Murder, adultery and all that jazz: Chicago has been a hit Broadway musical, a critically acclaimed film, and has sparked the imagination of anyone who secretly loves a little glitz, a moonshine cocktail and a bit of bad behaviour. And there’s something uniquely compelling, fun and totally unique about Cecil B. DeMille’s 1927 silent Chicago that the other film versions just don’t have.
Think back to when you were a small child, to a time when you could create exciting worlds of adventure and menace simply with your imagination. The earth was too big to contemplate, and so the tiny intricacies of your small corner of it were intriguing enough to command your undivided attention.
It’s usually impossible to feel that level of excitement and wonder as an adult. The big things get in the way.
That’s one of the many reasons that The Paper Cinema is so unique and wonderful. Last night’s Bristol Festival of Puppetry opener at Watershed (three short ‘films’ animated by paper puppeteers, and projected onto the big screen with incredible technical skill) made me feel like a child again, full of unbridled imagination.
To celebrate the fifty-year anniversary of the release of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, Colston Hall put on a unique screening of the horror classic with a twist – an orchestral accompaniment playing Bernard Herrman’s infamous score along with the film.
As a huge horror, Hitchcock and Herrman fan, it was an event I had to attend! Having seen and thoroughly enjoyed the Tipett Quartet’s performance of a selection of Herrman’s film scores at Colston Hall in 2011, I was pretty excited.
I won’t spend my word count explaining the plot – I assume you know enough about the Bates Motel and Norman Bates’ unhealthy relationship with his mother already, whether you’ve seen the film or not. At the bare minimum I assume you’ve seen the shower scene, or at least spin offs of it, before.
The screenplay and the music in Psycho are so inextricably reliant on one another, that to see the music live, and the film as it was intended on the big screen, really attracted me to this event. The music augments Hitchcock’s direction so perfectly, making Psycho (to my mind anyway) in every way deserving of its classic status.
I genuinely enjoyed the performance, and the atmosphere before the start was suitably full of anticipation. Just the sight of the gathered strings prepared you for tension. I also thoroughly enjoyed watching the film on the big screen, despite having seen it many, many times before.
Conductor Anthony Gabriele and the British Sinfonietta were note perfect, beautifully timed, and played the score exactly as Herrman intended it. Watching the schizophrenic tension of the jerky violin bows was a beautifully jarring spectacle.
I also spoke to a couple of people who attended having never seen the film before and who had been drawn in by the uniqueness of the event. What a way to watch it for the first time – I was quite envious.
Although both the film and the music were hugely enjoyable, I couldn’t help but feel the talented orchestra were a little overlooked. It felt in parts like the film and the music were vying for attention. Although the orchestra were faultless in their performance, they were in a way cheated by technology.
It is very difficult to concentrate on the two things separately – and in a way, you shouldn’t, as it is the screenplay and score working in unison that make the film brilliant. I am in fact listening to the soundtrack as I type this (yes, if anyone walks in now I may look a little strange, tapping away to Psycho, but hey, we all go a little mad sometimes), and the music alone is worthy of attention.
However, with surround sound in modern cinema complexes so good, it was easy to forget there was an orchestra playing at all – the reason being that they played so well.
In one way, it was a greatly unique experience, and made me appreciate the film and the score afresh. It also obviously led people who hadn’t seen it before come out and get to view it as it was intended, on the big screen, with great importance placed on the wonderful score. However, in another way, one took a little away from the other.
The music was so brilliantly performed, I would have been happy to watch the orchestra without the film, and would have been pleased to give them a little more of the attention they deserved.
The event was a fun way to appreciate what is still, despite having been copied innumerable times and despite scenes now so familiar, a brilliant, unique and both cinematically and musically perfect piece of cinema.
A genuinely unique and enjoyable experience.
The Shining is without doubt one of my all-time favourite horror films.
I also love the book, and despite Stephen King’s vehement objections to the film’s deviation from the original themes (the horror of a volatile and abusive alcoholic father, struggling with demons, while his traumatised son invents an imaginary friend to escape his memories) Kubrick’s version is equally interesting and terrifying. The maze scene in which Nicholson’s ‘Jack Torrence’ meets his end is one of the most memorable cinematic moments in horror history, and something that was not part of King’s original telling.
Kubrick has undoubtedly a completely different way of building tension, suspense and paranoid, uneasy terror. His almost visceral lack of subtlety bludgeons you into submission, and the surreal and intense colours and sickeningly long corridors (which make as little sense to your overloaded senses as the maze makes to the characters in the film) affect in a completely different way to the book. In a way that couldn’t be achieved in a book.
Kubrick’s reworking is also primed for conspiracy theory, as is all of his work. His infamously obsessive attention to detail, and insistence on cinematic continuity down to the tiniest insignificant detail makes his films the perfect playground for other obsessives to read into, to pour over, frame by frame, noticing a seemingly inexhaustible number of tiny oddities – possibly deliberate, possibly accidental, but all wholly and compellingly open to speculation over what the eccentric director intended them to show.
Room 237 explores some of these theories, in the style of a deconstructive literary interpretation – a presentation of five theories put forward by five very different obsessives whom we never actually see. What we do see is a beautifully directed and painstakingly thorough walk through of what led them to their varying conclusions – some of which are totally plausible, some of which are disturbingly paranoid and others which are just plain daft. We journey with these fanatics, who have watched the film, frame by frame, who knows how many hundreds of times.
The theories proponents range from historians, to journalists, to simply obsessively interested fanatics, and the readings vary wildly. That is the really interesting thing about this documentary – the vast difference of human minds, all of whom are obsessed with the same thing, and all of whom reach such utterly different conclusions – and like a dog with a bone, once they get a taste, they simply cannot let go.
From a historical commentary about the holocaust, to a narrative charting America’s systematic denial and refusal to really admit their responsibility for the genocide of the Native Americans, to a secret confession of Kubrick’s staging of the NASA moon landing in the sixties, each interpretation is passionately backed with perceived ‘evidence’. Some of which is compelling; some of which is utterly bizarre.
The question is, to what extent should we let ourselves indulge artistic interpretation before it becomes a kind of insanity – and again, The Shining is the perfect sphere in which to explore such a notion.
We also have to ask, with knowledge of the directors obsessive, deliberate nature and his filmic insistence on detail, is it in fact us – the average viewer, the fan of horror – that has missed the point.
Whichever way you look at it, the film, and the characters of those possessed by it (which some of them clearly are) make for very interesting viewing. Just be careful you don’t get as lost in the maze as Jack Torrence does. Most standard filmgoers will no doubt give you a frosty reception.
The other great thing about the documentary is that it made me sorry I had not been born when the film was originally released, to have seen it without expectation, and to have seen is as it was intended, in all its glory, on the big screen.
Thankfully, the last one is achievable. The director’s cut of The Shining is showing at the Watershed, so that is where I’ll be. Trying not to read too much into one of my favourite films, which I suspect will now look to me, slightly different.
A rather gloomy, but brilliant film – Click the link to read my review. Breathing Review
Karl Markovics directorial debut, bleak & touching. Review to follow!