Tag Archives: Alfred Hitchcock

Tales of the Unexpected with Roald Dahl

As the autumn nights drain the colour from the day, I find that dipping into Roald Dahl’s short stories makes for a suspenseful evening read. Dark, disturbing, direct, Dahl’s tales take the reader into everyday normal scenarios, a familiar world of daily occurrences, tea, nicely turned-down beds, cosy fireplaces, friendly policemen and then he twists up the macabre volume to full. The everyday becomes the horrific, fear filled flights of fancy.

His writing reminds me of the great Alfred Hitchcock, particularly Psycho. Take the infamous shower scene; you never actually see a knife penetrate the victim’s skin. It’s all in the clever editing, the final cut (pardon the pun). This is precisely what Dahl does with his short stories; it’s what is not said that is most disturbing. It leaves the reader to fill in the cognitive gaps.

tales of the unexpected

I remember being disturbed by the beginning of Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected when I was a boy. The title sequence consisted of silhouettes of dancing-girls with a backdrop of flames, followed by Dahl’s personal welcome. The tall, skeletal man perched in his armchair, his gaze piercing and speaking like a quintessential English Aristocrat.

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He reminds me of my friend Hogarth, who I have in my study. Frida Kahlo used to have a full skeleton above her bed, to remind her of the fact that we never know when we are going to die, so must live for the moment. I liked this idea. For there is a danger that with all the pre-disposition with technology, worries about work, politics and balancing lives on an ever-increasing treadmill, we can actually forget to look around at what we have, take stock, appreciate and enjoy. After all, tomorrow is a long way off.

But please note, I do not wish to offend the respected author in any way, I am describing him through the eyes of a child. In fact, given some of his descriptions of adults in his works, I think he would find it rather complimentary.

I recently viewed the television series again as a 36-year old man; with a little bit more experience of this insane place we call earth. My particular favourite is A Lamb to the Slaughter, involving infidelity, murder and a frozen leg of lamb. Oh, and Brian Blessed, roaring the role of an investigative policeman. I am not going to announce ‘spoiler alert’ or even tell you what happens, I would instead encourage you to have a look at this episode and read the tale, you will not be disappointed!

Dahl is still making the headlines as a figure of controversy even now after his death; with the recent re-publication of his iconic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, re-issued with a cover specifically for adults.

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I’d say that if an adult feels that to be seen reading a tale that happens to have been written for children as a problem, they need to have a word with themselves and grow up. Besides with the amount of trees that are sacrificed to publish some of the mindless tripe these days, Fifty Shades of Clever Marketing for example, you are best grappling with great works, children’s lit and all.

It disturbs me how Waterstones has to label whole tables of books, chick lit, potential cult classics etc. Let people decide themselves! You might even stumble accidentally upon something you like. That is how I found Iris Murdoch, who in my head I’d thought was like Catherine Cookson, how wrong was I? It is fortunate that there are contemporary writers like Donna Tartt, releasing books only when she sees fit that they are ready, not to a marketing schedule.

the gold finch

A literary Kate Bush! When you read a tome like The Goldfinch, how you are reminded that sometimes things are worth waiting for, particularly when they are richly textured and poignant as this piece of literary genius is. Sentences that need to be savoured and a plot that engulfs. One lady of Liverpool letters Madam Le Smith, summed the book up in three words, “What a ride!”

And I can guarantee that Dahl’s short stories will also provide a ride, a tempestuous ride into the dark recesses of your soul.

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Rear Window

The sizzling summer heat forces people to open up their windows and extend their living space outdoors. From my study window, a tapestry of real life drama plays out amongst my neighbours. Debbie Harry claims that the apartment block where she lives in New York City was the building that the writer of Rear Window – Cornell Woolrich – lived. The view from his residence worked his imagination into drafting a short story that went on to become one of Alfred Hitchcock’s cinematic classics.

The rotund master of film had a deep understanding of human behaviour. He stated,

Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.

I recently had the pleasure of watching Rear Window on the big screen at Fact Liverpool and I was once again captivated.

RearWindow Movie poster

A wheelchair-bound photographer, L. B. Jefferies played by James Stewart, spies on his neighbours from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder. It is a treat for the eye to watch Grace Kelly, in all of her sensual elegance as Lisa Carol Fremont, on the big screen.

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Jefferies finds himself in a conundrum. He is frightened of committing to Lisa. As he works through this problem, he sees a variety of his neighbours at different stages in their relationship, the newlyweds, the bickering couple and the one that kills his wife. The human trait of voyeurism is explored in the film and is still as rampant as it was then, today. Perhaps the windows have just changed?

Take the television for example, Big Brother, which is essentially a room of people interacting, clashing and, in some cases, screwing. Is watching this no different to peeping out of a window? The obsession with watching others is intrinsic to our society, whereas once there were known curtain twitchers in a street, now it’s a little bit more advanced. Facebook and other social media allow people to look without the other person really knowing. I often hear things like,’Oh, I haven’t seen her in ages but I am friends with her on Facebook.’ This translates as, ‘I am watching what she gets up to, looking at her photographs and reading her status updates.’ A socially acceptable type of stalking, perhaps?

We all know what curiosity did to the cat.

As I sat watching Rear Window, I was struck by the cinematic cleverness; as the bamboo blinds go up to reveal the view from the window, the audience immediately made the voyeurs. The watcher watching.

We’ve become a nation of peeping Toms,

complains Nurse, Thelma Ritter, condemning James Stewart’s character, before merrily joining in.

rear_window grace

A very telling comment!

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A bloody valentine – Hitchcock review

A guest post from Liverpool playwright and poet John Maguire, offering an alternative to the clichés this Valentine’s Day…

Red roses, overpriced menus in restaurants that should know better, couples who only come to show the world that they are in love, or feel the need to bombard social media sites with images and status updates that cause nausea, Valentine’s Day may not be everybody’s idea of a good time.

Any real romantics truly know that love and gestures of adoration should occur all year round.

If you’re looking for an alternative kind of love affair, Sacha Gervasi’s HITCHCOCK could be just that.

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The film explores the creative pairing of Hitch and his wife of 54 years, Alma Reville, whilst making – what some call – his most distinguished feature PSYCHO.

A working relationship that was an absolute necessity for his success. His wife being his chief critic and champion, noticing Janet Leigh blinking after the infamous shower death sequence and protesting for the inclusion of Hermann’s orchestral score during the scene that did indeed leave audiences screaming.

The complexities of two artistic temperaments in collaboration are explored and the dangers of taking things for granted are starkly portrayed. Sometimes, simple gratitude can be overlooked and inner frustrations may bubble underneath but eventually erupt. Artistic partnerships are rendered more interesting when examined under cinematic autopsy, like the Frida Kahlo bio about her relationship with Diego Riveria, this outing does not judge and emphasises things are never always black and white. Behind every successful individual there is generally always an underpinning support mechanism, an individual who pushes, compliments and encourages but at the same time needs to have that function to be fulfilled and Alma Reville is just that.

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The movie is a tango ballad of the self-doubt, inner frustrations and understated emotions between the husband and wife that eventually explodes into a realisation.

Helen Mirren’s Alma dominates the screen with her compassionate and modest portrayal of the puppet mistress helping to drive the Hitchcock vehicle. The Rumi term ‘unfold your own myth’, is something that is never more apparent than in Hitchcock, the master of hype, long before we had the social media, disgracebook, YouTube and Twitter, to raise awareness. Hopkins in his distinctive flair adopts a less is more approach with simple gestures and a fixed glare that unsteadies the viewer and shows so much of the inner demons that drove the master craftsman.

Quentin Crisp talked of the cinema being the forgetting chamber, a place to be totally immersed in the illusion, to shy away from all problems and woes. Hitchcock had an astute understanding of how to play an audience’s emotions and etch his films deep into their subconsciousness. Art that would leave an aftertaste.

So for a different date this week, do not be typical and say it with flowers, say it with this bloody valentine.

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