Levels of Suspense

Out of the many prominent motifs Alfred Hitchcock uses in his films, staircases are the key to understanding his view of the world. Coming from a lower-middle class family himself, Hitchcock uses stairs to indicate differences in societal class. In the 1927 film The Lodger, Ivor Novello’s character lives above the family who rents the house out, indicating to the audience that he is of higher societal stature than the rest of the family. The lodger’s class is also indicated when he purchases a very expensive dress Daisy, the landlady’s daughter, models for him. The viewer must pay careful attention to visual clues, like the staircase, which hint at the lodger’s class in Hitchcock’s early silent films.

Then, adding sound, in his 1929 film Blackmail, Hitchcock uses an elaborately created staircase set design to show their important significance. In this film, the stairs to Crewe’s apartment are like venturing into another world, where everything delves into chaos. Hitchcock shows us the long walk up with Alice and Crewe using a side angle, and then Alice’s lone journey back into the real world after she has defended herself against Crewe. Hitchcock gives us a downward view of Alice running down the staircase, an angle which he will be known for in his 1958 film Vertigo.

Overall, in Hitchcock’s films, stairs are a tool to build suspense and dramatic effect, and to symbolize a journey for the characters.

 
 

The Lodger (1927)

 
 

Blackmail (1929)

 
 

The 39 Steps (1935)

 
 

Rebecca (1940)

 
 

Suspicion (1941)

 
 

Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

 
 

Spellbound (1945)

 
 

Notorious (1946)

 
 

I Confess (1953)

 
 

Dial M for Murder (1954)

 
 

Rear Window (1954)

 
 

To Catch a Thief (1955)

 
 

Vertigo (1958)

 
 

Psycho (1960)

 
 

Marnie (1964)

 
 

Topaz (1969)

Advertisements

To Gain Entry Into the Law

“Before the law sits a gatekeeper. To this gatekeeper comes a man from the country who asks to gain entry into the law. But the gatekeeper says that he cannot grant him entry at the moment. The man thinks about it and then asks if he will be allowed to come in later on. “It is possible,” says the gatekeeper, “but not now.” At the moment the gate to the law stands open, as always, and the gatekeeper walks to the side, so the man bends over in order to see through the gate into the inside. When the gatekeeper notices that, he laughs and says: “If it tempts you so much, try it in spite of my prohibition. But take note: I am powerful. And I am only the most lowly gatekeeper. But from room to room stand gatekeepers, each more powerful than the other. I can’t endure even one glimpse of the third.” The man from the country has not expected such difficulties: the law should always be accessible for everyone, he thinks, but as he now looks more closely at the gatekeeper in his fur coat, at his large pointed nose and his long, thin, black Tartar’s beard, he decides that it would be better to wait until he gets permission to go inside. The gatekeeper gives him a stool and allows him to sit down at the side in front of the gate. There he sits for days and years. He makes many attempts to be let in, and he wears the gatekeeper out with his requests. The gatekeeper often interrogates him briefly, questioning him about his homeland and many other things, but they are indifferent questions, the kind great men put, and at the end he always tells him once more that he cannot let him inside yet. The man, who has equipped himself with many things for his journey, spends everything, no matter how valuable, to win over the gatekeeper. The latter takes it all but, as he does so, says, “I am taking this only so that you do not think you have failed to do anything.” During the many years the man observes the gatekeeper almost continuously. He forgets the other gatekeepers, and this one seems to him the only obstacle for entry into the law. He curses the unlucky circumstance, in the first years thoughtlessly and out loud, later, as he grows old, he still mumbles to himself. He becomes childish and, since in the long years studying the gatekeeper he has come to know the fleas in his fur collar, he even asks the fleas to help him persuade the gatekeeper. Finally his eyesight grows weak, and he does not know whether things are really darker around him or whether his eyes are merely deceiving him. But he recognizes now in the darkness an illumination which breaks inextinguishably out of the gateway to the law. Now he no longer has much time to live. Before his death he gathers in his head all his experiences of the entire time up into one question which he has not yet put to the gatekeeper. He waves to him, since he can no longer lift up his stiffening body. The gatekeeper has to bend way down to him, for the great difference has changed things to the disadvantage of the man. “What do you still want to know, then?” asks the gatekeeper. “You are insatiable.” “Everyone strives after the law,” says the man, “so how is that in these many years no one except me has requested entry?” The gatekeeper sees that the man is already dying and, in order to reach his diminishing sense of hearing, he shouts at him, “Here no one else can gain entry, since this entrance was assigned only to you. I’m going now to close it.”

Franz Kafka

 
 

Anthony Perkins in The Trial (Orson Welles, 1962)
 

 
 

The fable is referenced and reworked in the penultimate chapter of J.M. Coetzee‘s novel Elizabeth Costello. Jacques Derrida‘s essay of the same name examines the meta-fictional aspects within the structure and content of Kafka’s fable (for instance the situation of the title before the body of the text and also within the first line of the text itself). Derrida’s essay incorporates Immanuel Kant‘s notion of the categorical imperative as well as Freudian psychoanalysis in its reading of Kafka’s fable. The section clearly demonstrates the concept of existentialism, as the man from the country can only enter the gate using his own, individual path.

Before the Trial

“Say what you like, but The Trial is my greatest work, even greater than Citizen Kane

Orson Welles

 
 

 
 

In 1960, Orson Welles was approached by producer Alexander Salkind and his brother Michael Salkind to make a film from a public domain literary choice. Salkind promised that Welles would have total artistic freedom and he would not interfere with Welles’ creation. Welles and Salkind agreed to create a film based on the Franz Kafka novel The Trial, only to discover later the text was not in the public domain and that they needed to obtain the rights to the property. Earlier that year Welles’s son, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, had casually mentioned an idea to Welles about adapting The Trial as a stage play, prompting Welles to state that The Trial was an important book and that he should re-read it.

 
 

 
 

Welles took six months to write the screenplay. In adapting the work, he rearranged the order of Kafka’s chapters. In this version, the chapter line-up read 1, 4, 2, 5, 6, 3, 8, 7, 9, 10. However, the order of Kafka’s chapters was arranged by his literary executor, Max Brod, after the writer’s death, and this order is not definitive. Welles also modernized several aspects of the story, introducing computer technology and changing Miss Burstner’s profession from a typist to a cabaret performer. The film begins with Welles narrating Kafka’s parable Before the Law. To illustrate this allegory, he used the pin screen animation of Alexandre Alexeieff, who created animated prints using thousands of pins.

The cast included Anthony Perkins as Josef K, Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider, Paola Mori and Akim Tamiroff. Welles initially hoped to cast U.S. comic actor Jackie Gleason as Hastler, but he took the role himself when Gleason rejected the part.

While filming exteriors in Zagreb, Welles was informed that the Salkinds had run out of money, meaning that there could be no set construction. No stranger to shooting on found locations, Welles soon filmed the interiors in the Gare d’Orsay, at that time an abandoned railway station in Paris. Welles thought the location possessed a “Jules Verne modernism” and a melancholy sense of “waiting”, both suitable for Kafka. The film failed at the box-office. Peter Bogdanovich would later observe that Welles found the film riotously funny. During the filming, Welles met Oja Kodar, who would later become his muse, star and mistress for the last twenty years of his life. Welles also stated in an interview with the BBC that it was his best film.

 
 

The Man Who Would Be Gatsby

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald

 
 

While a teenager, Francis Scott Fitzgerald was collecting ideas about the goings on in West Egg and not just those of the community but those of a specific man: W. Gould Brokaw, a now-forgotten Long Island socialite, playboy and gentleman automobile racer. He literally could not escape his shadow.

 
 

W. Gould Brokaw

 
 

Brokaw was the son of hugely successful New York clothier Vail Brokaw of Brokaw Brothers, and grandson of a railroad tycoon; he inherited a fortune of around $4.5 million and never needed to do anything in particular for work. His circle of friends was the cream of New York society: Astors, Whitneys, Guggenheims, Vanderbilts, Goulds, Morgans, all of them interested in speed, whether horses, greyhounds, yachts or cars. Brokaw was an elder statesman for that set of young millionaires, having been born a decade or more before most, in 1863. In later legal proceedings–of which there were oh so many, he was described as “a rich and fashionable clubman.”
 

According to Some Sort of Grandeur, Matthew Bruccoli’s biography of Francis Scott Fitzgerald, the character Jay Gatsby is based on the bootlegger and earlier World War I officer Max Gerlach. In the 1920s, when Gerlach knew the Fitzgeralds, he operated as a bootlegger and allegedly kept Fitzgerald topped off with booze. Born in Yonkers as Max A. Stark (or possibly Max A. Stork), he claimed direct German ancestry and went by the names of Max Stark Gerlach and Max von Gerlach later in life (his gravestone reads Max Stork Gerlach). Nevertheless, Gatsby is a composite, as are all Fitzgerald’s characters, and there’s a certain amount of Scottie himself in Jay.

 
 

Robert Evans and Ali MacGraw

 
 

About the filming adaption of The Great Gatsby directed by Jack Clayton in 1974, it was originally conceived and developed as a wedding present vehicle for Ali MacGraw (formerly Diana Vreeland’s assistant at Harper’s Bazaar magazine) from her then-husband Robert Evans. The project was derailed from its initial purpose when MacGraw fell in love with her The Getaway (Sam Peckinpah, 1972) co-star Steve McQueen and divorced Evans.

 
 

Evans in his home Woodland, built by architect John Woolf

 
 

The producer with Tatjiana Shoan. Harper’s Bazaar, 2004

 
 

Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw

 
 

Stills from The Great Gatsby (Jack Clayton, 1974)

 
 

Automobiles are almost treated as a character in the plot of Fitzgerald’s book. Myrtle Wilson was knocked down by a car and this sad event unchains the climax of the story. Plus, Fitzgerald to his editor Maxwell Perkins that the name of Jordan Baker (a character based on the golfer Edith Cumming) is a combination between the two then-popular automobile brands, the Jordan Motor Car Company and the Baker Motor Vehicle, as an allusion to Jordan’s “fast” reputation and the freedom now presented to Americans, especially women of 1920s.

 
 

Ralph Lauren

 
 

Ralph Lauren who (as we know) made the costumes for Jack Clayton’s The Great Gastby, has a penchant for cars. His collection of classic automobiles is another dimension of his own persona. An amazing lineup of 50-plus dream machines that have all been restored to glory, the convoy is a portal to the past, when men like Brokaw drove their race cars home from the track at the end of the day and manufacters were the manifestations of their designers: Jean Bugatti, Enzo Ferrari, Ferdinand Porsche… RL’s gateway drug was a white ’61 Morgan convertible with red leather seats, which he bought in 1963- back when he was a travelling salesman for the Boston-based tie company A. Rivetz & Co.- and was later forced to sell when he couldn’t afford a garage in Manhattan.

 
 

Steve McQueen

 
 

And it’s a little bit curious and probably not coincidental that one of Ralph Lauren’s cottages is adorned with black-and-white photos of Greta Garbo, Johnny Depp and Steve McQueen, a man who also loved engines and made himself just like Jay Gatsby and Lauren did.

An Early Version of The Great Gatsby

Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s letter to his editor, Max Perkins when he set out to write The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald was ambivalent about the title, making it hard for him to choose. He entertained many choices e.g. Trimalchio in West Egg, before settling on the definitive one. Trimalchio is a character in Satyricon by Gaius Petronius. In the AD Roman work of fiction Trimalchio is a very rich freedman who displays his wealth

 
 

Transcript
July, 1922.

Dear Mr. Perkins:

Glad you liked the addenda to the Table of Contents. I feel quite confident the book will go. How do you think The Love Legend will sell? You’ll be glad to know that nothing has come of the movie idea & I’m rather glad myself. At present working on my play — the same one. Trying to arrange for an Oct. production in New York. Bunny Wilson (Edmund Wilson Jr.) says that it’s without doubt the best American comedy to date (that’s just between you and me.)

Did you see that in that Literary Digest contest I stood 6th among the novelists? Not that it matters. I suspect you of having been one of the voters.

Will you see that the semi-yearly account is mailed to me by the 1st of the month — or before if it is ready? I want to see where I stand. I want to write something new — something extraordinary and beautiful and simple & intricately patterned.

As Usual

(Signed, ‘F Scott Fitzgerald’)

 
 

Cover of the first edition, 1925 illustrated by Francis Cugat. Ernest Hemingway confessed to Fitzgerald he did loathe that book jacket

 
 

Handwritten manuscript of Chapter 1

 

 
 

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgasmic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…and one fine morning–so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”?
(Chapter 9)