Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Cutting Edge: Rope

It is easy to conceive a false impression of a film without even seeing it, especially when it is surrounded by mixed reviews and ratings. Alfred Hitchcock's experimental film 'Rope' (1948) is one that should be watched with an open mind and unaltered opinion despite what critics say. At the time of it's release, it was often considered a failure due to Hitchcock's attempt at making a continuous shot film, this one consisting of a 'single' 80 minute scene. In reality, he had to split it into 10 minute segments and attempted invisibly morph the pieces together to give the illusion of a single continuous shot. This interesting and different take on editing, or in this case lack of editing, is perhaps what 'Rope' is best known for.

Fig. 1 'Rope' (1948)
It is argued that this attempt at having a single continuous shot is the film's ultimate downfall. However with films today using longer shots and scenes, it isn't as easily noticeable as it probably was during the film's original release. Admittedly, Hitchcock could have achieved a film with the same atmosphere even using numerous shots, cuts and editing. Using a single continuous shot was "...an unnecessary gimmick. Although when a director cuts from one shot to another it can seem as if time has passed, that is not necessarily the case. Many films that deal with uninterrupted spans of time use a lot of cuts..." (Ebert, 1948).

However, Hitchcock was experimenting and wanted to do something different. It is unlikely he was unaware of his ability to use shots without actually passing time within the story. Of course, filming one continuous shot had its drawbacks. The camera Hitchcock had to use was large and provided challenges in terms of mobility as the set was an unchanging apartment, so it wasn't particularly spacious. While this presented obstacles with filming, the cramped, confined feeling is part of what heightened the tension in 'Rope'. This tension is particularly felt in scenes when a number of conversing characters are crammed (sometimes very awkwardly) into one shot, "This clunkiness can be part of the film's claustrophobic strength though: the coffin-chest is rarely out of shot, and the camera follows the actors around every square inch of the confined set. They're trapped, and so is the audience," (Hutchinson, 2012).

Crowded Conversation
While this continuous shot technique was experimental and disliked by many, it is difficult to label 'Rope' as a failure. While there are sections of the film that are dull, such as when the dialogue seems to be several groups of people just making small-talk, the camera itself in no way takes away from the story. The continuous shot, although noticeable at times, is not usually overly distracting and does not inhibit the story-telling, "It is true that the questing Hitchcock camera is not inflexible...he has followed the goings and the comings of the characters with evident ingenuity. His camera stands back and takes them in, singles them out on occasion and even moves in now and then for close looks," (Crowther, 1948). Hitchcock is still able to create intense and revealing close-ups of the characters while also achieving wider shots of the whole apartment... starting from the living room, crossing the hallway, into the dining room and finally through the door into the kitchen.

Fig. 3 The Apartment
While it is rather predictable how the plot of 'Rope' will play out, it is still an engaging story. It is nice to see that well known and successful directors like Alfred Hitchcock try out experimental and innovative techniques to create something different, even if it's not entirely successful. It is a shame that at the time of its release, 'Rope' wasn't appreciated more for its creative ingenuity and uniqueness, especially considering the amount work it was for everyone involved in the film to keep the process orientated. Hopefully considering how much filmmaking has evolved since the release of 'Rope', more people can appreciate how Hitchcock was willing to risk failure to test a new, inventive filming technique.

Crowther, B. (1948) Movie Review Rope (1948)  At: http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=980DE3D81630E03BBC4F51DFBE668383659EDE Accessed on: 12/1/2016
Ebert, R. (1984) Rope At: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/rope-1948 Accessed on: 12/1/2016
Hutchinson, P. (2012) My Favourite Hitchcock: Rope At: http://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2012/jul/27/my-favourite-hitchcock-rope Accessed on: 12/1/2016

Illustration List:
Figure 1. Rope [Poster] At: https://filmbalaya.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/tm1_642.jpg Accessed on: 12/1/2016
Figure 2. Crowded Conversation [Film Still] At: http://creofire.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Rope2.jpg Accessed on: 12/1/2016
Figure 3. The Apartment [Film Still] At: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_eidvs80_01o/S0C7c4e7UEI/AAAAAAAAKcs/_c23Fc8JnTs/s400/rope9.jpg Accessed on: 12/1/2016

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