Saturday, July 25, 2015


Since we're halfway through the summer I thought I'd do what most television shows do during the season, and present "re-runs" of some popular archived blogs of mine.  (This will not only offer them up to those who might have missed them the first time around, it will also give me some much needed time to work on the book I'm trying to complete.)  The blog I posted on Hitchcock was very well here it is again.

                        Alfred Hitchcock is probably my all time favorite director, followed
closely by Billy Wilder.  I have enjoyed Hitchcock films my entire
life, both as a kid and later as a cinema student, when I learned more
about the man and his maverick techniques.

                      Hitchcock’s style was unique and easily recognizable, so much so
that Mel Brooks tenderly paid homage to it in his film High Anxiety.
Hitch (as he was known to colleagues) pioneered numerous innovative
shooting and editorial techniques to create suspense. When asked how
he created suspense Hitchcock once said that seeing a bomb, for example,
then watching it explode did little in the way of creating suspense. Instead,
one creates suspense by cutting between the bomb set to go off, a clock,
and, say, the fearful eyes of the intended victim.  He was able to do this by
first, meticulously creating a storyboard depicting his shots, scene by scene.


                        Also, by allowing our eyes to be that of the camera and by moving slowly
around his subjects, he engaged us in a form of voyeurism.  We felt the
actors’ fear, their anxiety. And let me assure you, his characters usually
had much about which to feel fearful.
    A common thread running through his films was that of a man wrongly
accused of a crime (ie. The Thirty-Nine Steps, Saboteur, The Wrong Man,
North by Northwest, and Strangers on a Train) and Hitchcock’s
experiences as a child came into play here.

                         He apparently had a lonely, isolated childhood, made worse by his
obesity. Lots of time for his imagination to grow and fester, I would imagine.
When he was a child his father “punished” him by sending him to the local
police station with a note asking that he be “locked up for ten minutes for his
”infraction”. This was undoubtedly done as a way to teach a lesson that
wouldn’t be easily forgotten. If that was the case, it worked. It developed in
Hitchcock a lifelong fear of being locked up and a distrust of the police in general. 
His Jesuit upbringing influenced him as well and many of his films dealt with
religious, or at least morally ethical dilemmas (Vertigo, I Confess).


              In addition to his “man-on-the-run-having-been-wrongly-accused” themes,
Hitchcock’s films shared other similarities. Most of them starred “icy
blondes” such as Eva Marie Saint, Vera Miles, Doris Day, Grace Kelly
and Tippi Hedren, with Grace Kelly probably having been his personal
favorite. His daughter, Patricia, appeared in bit parts and his wife,
Alma, was the editor of most of his films. Another element common to his
pictures was the use of well known places of interest such as The Statue of
Liberty in Saboteur, Mt. Rushmore in North by Northwest, Royal Albert
Hall in The Man Who Knew Too Much and the Forrest Hills Tennis Stadium
in Strangers on a Train. (Incidentally, Robert Walker’s performance as socio-
path, Bruno Antony in this film, is chilling).

     Hitchcock also introduced what came to be known as the “MacGuffin”, vague,
unimportant devices whose sole purpose was to move the story forward.  These
might come in many forms ranging from a formula whispered by a diplomat (Foreign
Correspondent) to hidden microfilm (North by Northwest), to a bottle of wine
containing uranium (Notorious).

          It’s difficult to state my favorite Hitchcock film, I’ve enjoyed so many. If pressed,
I would probably have to say that The Lady Vanishes, Shadow of a Doubt, The
Man Who Knew Too Much (the second version starring Jimmy Stewart and
Doris Day), and North by Northwest are amongst my favorites. Hitchcock’s
unique blend of psychological suspense, sexual undercurrents, and ironic
humor are what made him an icon. (Though he never achieved an Oscar for a
particular movie, he did ultimately receive a Lifetime Achievement award).
    Hitchcock’s “signature” was the cameo appearances he made in all his
films.  See if you can “find Hitch” by matching the film below with the scene
in which he turned up.

1.  THE LADY VANISHES                            A. Being pushed in a wheelchair at an airport
2.  STRANGERS ON A TRAIN                      B. In the center of a crowd wearing a “bowler” hat
3.  THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH        C. Walking down the street carrying a trumpet case
4.  LIFEBOAT                                              D. Missing a bus during the opening credits
5.  TO CATCH A THIEF                                E. Winding a clock in a songwriter’s apartment
6.  SHADOW OF A DOUBT                          F. In a crowded Victoria Station, smoking a cigarette
7.  THE BIRDS                                            G. At “a hunt”, walking a horse across the screen
8.  DIAL M FOR MURDER                            H. In a Moroccan market place watching acrobats
9.  NOTORIOUS                                           I. In before and after pictures in a newspaper ad *
10.REAR WINDOW                                      J. Coming out of an elevator
11.PSYCHO                                                K. In silhouette, behind a door marked    
                                                                        "Registrar of Births and Deaths”
12. TOPAZ                                                   L. Seen through a window wearing a cowboy hat
13. FRENZY                                                M. Boarding a train carrying a bass fiddle
14. TORN CURTAIN                                     N. Seated in a hotel lobby holding a small child
15. FAMILY PLOT                                       O. In a class reunion photo
16. NORTH BY NORTHWEST                      P. On a train playing cards
17. VERTIGO                                              Q. Seated on a bus beside Cary Grant
18. REBECCA                                            R. Posting a letter at a mail box
19. SUSPICION                                           S. At a big party sipping champagne
20. SPELLBOUND                                       T. Leaving a pet store with two white terriers

*Note of trivia: The ad in question was for Reduco Obesity Slayer.


1F; 2M; 3H; 4I; 5Q; 6P; 7T; 8O; 9S; 10E; 11L; 12A; 13B; 14N; 15K; 16D; 17C; 18G; 19R; 20J

If you’d like to learn more about Alfred Hitchcock, I would recommend reading “The Dark Side of Genius” by Donald Spoto. It’s the most comprehensive book on Hitchcock I’ve read to date.

Have a great weekend and thanks for joining me on this week’s journey along,



Sunday, July 19, 2015


There has been a trend in the past few years to re-visit our literary heroes and take them down a peg, or at least present them with flaws.  Dorothy Gale, the heroine of The Wizard of Oz, is portrayed as annoying and a little boring in the book and subsequent play, Wicked.  More recently the superior moral compass of Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird has been challenged by the newly released sequel, Go Set a Watchman, in which Atticus is depicted as a racist.  A similar fate awaits famed sleuth Sherlock Holmes in the new film, Mr. Holmes. 
                Set in 1947, the film, directed by Bill Condon of Gods and Monsters fame, introduces an elderly Holmes, (Ian McKellen) now retired, as living out his final years raising bees on a farm in England. His former housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson, is with us no more and instead residing on the farm with him is his new housekeeper, war widow, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and her son, Roger (Milo Parker.) Though Mrs. Munro feels overworked and is not a particular fan of Holmes, her son is quite fond of him and the feeling is mutual.  Holmes more or less takes the fatherless boy under his wings, teaching him the finer points of tending bees while encouraging Roger’s naturally inquisitive nature.
                One of the things Roger is most inquisitive about is the story that Holmes has been writing about his last case, a story he has difficulty finishing because he has misgivings about the way in which he handled the case.
                 Holmes frequently flashes back to two different time periods and settings: one in England where his last case took place, and one in which he visits Japan, seeking a natural remedy for his worsening memory loss.  Some of these flashbacks are somewhat disconcerting in that they disrupt the flow of the movie.
                What drives the film is what is revealed as Holmes’ basic flaw and one with which he must ultimately come to terms.  Holmes, who has always been revered for his knowledge of facts and for his uncanny sense of logic, painfully reflects on his last case and concludes that in stressing the former he neglected to take into account the human factor, with disastrous consequences. 
                The film gets off to a slow start, but eventually engages the audience. Ian McKellen turns in an expectedly brilliant performance, having had the same theatrical training as Sirs Olivier and Gielgud.  Also exceptional is young Milo Parker, who manages to be believable and cute though not overly precocious.  However, Laura Linney, though an excellent actress, was totally miscast as Holmes’s frumpy housekeeper. For one thing, her English accent keeps slipping.  The part would have worked far better with a solid English actress (Isn’t Downton Abbey on hiatus?  They could have had their pick of the litter with that cast alone.)
                A bit of trivia here:  In a brief homage to Alfred Hitchcock, the director has a woman standing in front of a taxidermy shop, above which reads the name, Ambrose Chapelle. (This was the name of the taxidermy shop in The Man Who Knew Too Much, though possibly only an avid Hitchcock fan such as myself would have caught it.)
                The name Sherlock Holmes conjures up images of the pipe and the deerstalker cap but apparently neither of these were affectations created by author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  In fact, Holmes states he always preferred a good cigar to a pipe. Holmes also claims that the 221 Baker Street address was bogus. His confidante and close friend, Watson, is mentioned only to dismiss what Holmes feels was Watson’s sentimental take on Holmes’s adventures.
                While Mr. Holmes, based on the novel, A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch McCullin and adapted for the screen by Jeff Hatcher , offers an interesting perspective of a literary figure with which so many are familiar, some diehard Sherlock Holmes fans may well be turned off by a revisionist view which offers a decidedly more human but at the same time weaker figure of a man.

If you haven't already done so, please follow me on  Rhodes Less Traveled.

Thanks, Vivian

Saturday, July 4, 2015


When our forefathers were setting about signing the Declaration of Independence, they couldn’t possibly have envisioned how their decedents would be celebrating that memorable day.  Flags waving, people of all ages decked out in red, white, and blue, barbequing, boating, or heading to picnic grounds to watch a fireworks display.
            Having grown up in Brooklyn, my most vivid recollection of Independence Day was of watching the incredible fireworks display at Coney Island (most people could get an excellent view of it from the rooftop of buildings) and of learning the various patriotic songs associated with the holiday – sadly, these are songs that very few children are aware of today.  My own children learned them either from me or my husband, or from the video tapes we bought them that featured songs Americana.
            There has been a drive in the past forty years to move away from the melting pot concept of the United States for which our grandparents strived.  My grandmother, herself an immigrant, went to night school to learn English and chastised a fellow immigrant for continuously speaking in her native tongue as opposed to English. (Her exact quote was, “Were they so good to you over there?”)
            In recent years, all sorts of organizations have formed to celebrate the individuality of particular cultures and to recognize their contributions to American society.  There is nothing wrong with that, nor in encouraging children to take pride in their heritage.  What is unfortunate is that we risk losing any semblance of a shared culture, something that makes us all feel as though we belong here. 
            I’ve worked with young children who have never heard the story of Little Red Riding Hood and when I made an allusion to Chicken Little in describing the McCarthy era, the high school student with whom I was speaking was clueless as to what I was talking about. 
And so I come back to patriotic songs.  Some may consider them to be nothing more than flag waving but I would argue that they might feel differently if they were expatriates or traveling abroad. Years ago, when in Rome, I heard The Star Spangled Banner being played and it sounded far sweeter than when I’d heard it played at local sporting events. 
Our country isn’t perfect.  We’ve gotten a lot of things wrong, but we’ve gotten a lot of things right too.  I think that Independence Day should be celebrated by everyone living in this country regardless of his or her background.  Like Thanksgiving, cultural “touches” can always be incorporated.  Naan bread with hot dogs?  Grilled burgers with tabouli salad?  
And how about those songs?  How about we expose our kids to at least one patriotic song on the Fourth of July whether it’s Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA or, my personal favorite, Ray Charles’ rendition of America the Beautiful.  At the very least, maybe we can make sure that when they’re in elementary school they learn the actual lyrics to The Star Spangled Banner

However you choose to celebrate the day, I hope that you have a terrific Fourth (and please remember to take extra care of the pets -- this is not their favorite day.)

Thanks for reading Rhodes Less Traveled,