 1984), while some questioned his basic premise, pointing out that several contemporary films had successfully conveyed the idea of "real time" action despite using cuts.
However, when the film was re-released in 1984, it recieved a considerably more favourable reception, with reviews lauding Hitchcocks slow and masterful creation of tension.  The New York Times review of the re-release stated that ""Rope" is not merely a stunt that is justified by the extraordinary career that contains it, but one of the movies that makes that career extraordinary. (Canby, 1984)
One of the most important "unseen" parts of the film is the set that was constructed for it - Due to the size and bulk of the camera, every part of the set (including the walls) had to be movable so that the camera could move freely around.  An army of stagehands was employed to quickly (and most importantly silently) move objects into and out of position.  This enabled Hitchcock to move the camera around in a manner that seems almost random, but always seems to be focused on exactly the right piece of action.  This is most noticable during the shot of the housekeeper clearing away the food from on top of the chest containing the body - at first this appears to be a secondary action to the conversation occurring camera right, but as the camera stays fixed on her back and forth between the lounge and the kitchen, the tension slowly builds as she gets closer and closer to the moment of opening the chest.
Fig.2 Rope film still

List of Illustrations

Figure. 1   Warner Bros. Pictures (Org) (1948) "Rope" Theatrical Poster [Digital Image] At: (Accessed on 07/02/2011)

Figure. 2   Warner Bros. Pictures (Org) (1948) "Rope" [Film Still] At: (Accessed on 08/02/2011)


Canby, Vincent (1984) "Rope": A Stunt to Behold In: The New York Times [Online] At: (Accessed on 07/02/2011)

Crowther, Bosley (1948) "Rope": An Exercise in Suspense Directed by Alfred Hitchcock In: The New York Times [Online] At: (Accessed on 07/02/2011)

Ebert, Roger (1984) Rope In: [Online] At: (Accessed on 07/02/2011)

TimeOut Staff (1948) Rope (1948) In: TimeOut London [Online] At: (Accessed on 07/02/2011)

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Story Ideas

some quick plot ideas for the project

  • Window cleaner up ladder cleaning window
  • Window cleaner moves on to next set of windows
  • When carrying ladder to next set of windows, steps on rollerskate and falls over
  • Grumbles and climbs ladder
  • sees reflection of fairground in window
  • crowd of kids go past bottom of ladder
  • looks back to reflection of fairground, then reflection of himself
  • him on roller coaster (maybe ladder against window in background)
  • Location - future museum; inside a history of entertainment - old fairground rides to motion simulators to VR sets
  • (old) Windowcleaner cleaning windows of building looking in at kids enjoying the more modern amusements
  • finishes outside of windows
  • goes inside as museum closes
  • starts inside of windows
  • moves on to display cases
  • when he's cleaning roller-skate case, main lights go out leaving just dim lights
  • Windowcleaner on merry-go-round alone
3.   (fastest windowcleaner in the World!!)
  • Bored looking window cleaner cleaning windows
  • Sudden Idea strikes
  • Windowcleaner skates down street dragging squeegie along whole front of building
  • Someone steps out of front door of building and gets soapy sponge in face
  • Window cleaner gets sack
  • mystery stranger talks to sacked windowcleaner
  • stranger turns out to be owner of travelling fair; offers windowcleaner job as an act
  • Windowcleaner becomes famous as "fastest window cleaner in the west"