Sunday, 17 January 2016

"Rope" (1948) - A review.

Fig 1.
Rope (1948) by Alfred Hitchcock, concerns Brandon, Phillip and their murder of an old classmate - David Kentley. Stuffing his body in a chest, proudly placed in the center of a room, the two will soon be receiving guests. Most interesting to note of Rope is that this act occurs mere moments into the film, and we watch with baited breath as the duo try to get away with it as their guests slowly piece together the whereabouts of David. Through the editing, or lack of, tension is ever present; employed over the course of the movie is the illusion that it is a single, unending shot; the viewer is never allowed reprieve. Rope unfolds like a play, in terms of its often static cinematography, limited locations and rather flowery dialogue that often pits itself within the description and application of morality and discusses its need.

Described as an experiment that didn’t work out, Rope utilises techniques that seek to ground its audience within the exact moment of the party. “Once the characters have entered the room, there can’t be any jumps in time, or the suspense will be lost. The audience must know that the body is always right there in the trunk.” (Ebert, 1984) This is tied intrinsically to the films very production. The production explored its own limitations by centering its construction around the length of film that could be loaded in each camera, namely 10 minutes. “He loaded his camera with 10 minute magazines of film, he arranged the screenplay in 10-minute sections, and at the end of each section he used an “invisible wipe” to get to the next magazine” (Ebert, 1984) Often utilising gimmicks such as passing closely behind someone’s back or passing behind a chair in order to hide the reel change to maintain the illusion of a one shot film.
Fig 2.
In some instances, the camera, instead of focusing on characters during dialogue, just sits them partially obscured at the side. Writing for DenOfGeek, Ryan Lambie muses that “As the camera roves around the grim party, the audience becomes an invisible gatecrasher” (Lambie, 2014) And this really embellishes the idea of the experiment, and also that we are a fly on the wall and privy to all of the goings-on that this party has offered us, which really adds to the inherent tension the “corpse-in-the-box” scenario generates.

It is then, interesting to consider Rope and this idea of artificiality that these creative choices have helped generate. The set is obvious and necessary for what Hitchcock was trying to achieve in terms of cinematography - and the idea that we are watching an entire segment of time unfold. The story is bent to allow for these conceits and the whole concept is centered around the real life limitation of the continuous shot. These choices only carry Rope onwards and heighten the tension further, as the implied claustrophobia of a stage focuses our gaze further. Further towards the box, where David lies, dead.

Fig 3.

This is Hitchcock in an emboldened mood, tinkering with what can be done with the medium and ultimately inspiring others to do the same. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014) by director Alejandro González Iñárritu is highly reminiscent of Rope and you can see its DNA most clearly here. Continuous shots - achieved with visual effects - achieve a frenzy and high tension that could only be possible because of Rope.

Rope. An experiment that didn’t work? No, an experiment that posits a line of thought about how to focus an audience on exactly what you want them to think and feel. A true success by today's standards of filmmaking.


Ebert, Roger. 'Rope, review'. rogerebert.com. [online] Available at: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/rope-1948 [Accessed 17 Jan. 2016]

Lambie, Ryan. In praise of Alfred Hitchcock's Rope’. denofgeek.com. [online] Available at:
http://www.denofgeek.com/movies/rope/29836/in-praise-of-alfred-hitchcocks-rope [Accessed 17 Jan. 2016]


Fig 1. Rope poster. [image] Available at: https://bandbent.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/rope-poster.jpg

Fig 2. David dying. [Image] Available at: https://thehitchcockreport.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/00201.jpg

Fig 3. The chest. [image] Available at: http://criticsloft.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Rope-pic-1.jpg

Further viewing

https://vimeo.com/76087987 - Hiding the cuts in "Rope".

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