Monday, 6 February 2012

ROPE (1948)

                                     Fig 1
Alfred Hitchcock, known fairly well for his innovative techniques based in thriller genres, specializes in the act of suspense and keeping his audience on their toes. However, in one of his more understated films, he attempts to pioneer the technique of one, continuous film, implementing as little editing as possible. This film is his 1948 film 'Rope' (Fig 1), starring John Dall as Brandon Shaw and Farley Granger as Phillip Morgan, the two primary characters (Fig 2). Due to the film's tried strategy of shooting a full length movie in around 9 edits, it did poorly at the box office due to being so separated from the norm of other
                                    Fig 2
films of its time. The film was based on a stage play, which is why it uses such widely-spaced edits. In his online review, John Kenneth Muir talks about the differences between film and theatre, saying “In movies, for instance, you can travel anywhere, choose any perspective, telescope time and accomplish other important tasks. You can slow moments down or speed them up. You can feature optical effects. In the theatre, you are forever chained to the stage, to a limited number of settings, and to the view from the seats, before the proscenium arch.” (Muir, 2008) Muir seems to recognize the disadvantages of the conversion of theatre to film, but despite being film, the edits are cleverly disguised throughout, often panning into someone's back or into a piece of furniture. Very rarely does the film do an unmasked cut. These cuts happened due to the projectionist running out of film during these segmented cuts, having to equip a new reel of film between each section. Hitchcock masters this technique, blending the cuts with the film almost seamlessly.

The film takes place among guests in a middle-class booze party, essentially putting the audience among the guests themselves to watch the events unwrap in real-time, starting with the murder in the beginning. Alfred uses this to excellent effect as his type of suspense doesn't withhold information until the last moment. Instead, it gives us it right from the very start so we know what the suspense is building up to. Each moment in the film the audience is anticipating the hidden body's reveal, but that suspension is watered down each time any sequence is close to the discovery by the guest's socialising.
                                                                                                               Fig 3
The drama that sparks between guests seems to simply be a distraction to thin out and stretch the anticipation, yet dialogue spoken between characters is realistic and believable. That, along with the use of camera work draws in the viewer to be in the very scenes with the guests on-screen as Bosely Crowther tells us in his review. “The physical limitation of the camera to one approach compels it to stay as an eavesdropper on lots of dialogue” (Crowther, ). The viewer can literally feel the suspense in the air as things unfold before them, growing more and more complex as guests even talk over one another.

The feeling of discord and complexity is a constant presence within the movie, particularly when the dialogue of the characters overlaps. Perhaps this is to build on the representation of the minds of the two murderers and how they dig themselves further into their own guilt-ridden grave, mixed feelings overlapping.

This is also represented by a certain scene in which one of the murderers, the nervous and squirely Morgan, plays the piano as one of the guests, Rupert Cadell, played by James Stewart, questions him about his recent nervous outburst regarding a memory of his youth about strangling chickens, a concept similar to how they murdered their victim in the start of the film. The metronome ticks faster and faster as the interrogation progresses and as Morgan's nerves get the better of him, he begins to play more frantically while he shifts to a minor key.

Rope specializes in elongated and drawn-out shots, particularly when dealing with the chest that conceals the body which the film revolves around. The house maid, Mrs. Wilson, played by Edith Evanson, walks back and forth between rooms from the living room, through the hall and all the way to the kitchen for at least three full minutes as she clears away the chest, cleverly disguised as a table used to serve snacks during the cocktail party (Fig 3). If we had cut away from the view of the chest in this scene, any of the guests could be poking about it. Again, Muir considers this clearly in his review: “Again, if you cut away -- if you aren't keeping track of the terrain -- any character could have been fiddling with the chest all along, and we - the audience - wouldn't necessarily see it or know it. This way, Hitchcock's way, every character seems to orbit that coffin, but the sanctity of it is never violated. Not until the end of the picture.” (Muir, 2008)  
Neither of the sheepish murderers, who become more and more nervous throughout the film, seem to stop her. As she starts to grab books, we know that she's going to attempt to open the chest to put them inside, yet right at the very last moment, the suspense is shattered as Shaw intervenes and calls her off for the night. That is the type of suspense that Hitchcock has mastered which has resulted in a physiological thriller of a movie.



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