2012 Film Challenge #60 - Rope

The best episode of Psychoville – the post League of Gentlemen frolics of Reece Shearsmith and Steve Permberton – was that which reunited them with Mark Gattis. For thirty glorious minutes, the triumvirate was whole once again, and all was right in the world.

This episode was particularly remarkable in being achieved in one single, continuous take. It saw mother/son serial killer team the Sowerbutts visited by an amateur actor (Mark Gatiss!) in the wake of a murder.

I didn't know it when I first saw it, but the whole episode was an extended homage to Hitchcock's Rope. And only now I've realised that Psychoville managed to out-Rope Rope. So to speak.

Rope was made in 1948, a time when films were still made by capturing images on film. At 24 frames a second, the longer you filmed something, the larger would have to be the cannister in which the film was kept. It was thus utterly impractical and thus impossible to film any shot lasting more than ten minutes. After ten minutes, the cannisters simply became too big. And if the cannisters were too big, no cinema would show your work. So why even bother with long takes, genius?

Because you're Alfred Hitchcock.

With Rope, what feels like a single 80 minute take is actually comprised of ten shorter takes, each between four and nine minutes in length. The takes blend seamlessly together, with the screen blacking out when a character passes before the camera, for instance. There may even have been a few direct cuts, but having developed this strange habit of closing my eyes for a fraction of a second every few seconds, I would have missed them.

Hey, my eyes just get too dry otherwise.

So whereas Psychoville succeeded in one continuous shot for their Rope homage, Hitchcock cheated a little.

Credit where it's due, though. The Psychoville boys had just half an hour to fill. Also, Hitchcock was attempting what was, in 1948, literally impossible. That you only notice his bag of tricks when subjecting the results to scrutiny I think merits him a shiny or two.

It starts with a fatal throttling of a Harvard student by two of his friends. They're Nietzsche scholars, interested in the idea of the superman. Morals and ethics are for weaklings. They've killed because they can. And just to compound their superiority, they host a party minutes after murdering – with the body hidden in a chest in the middle of the room in which takes place the mingling.

Unfortunately for them, one of their guests is one of their old teachers, Mr. Rupert Cadell (James Stewart!) It was he who instilled those unfortunate ideas of superiority, so not only has he blood on his hands, he's also on to them. Right from the start, he seems to know what's going on.

This makes for an eighty minute reminder that I really should spend more time watching Hitchcock. His films are gripping like those conversations so tense you feel on the verge of vomiting from which you cannot walk away.

No wonder the gentlemen of Psychoville spent thirty minutes paying tribute.

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