Screenplays, and plays on screen

Over the weekend, I enjoyed two quite different things which had more in common than I first noticed. I mean, saying that, they were both fictional things being performed by actors, and they were both loosely based on actual events. Murders, even.


The first was The Christchurch Murder, an Allegra-produced Radio 4 drama which tells the story of the notorious Parker/Hulme murder in 1954 in New Zealand. The murder of a mother by her daughter and a friend, both in their teens, also formed the plot of Peter Jackson’s 1994 weird and hypnotic Heavenly Creatures.

5557
Heavenly Creatures, 1994 (dir. Peter Jackson)

This version, though, was written back in 1988 by Angela Carter, and apparently inspired some of Jackson’s own adaptation. Carter died in 1992 aged 51. Until this past Saturday, the Carter screenplay had never been produced. And so it was fascinating to hear it played out on Radio 4 twenty years after it was written.

But what was almost as fascinating as the story itself was that this was a screenplay on the radio. I’ve listened to a fair amount of drama on Radio 4 but this is the first time I can recall listening to a screenplay, complete with directions. It was a bit like watching a film with audio description on.

It made for a very multi-layered experience: we had the directions (such as “She enters the room, noticing all the pictures on the mantelpiece. There is no picture of the wedding.”), then Carter’s narration, and then well-acted dialogue and Foley effects playing out alongside. The murderous teenagers are played terrifically by Dolores Carbonari and Erin Wallace in a giggly, chilling fashion.

It was interesting to hear the subtle differences between Carter’s and Jackson’s adaptations. And the less subtle: name changes, and a complete lack of the fantasy elements that make Jackson’s film so unusual.


The second was Hitchcock’s 1948 film Rope, which I had seen before many years ago, but had all-but forgotten. It was a gripping watch. The dialogue is rich and fast and funny and unsettling. In fact, the whole film is very unsettling, and it has that great vibe of just waiting for someone to get caught out.

kamera1
The set of Rope, 1948 (dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

But, inevitably – because my brain cannot sit still for five minutes – what really fascinates me is the production. Those long, unbroken takes. The wide, linear set. The view out of the vast window – as artificial as it seems, but as carefully as it is made to show the passing of time. The way how, on the one hand, we are shown a whole scene as if it were a play, and on the other the camera trundles along behind two characters having a private conversation which we are privy to.

It’s all very clever, and it makes for a gripping narrative.

The film also looks pretty glorious, in a sort of muted, early-colour-film way. I believe it was Hitchcock’s first colour film, and the idea of him using such a film to experiment with long, uncut takes – including one over ten minutes, which I believe was about the limit of the film reel at the time – all brings to mind Christopher Nolan chucking gigantic IMAX cameras into scenes that were otherwise deemed impossible, and getting stunning results.

It’s always interesting to see a play that’s been turned into a film but, in the case of Rope, it seems like Hitchcock actually went to more effort to keep it feeling like a stage play than he would have if he’d filmed it as a more ‘traditional’ film with A/B shots (or do I mean reverse angles?) and so on.


Rope is currently showing on Mubi, a fantastic movie streaming service which values quality over quantity.

Every day they add a film of note and keep it online for a month. This means you always have thirty films to choose from, and they’re generally really great. There’s a scattering of films you know and love, a few you know you need to see but haven’t yet, and a decent amount that you’d probably never come across any other way. Pro-tip: the app works really nicely on the Amazon Fire stick, but it’s available on loads of platforms.

Mubi is a subscription service but you can grab a free month with my Mubi referral code:

https://mubi.com/t/web/global/fpiivi3

Gilda (1946)

Gilda (1946)

The next film I watched on Mubi after The Golem was Gilda, a noir-ish casino-based thriller from 1946.

It’s typically melodramatic and peppered with shots like that shown above which just ooze class and mystique. There’s nice attention to detail, although some lines/roles feel a bit wooden. It’s the first Rita Hayworth film I’ve watched and by crikey is she something else. The central relationship is an abusive one, which is a little hard to swallow nearly seventy years on, and the ending is a little abrupt and less credible than the rest of it, but it doesn’t get in the way of what is a very enjoyable film.

Gilda was also packed full of people who make smoking look incredibly cool. Casinos, too. This theme was to continue in the next film I watched…


Are you on Mubi? Follow me. Not tried Mubi? Use my referral code for a free 30-day trial.

The Golem: How He Came Into The World (1920)

I recently started watching films a bit more regularly than I have done for a while.

mubiscreen
Mubi. Click here for a free trial.

I’ve signed up to Mubi, whose USP is providing films for streaming (and downloading to devices) one per day, for thirty days. This means there are always 30 films to choose from.

The idea is that a small, well-curated selection of films might actually be of better value to the viewer than a vast, sloppy, loose selection.

I’ve watched about ten films in the past fortnight, and that’s probably more than I had seen all year so far, so it must be working. I’ve not loved them all, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed about five or six.

Guess what this blog post is about.

The first film I watched after starting my subscription was The Golem: How He Came Into The World, a murky fairytale horror from Germany in 1920. The story is of a rabbi who creates a monster that protects the Jews of Prague from persecution. Apparently it’s an old Jewish folk tale.

The story is obviously interesting for its more modern connotations, but I was happy to lie back and just enjoy the fairytale for what it was. The sets were delicious – not a straight line in sight, and I got a bit trigger happy taking screenshots of architectural features of the walled town like windows, doors, rooflines, and hinges. Seriously, look at those wonderfully gnarled hinges!

Of course it was silent, with a fun soundtrack with recurring motifs, and the stark, melodramatic, monochromatic shots were occasionally augmented by the use of colour tinting, as can be seen above.

As a horror film (albeit a very early one), it even managed to provide two distinct sequences I can recall that absolutely gave me a sense of the willies. I was just as fascinated by the making of the film as its look and feel, and those sequences in particular were great from both perspectives.

I couldn’t have asked for a better film to kick off my subscription to a service like Mubi. And, as I’ve said, the quality hasn’t really let up since.


Are you on Mubi? Follow me. Not tried Mubi? Use my referral code for a free 30-day trial.