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Hitchcock Blonde

Blonde

Alfred Hitchcock, the man, the master, the myth, is one of the most recognisable names (and figures) in film history. Furthermore, Psycho is one of the most analysed films in film studies, with entire books devoted solely to the shower scene, a topic that seems more suited to a student essay. Such is the case for Nicole, played by Libby Waite, in John Holden’s production of Terry Johnson’s Hitchcock Blonde at the Maddermarket Theatre. Her arrogant and pretentious lecturer Alex, played by Edward Wallis, invites her to spend the summer in Greece with him analysing footage from a “lost Hitchcock masterpiece”, and this research trip rapidly turns into confrontations with identity, history, sexuality and responsibility. 

The story of Alex and Nicola is played out in the downstage half of the Maddermarket stage, the expanse suggesting the freedom promised by the Greek island in contrast to the psychological traps and manipulations that both Alex and Nicola play on each other. Similar powerplay occurs upstage in a parallel narrative about the filming of Psycho, as Hitchcock (John Mangan) auditions a young Blonde (Gemma Johnston) as a body double for the shower scene. This part of the stage is far more cluttered with set, props and furniture, adding to the sense of claustrophobia that both the Blonde, and as it turns out, Hitchcock, experience. While at first both Nicole and the Blonde seem at the mercy of their senior male counterparts, not to mention the Blonde’s abusive husband (Dave Myers), tables turn and power changes hands.

Hitchcock Blonde works both as a compelling psycho-sexual drama, which manages some very funny moments, and an extrapolation of film history and semiotics. As a film scholar, there was a great deal for me to enjoy (not to mention recognise) in terms of how individual frames can be interpreted, meaning read into particular cuts, the production context and practice pieced together from fragmentary information. To the play’s great credit, it does not descend too far into film geekery, keeping the emphasis on the characters’ excitement over their findings, especially when these are at the expense of human interaction. Wallis makes Alex pitiful but still understandable, while Nicole’s gradual warming to him and eventual disappointment is easy to empathise with, thanks to Waite’s performance of deep resentment, pain and barely suppressed rage. The Blonde undergoes a significant transformation, Johnston delivering a spell-binding performance of fragility and fear, that develops into strength and resolve, all the while seeming on the verge of a breakdown that only manifests in a final, shocking climax. As her antagonist/mentor, John Mangan who embodies Hitchcock in extraordinary detail, capturing the stance, the gestures and the voice with uncanny accuracy, the gauze that covers upstage giving him the appearance of archive footage of the great man. But Mangan does not simply deliver an impersonation, as he imbues Hitchcock with depth, flaws and fears, making him both compelling and creepy.

Overall, Hitchcock Blonde is a delight for theatre fans and a special treat for film buffs. Thrills, laughs and shocks are available in abundance, but the strongest impression I took away was melancholia. Alex is ultimately desperately sad, trying to recapture a sense of youth through new discoveries about Hitchcock and a fling with a woman half his age, while Nicole’s grappling with her own demons delivers little catharsis and one can imagine her remaining scarred both in body and mind. Meanwhile, Hitchcock emerges as a figure tortured by memory, desire and past sins, using film to work through his problems. As for the Blonde, her arc opens the play out to wider concerns around domestic abuse, indicating the agony of such relationships and their tragic consequences.

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Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club is a sharp and heartfelt film about personal struggle that engages with wider social issues. Jean-Marc Valleé’s account of the true story of Ron Woodroof creates an engaging, atmospheric picture of blue collar America, complete with prejudice, courage, friendship and a more expansive and angry tale of capitalist oppression. In the personal story, Matthew McConaughey shines as Ron develops from a sexist, homophobic bigot to a warm and sympathetic (though still brash and belligerent) humanitarian, humanised through his stark encounter with mortality and engagement with fellow sufferers. On a broader scale, the film works as a damning indictment of health care in America, as Ron progresses from entrepreneur to crusader against big business. An inspiring and bittersweet tale that packs serious political punch.

BAFTA

Moments before I see the show which is already going on and the results of which I am avoiding, here are my predictions for the BAFTA awards (predictions in bold):

BEST FILM

12 Years a Slave

American Hustle

Captain Phillips

Gravity

Philomena

 

OUTSTANDING BRITISH FILM

Gravity

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom

Philomena

Rush

Saving Mr Banks

The Selfish Giant

 

OUTSTANDING DEBUT BY A BRITISH WRITER, DIRECTOR OR PRODUCER

Colin Carberry (Writer), Glenn Patterson (Writer) for Good Vibrations

Kelly Marcel (Writer) for Saving Mr. Banks

Kieran Evans (Director/Writer) for Kelly + Victor

Paul Wright (Director/Writer), Polly Stokes (Producer) for For Those in Peril

Scott Graham (Director/Writer) for Shell

 

FILM NOT IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

The Act Of Killing

Blue Is The Warmest Colour

The Great Beauty 

 

DOCUMENTARY

The Act Of Killing

The Armstrong Lie

Blackfish

Tim’s Vermeer

We Steal Secrets: The Story Of Wikileaks

 

ANIMATED FILM

Despicable Me 2

Frozen

Monsters University  

 

DIRECTOR

12 Years A Slave, Steve McQueen

American Hustle, David O. Russell

Captain Phillips, Paul Greengrass

Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón

The Wolf Of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese

 

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

American Hustle, Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell

Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen

Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón, Jonás Cuarón

Inside Llewyn Davis, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Nebraska, Bob Nelson

 

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

12 Years A Slave, John Ridley

Behind The Candelabra, Richard LaGravenese

Captain Phillips, Billy Ray

Philomena, Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope

The Wolf Of Wall Street, Terence Winter

 

LEADING ACTOR

Bruce Dern, Nebraska

Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave

Christian Bale, American Hustle

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf Of Wall Street

Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips

 

LEADING ACTRESS

Amy Adams, American Hustle

Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks

Judi Dench, Philomena

Sandra Bullock, Gravity

 

SUPPORTING ACTOR

Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips

Bradley Cooper, American Hustle

Daniel Brühl, Rush

Matt Damon, Behind the Candelabra

Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave

 

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle

Julia Roberts, August: Osage County

Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave

Oprah Winfrey, The Butler

Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine

 

ORIGINAL MUSIC

12 Years A Slave, Hans Zimmer

The Book Thief, John Williams

Captain Phillips, Henry Jackman

Gravity, Steven Price

Saving Mr. Banks, Thomas Newman

 

CINEMATOGRAPHY

12 Years A Slave

Captain Phillips

Gravity

Inside Llewyn Davis

Nebraska

 

EDITING

12 Years A Slave

Captain Phillips

Gravity  

Rush

The Wolf Of Wall Street

 

PRODUCTION DESIGN

12 Years A Slave

American Hustle

Behind The Candelabra

Gravity

The Great Gatsby

 

COSTUME DESIGN

American Hustle

Behind The Candelabra

The Great Gatsby

The Invisible Woman

Saving Mr. Banks

 

MAKE UP & HAIR

American Hustle

Behind The Candelabra

The Butler

The Great Gatsby

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

 

SOUND

All Is Lost

Captain Phillips

Gravity

Inside Llewyn Davis

Rush

 

SPECIAL VISUAL EFFECTS

Gravity

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

Iron Man 3

Pacific Rim

Star Trek Into Darkness

 

THE EE RISING STAR AWARD (voted for by the public)

Dane Dehaan

George Mackay

Lupita Nyong’o

Will Poulter

Léa Seydoux

The Wolf of Wall Street

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The Wolf of Wall Street is quite a surprise. It is a far more sedate film than I expected from Martin Scorsese, a director typically associated with an extremely mobile camera and a plethora of stylistic techniques. Raging Bull, Goodfellas and The Departed are prime examples of Scorsese’s tendency to use whip pans, crash-zooms, pin holes and all manner of other cinematic devices. By contrast, The Wolf of Wall Street uses a steady, measured approach, largely recording the events of the plot rather than inflecting them, although there are some distinctive long takes. Furthermore, the dialogue scenes are remarkably long, the actors given time and space to develop their performances. This is especially true of Leonardo DiCaprio, who delivers a career-best, rocket-fuelled performance that powers the film through all manner of debauchery. If Scorsese is more sedate than usual, DiCaprio has never been more ferocious, his character Jordan Belfort powerhousing his way through money, drugs, whores, clients, friends, wives and authorities with scant or no regard for consequences. While Belfort is utterly loathsome, he is never less than compelling, a hugely charismatic and enthralling presence so utterly committed to excessive consumption that he is practically a personification of unmitigated capitalism. At three hours, the film might be too long for some, but I found the measured pace and very detailed story effective at conveying a hedonistic and voracious segment of society. Welcome to the life of the 1%. Now run away screaming.