ANDREW REPASKY McELHINNEY is the director of the feature films Magdalen (1998), A Chronicle of Corpses (2000), Georges Bataille’s Story of the Eye (2003), Animal Husbandry (2009) and Christmas Dreams (2014). He is also an author, theater director, installation artist, repertory film programmer and educator. He currently teaches at Rutgers – The State University of New Jersey. His book on 20th Century English Language cinema, Second Takes--Remaking Film, Remaking America is available from McFarland and Company Publishers.
1.) Although not the first film he made, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927) is often referred to as "the first true Hitchcock movie." Do you feel like this is an accurate assessment? How did it set the stage, aesthetically or thematically, for his later films?
The Lodger has many of the themes audiences associate with Hitchcock. It’s ripe with gallows humor. It features an ambivalently innocent man potentially or potentially not wrongly accused. Hitchcock’s evocation of queasy audience sympathies that turn normative order and ethics on their head. (There is) visual evidence of Hitchcock as both an inventive and experimental film director. Title cards that anticipate Hitchcock’s later iconic collaborations with Saul Bass (are included), and a climax that visually anticipates and pre-figures the famous Mt. Rushmore finale of North By Northwest.
2.) Talk a little about the construction of the narrative and how it works. For instance, we first find out about the facts of the murders (that blonde women are being killed, that the killer strikes on Tuesdays, that the police have no suspects), and then we are shown the central family. The leading man does not even appear until fifteen minutes after the film begins. What does Hitchcock achieve by setting up the details of the crimes before introducing the audience to the lodger?
The Lodger is subtitled “A Story of the London Fog” and this sense of community, of the London fog, the fog of community, the fog of gossip, of the web our lives weave, especially in the physical pre-digital media days is the texture and soul of the movie. Hitchcock seems as interested in the social milieu as he does the specific character drama. This gives the movie a rich and unusual complexity and is something that is largely absent in the three big screen remakes of The Lodger.
3.) Hitchcock once said, "A glimpse into the world proves that horror is nothing other than reality." Talk a bit about what some have called Hitchcock's "obsession" with Jack the Ripper and other historical influences that may have contributed to his making of films filled with the macabre.
The Lodger is a landmark horror movie, and one can trace its influence through to other benchmarks such as M (1931), Stranger on the Third Floor (1939), Psycho (1960), Halloween (1977), and The Blair Witch Project (1999).
The Lodger could be seen as the cinematic birth of what the courts now term “the CSI effect”. With The Lodger, the medium of cinema has picked up the English gothic tradition from the penny dreadful, Wilkie Collins, et al, and Jack the Ripper—both the fictional serials and the true serial killer. This cross-pollination helped codify what is now quantified as the crime docudrama or true crime genre.
4.) I read an interview in which Hitchcock says that handcuffs carry with them implications of fetishism and "sexual aberrations through restraint." Handcuffs recur in numerous Hitchcock films (The Lodger, Blackmail, and The Thirty-nine Steps, for example). Could you discuss what you think the symbolic value of the handcuffs is in The Lodger and perhaps elaborate on similar motifs within Hitchcock's oeuvre?
Like many visual artists, Hitchcock is obviously a fetishist. I mean, in The Lodger and elsewhere (especially Vertigo), he practically uses women’s clothing as dramaturgy!
I think the handcuffs are another representation of the projection of an almost subconscious fear—perhaps very important beyond the characters to Hitchcock the man himself—that, what is inside, cannot be contained, certainly not be contained by the individual, but also by the law or society. Sort of an “original guilt” everyone possesses. The other key element this releases for Hitchcock is a Kafkaesque menace and paranoia that runs throughout his work.
5.) When one thinks of music and Hitchcock, one immediately thinks of Bernard Herrmann and his brilliant compositions for films like Psycho and Vertigo. The Lodger, of course, is a silent film, which lacks the extra musical layer of these later films. However, the promise of live musical accompaniment within the theater has continually excited audiences. During the screening of The Lodger at The Reel East Film Fest, we will be providing such an opportunity. Discuss the silent film as it relates to The Lodger: what makes silent films remain compelling in an age of audio? What do we gain from a live musical performance that we do not receive from a film recorded with sound?
I have a passion for silent films, true visual story telling—story-telling more free of the traditions of theater and the proscenium.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, sound film waged a war against the silents, positioning them as melodramatic, creaky and juvenile. But now, almost a 100 years later, the power of silent film has not diminished, where as many early sound films are barely watchable. Thanks now to DVDs and cable TV, silent movies are more available in higher quality editions than ever before. We talk about pre-code movies meaning sound films from 1930 to 1933, but the real pre-code, the real sizzle, was the silent era. When a movie has no sound, it can only reach us with gesture and movement—that is, the core of what is human, animal and eternal.
While not one of my personal favorite directors like Fritz Lang, Edgar G. Ulmer, Stanley Kubrick, or Peter Greenaway, Hitchcock is a filmmaker I deeply respect and admire. His career spanned a magical time period, silents to sound, UK to USA, David O. Selznick to his own TV show. And he made at least three undisputed masterpieces: Shadow of a Doubt, Vertigo, and Psycho. Add to theses numerous “merely” great films like North By Northwest, Rebecca, The 39 Step, Rear Window, The Birds and add fascinating off-beat experiments like Under Capricorn, Rope, Lifeboat, The Paradine Case, & Frenzy and one totally understands why Hitchcock is at the center of the pantheon of great filmmakers.
7.) Any upcoming projects you'd be willing to share?
I am currently in post-production on my 5th feature film, Christmas Dreams, writing another cinema studies book and developing a few projects to tackle next. Always looking for a good producer. For more information visit my website, ARMcinema25.com.
The Lodger will be screened during the Reel East Film Festival on August 22nd at 9:00 PM. For more information, please visit www.reeleastfilm.org.