Saturday, April 17, 2010

Review: Sabotage (1936)

The problem with not particularly good Hitchcock is that if you aren’t being emotionally affected by Hitchcock’s tricks, they become mildly annoying, and you notice just how mechanical they are. As it was with Sabotage. All of the characters are boring – the hero, the heroine, the villain. And the boy. Oh god, the boy. He is not just boring, but he is annoying. Very, very annoying. “Oh, look at me! I’m such a charming and lovable youth! Look at me push this guy’s hat in front of his face! Ha ha ha! What a lovable thing to do! I’m like the English Jimmy Olsen, but way more of an asshole! Like that douche kid from Lost in Space. And I talk like I have some Boys-Own-Adventure disease! Aren’t I wonderful!"

I just wanted to punch that kid in his stupid face, and so when the movie intimated that he was going to die in a fiery explosion, I thought to myself, “finally.” As such, the scene of events happening to prevent the boy from reaching his destination (a man brushes the boys teeth in public! A Parade! A conversation with a bus driver! THERE’S A PUPPY! THERE IS A GODDAMN PUPPY ON THE BUS THIS IS THE WORST THING EVER IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD THERE IS A GODDAMN PUPPY SITTING RIGHT NEXT TO HIM AND IT’S CHEWING ON HIS GODDAMN FINGER THIS IS SO ADORABLE AND THEY’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!!!!!!!) just sort of bored me. I honestly didn’t care about the climax of this movie at all. I just sat there noticing exactly how mechanical Hitchcock’s construction of these sort of scenes was. If it isn’t affecting you emotionally, you sit there thinking, “yep, so now he enters the big crowd of people. Close up of the bomb. Man forces him to be part of his demonstration. Close up of the bomb. Intercut the demonstration with close-ups of the bomb. Boy runs away quickly, camera stays mostly on the bomb. Another crowd. More bomb. Parade. Bomb. More parade. More bomb. Oh, now there’s a translucent copy of the letter saying the bomb will explode at 1.45 hovering over the boy’s actions. Now there’s a CLOCK. Now there’s a goddamn close up of the clock’s gears. Now the boy is sitting next to the cutest goddamn puppy the world has ever seen. Jesus Christ, Hitchcock, laying it on a bit thick, aren’t we?”

When Hitchcock’s suspense tactics work, they work so well that it really doesn’t matter how mechanically constructed it all is. But when it doesn’t work, when you aren’t affected, it’s actually more annoying than a film from a worse director, because a film that has no idea what it’s doing is less irritating than a film that is so goddamn sure of itself, but isn’t working. And the real problem is that, when you aren’t being affected on an emotional level, it isn’t fun to break down on an intellectual one. The scenes aren’t fun, they are just mechanical, so if you aren’t on the edge of your seat, you’re bored and annoyed. Compare this to a film from the French New Wave, or Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy – when you aren’t emotionally affected by those movies, it is still fun to intellectually think about exactly what the film is doing – it can be just as satisfying a movie experience to intellectually thinking about all of the crazy shit that happens in say, Shoot the Piano Player, and how fun and great it all is, as to be emotionally affected by everything that happens. Hitchcock isn’t like that – there is no other level. If you aren’t gripped by the story, there is just nothing to do but think about the tediously mechanical nature of it all.

Something else I noticed while watching Sabotage – all of the jokes and so forth are provided by extras. None of the characters have any funny lines, but you get people you have never seen before and will never see again saying jokes as they drift randomly past the camera. Like Hitchcock new that these scenes needed some levity, but couldn’t be bothered making his main characters in any way interesting, so decided to give the levity to random strangers. I kept wishing the film would follow any one of these people who wafted in and out of the movie, rather than the bores we were stuck with. But alas it was not to be. But - why? It doesn’t make any sense as a thing to do – I mean, I can understand having comic characters who provide levity in one scene and are never heard from again, but these people weren’t even characters – they weren’t interacting with the film in any way. None of the main characters talked or even looked at any of them. What was the point? Just make your main characters interesting, or introduce actual ancillary characters who can spout jokes. But don’t just give all the good lines to random strangers. It’s pointless.

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