Sunday, October 20, 2013

North By Northwest (review by contributor Simon Opitz)

Every week, we will feature a written review by contributor Simon Opitz. These reviews will be of a film the hosts of the First Time Watchers podcast have not discussed recently on the show. You can find more of Simon's reviews at

North By Northwest (review by contributor Simon Opitz)

North By Northwest 1959
Rating: 2.5/5

Sorry. I guess.
Aggressively artificial, even to the point that one could nearly mistake it for a metacommentary on Hollywood mandated narrative. If it had not indulged in the dramatically blase "let us entertain you" philosophy of the day, it might have done fine, or presented it as hokey (which it wasn't necessarily, just to accentuate the point it could've made about story). No, in fact the film is undone by how GOOD it's dialogue is and the genuine charm of the actors, not that either are particularly natural themselves. There simply isn't enough of a brechtian distance in the direction to qualify this as anything other than a shallow, phony crowdpleaser. It's either an intentionally choppy metacommentary ruined by quality surface details or a film concerned only with moving the plot in a way as underlined as possible bolstered by said details.
Either that or I've completely missed something, because I saw an intentionally contrived film put its grating narrative devices to no use other than "entertainment" here. I don't remember the last time I even used the word "entertaining" in a review, as a positive or a negative. It's such a nondescript, subjective idea that I don't feel it has a place in any actual analysis.
I know I referred to Girl Walk//All Day, as "fun," at least, but here's the difference between this and that. The entire thesis of Girl Walk is that one can be infected by another's unrelenting, passionate enthusiasm, and maybe even bolstered by the inevitable barrier that is cinema. This expects you to accept its precise calculation as fun.
A word to bring up is melodrama, which shouldn't be used as a pejorative and I'm not here. It merely means a heightened sense of stakes. This film could be described as such, but to little more effect than spelling out exactly how the narrative is advancing. It's better than being didactic, I suppose, but that's still not much of an excuse for such a luridly pronounced plotline.
There aren't many "plotholes," but everything is just so coldly calculated to move the plot there might as well be. Logical inconsistencies in plot in no way sink a film, unless they apply to a character driven moment. While the film could reasonably called "character driven," the characters are such exaggerations of real life that it ends up a gauche, telegraphed experience. It's too self contained within its own runtime; nothing matters before the first plot point and nothing matters after the last one. It's a surprisingly competently made, prepackaged fast food product with too much salt (representing obvious plottiness). How do people even remember this film at all, let alone for 50 years?
Cary Grant's personality has nothing to do with his motivation. The fact that he does have definable traits really doesn't matter. There's no reason beyond the fact that he's cool to have an emotional investment in his wellbeing (or demise). The fact that he's not cool in the one scene in which he's drunk doesn't count.
Eva Marie Saint is much better, good enough to be called an asset, as she actually has some internal conflict as to her love for him and her desire for self preservation. I could argue that her infatuation gets too deep too quickly, but I'm going to interpret her character as weary from having to dispose of people like this so often, and this guy is just charming enough to have a slightly deeper feeling of regret over. I'm pretty sure that's unintentional and it really is all about the wuv, but I've gotta get something out of the 53rd best film ever made, right? Besides, her performance, while somewhat flat, does manage to convey at least a shade of this.
I will say there seem to be themes of masculinity and identity at play SOMEwhere here, but neither are the focus of the film, and aren't even subconsciously present in Cary Grant to inject some interest into him. They don't necessarily have to be within him to work, With a different directorial job they could've been properly explored, but Hitchcock wants to do nothing more than move that dang plot along as showily as he can. Also the masculinity aspect amounts to nothing more than subtext of "help I'm emasculated because I'm letting a woman help me" and it's present for only a few minutes anyway. The identity exploration just kind of gives up, unless being "everyone can be a slightly incompetent secret agent with a lot of coaching" was the message.
This is Plato's worst nightmare: an art piece purporting to reflect our world with no caveat that it's aware of its falsehood. With all the tics of self-parody with none of the unintentional hilarity, it doesn't even work as a shallow distraction for me very well. Somewhat competent low escapism, don't really get the love.

No comments:

Post a Comment