“Each man’s destiny is personal only insofar as it may happen to resemble what is already in his memory. So suck my dick.” – Argentine novelist Eduardo Mallea as paraphrased by former Detroit Pistons power forward Rick Mahorn.
I Don’t Like the Way Ronald Reagan Is Looking at Me
I was recently on the set of one o’ them there action/thrillers that the kids seem to love more than anal masturbation (used to be a brass candelabra and an active imagination as it pertained to Peter O’Toole’s offscreen rape in Lawrence of Arabia were all I needed on a Saturday night), and it occurred to me that we’re so many generations removed from Alfred Hitchcock’s artistic prime that we’ll soon be able to rip him off wholesale. And not in a Brian De Palma “variations on a theme” manner, but actual, unapologetic, here’s-Vertigo-sans-Herrmann- scored-stalking travestying. Today’s studio executive/credit-hungry screenwriter (they’re beginning to think alike anymore) would transplant the film to Vancouver, slash the Alec Coppel and Samuel A. Taylor screenplay down to a manageable ninety-five minutes, and turn Midge into a jilted, Alex Forrest-like psychopath who can’t stand to see Scottie obsessing over some woman he barely knows (Madeline’s suicide would be revealed in the third act as cold-blooded murder at the hands of the covetous Midge). It would star Zac Efron, and it would be his Sleeping with the Enemy (I’m sorry, but I can’t think of him in masculine terms at all; I used to have the same problem with Anwar Sadat).
And the mainstream moviegoer would be fine with this because they’ve never seen an entire Hitchcock movie before (chances are they tried out Psycho and lost interest before Marion Crane hopped in the shower). They don’t have time to consider context (i.e. “Why did my parents or grandparents dig this?”); they just want to be entertained. It’s like Terence Mann said: “America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again.”* Well, that’s how Americans approach their art: consume, digest and forget. Save for burgeoning aficionados, most movies have a shelf life of two generations (that’s how yesterday’s trollop has poisoned the mind of her female offspring with Pretty Woman); it takes conviction to reach back more than twenty years.
Hitchcock was dead well over twenty years ago, so good luck creating any kind of groundswell for a man who was the Steven Spielberg of his day. And Bay be with you should you try to interest the media saturated internet generation in the films of De Palma (which is probably as treacherous as plopping a seven-year-old down with Two or Three Things I Know About Her). Deconstructing auteurs is so 1970; now, we just cannibalize aesthetic and graft a John Grisham plot onto it.
If accessible Hollywood craftsmen like Alan J. Pakula and Sidney Lumet are getting pilfered, why not parrot Hitchcock? Sure, you’ve got to work on the chubby fucker’s internal logic (today’s audiences have no idea how to suspend disbelief), but the guy was as genius with a hook as Lennon/McCartney. All you’ve got to do is update and process. You don’t even have to worry about jettisoning theme; all that troublesome subtext will vanish once you muck up the story via test screening tweaks.
D.J. Caruso’s Disturbia points the way forward. I just watched it for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and I’m still marveling over Caruso’s expert pacing, Shia’s charisma, Sarah Roemer’s ass and the utter lack of purpose. It’s an expertly constructed movie (after all of Frank Darabont’s cheerleading, Caruso finally made the leap), and more calibrated than considered – i.e. it’s a machine, not a piece of art. It’s a different kind of trash. Disturbia has the ephemeral quality of a 1980s thriller, but it also has the luxury of distance; what once was vilified for its unfettered derivativeness (e.g. Curtis Hanson’s The Bedroom Window) is now its own thing. A few critics might cavil, but who reads those losers anymore? Let’s get lost in a parade of Hitchcockian conventions (with a smattering of Poltergeist sprinkled over the finale), and let’s stop looking for a point!
So why don’t more filmmakers pick at the cherce meat of North by Northwest? It’s the scale, stupid. You need a budget, a director, a bankable star and a clever fella like Ernest Lehman writing the screenplay. Eagle Eye has a budget, Caruso and Shia. It also has a story by Steven Spielberg blown out by no fewer than four screenwriters. That’s a lot of rewriting to get to Mount Rushmore. This is the ne plus ultra of post-Pulp Fiction American filmmaking. We’re not commenting anymore; we’re reinventing our populist masterpieces with a corporate mindset. And it’s not about thrilling, but suckering. Hitchcock needed word of mouth; today’s filmmakers just need an opening weekend.
Blunt Force Arousal
*Peter Travers once lambasted Field of Dreams as an apologia for Reagan Democrats. Though I disagreed, the charge always stung. Then he turned into a conscienceless quote whore, and everything he ever wrote or thought became counterfeit.