Sunday 11 April 2010

Hitch double bill (ST 04/04/10)

Double Take (nc) 80 mins ****
Samson & Delilah (15) 100 mins ****
Kick-Ass (15) 117 mins *
How to Train Your Dragon (PG) 98 mins ****

There’s only one Alfred Hitchcock, right? Not according to Double Take, a supremely intriguing historical supposition from Belgian collagist Johan Grimonprez that serves as a testament to the enduring fascination of the Master’s work. The premise, at least, is comparatively straightforward. In 1962, while filming The Birds, Hitchcock encounters a doppelgänger who claims to have arrived from 1980 - the eve of another Presidential assassination attempt - with a grim vision of the future: and no, he doesn’t just mean the remake of The Lady Vanishes.

Grimonprez illustrates this tale with clips drawn from Hitchcock’s promotional and television appearances, and newly filmed inserts featuring the voice of Dead Ringers’ Mark Perry and the portly figure of recently deceased Hitch ringer Ron Burrage, a former busboy at Claridge’s who once served the director tea and - countless vanilla slices later - assumed the mantle of professional Hitchcock lookalike. This is, then, both a story in itself, and a film about the stories we have been, and are being, told - one that reaches out beyond cinema history to history itself.

Interwoven throughout Double Take is an account of the Cold War, from the forced levity of the Nixon-Khrushchev Kitchen debates to the televised announcement of JFK’s death. The film establishes a world on tenterhooks, expecting the worst; Hitchcock’s direct contribution is his famous definition of the difference between surprise and suspense, depending on the audience’s awareness of the bomb sitting under a restaurant table. There’s something of our own Adam Curtis in this pointed deployment of archive footage: in Grimonprez’s skilled hands, The Birds becomes an augury of things to come.

The 1980 Hitchcock is convinced that commercial-riddled television, the enemy of sustained suspense, has rendered his cinematic project worthless; that he’s become yesterday’s man. He needn’t have worried, of course: those master manipulators preying on our most irrational fears continue to gather across the media like ravens upon a climbing frame. If the title of Grimonprez’s film speaks to a reaction of disbelief, so the remainder intuits how much of modern life is reliant on our credulity as consumers. Double Take’s thesis is that a bomb now sits under all our tables - for more, stay tuned through the end credits.

The heroes of Samson & Delilah don’t appear especially Biblical: two Aboriginal teenagers bored out of their minds in a quiet outback community. With their parents either dead, disinterested, or behind bars, Delilah (Marissa Gibson) tends to her ageing grandmother, while the larkier Samson (Rowan McNamara) spends his days huffing petrol fumes. Still, like all young lovers, they have music and hope in their hearts. The opportunity - and the need - to leave soon presents itself; yet the city, alas, is not the paradise they were looking for.

Warwick Thornton’s film operates wordlessly and stealthily. Not one sentence passes between the leads, only loaded looks and glances. An art dealer’s abrupt “not interested” speaks for the marginalisation of an entire indigenous people. And yet Thornton has much to say about the Aboriginal community’s own shortcomings. These youngsters lack the means - the money, language and self-belief - to mediate between themselves and the wider world: Samson, adrift on a solvent haze, simply doesn’t notice when his companion is bundled away by a pair of yahoos.

Late on, we witness petrol being put to its proper use, being pumped into a car transporting the teenagers. Finally, we hope, these characters are getting somewhere; we may even take consolation from the symmetry that just as Samson spirited Delilah away from their dead-end existence, she will bring him back - and thus, we infer, back to life. An odyssey in the truest sense, it’s a bruising experience, but, pushed onwards by Gibson and McNamara’s exceptionally expressive performances, vivid and compelling in its fusion of mythic and contemporary elements.

Let us pass briskly over Kick-Ass, a film so aggressively targeted at teenage boys as to leave adult viewers with the sensation they’ve just been viciously mugged for a disposable income they don’t have. Matthew Vaughn’s Stardust follow-up gives us a DIY superhero (Nowhere Boy’s Aaron Johnson), a trash-talking 11-year-old girl, and mucho cold, unfelt violence; clearly, at the Methuselean age of 32, I fall outside the designated demographic, but then again I am old enough to remember plenty of films based on comic books that didn’t so obviously resemble instructional videos for sociopaths.

Early on in the lovingly rendered animation How to Train Your Dragon - a boy-and-his-pet movie reviving the tradition of Old Yeller or E.T. - our Viking hero Hiccup reaches out his hand, and the feline black dragon he’s adopted edges guardedly towards it - a framing later reproduced as Hiccup and his father stumble towards their own rapprochement. Coincidence, perhaps - yet in the few pixels of stereoscopic space between these characters, there resides some of the strongest emotional evidence yet presented in favour of the new 3D format.

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