Critics, experts unite under horror’s creepy king

By Chris Nafekh, Staff Writer

Published in print Sept. 24, 2014

At a recent event at The Crown, at the Carolina Theater, film critic Budd Wilkins presented a showing of “Rope”, Alfred Hitchcock’s first Technicolor film.  Film appreciators from all around Greensboro gathered for a night of dramatic suspense.

Walking up a tall flight of stairs, the fragrant aroma of buttered popcorn grew stronger.  A life-sized cardboard cutout of Hitchcock greeted guests at the door, with a silent yet implied, “Good evening.”

As the crowd found their seats, Mr. Wilkins announced door prize winners.  Raffle prizes included tickets to Triad Stage’s production of “The 39 Steps”, four tickets to any film presented at The Crown, and a still of Hitchcock during production of one of his most renowned films, “The Birds”.

Wilkins is a professional film critic specializing in suspense and classic horror.  He has written for Showtime Magazine, Film International and Art Decades. He has been a judge at the 48 Hour Film Festival and is a co-host of On The Reel Radio. Although his knowledge of film is very far reaching, Wilkins holds a special place in his heart for Hitchcock.

He started watching vintage horror films on TMC and AMC as a kid and developed a passion for them. 

“I had this book sitting on my shelf,” he reflected. “‘The Art of Alfred Hitchcock’.” From studying and watching these movies, Wilkins found his calling.

As the door prizes finished, he gave a brief introduction to the movie.  “Rope” was filmed in 1948 and is based on a murder-mystery play.  Two college kids, influenced heavily by the philosophy of Nietzsche, commit what they call “the perfect crime.”  Jimmy Stewart stars as their professor, whose philosophies on certain men’s superiority over others have been warped by psychotic young minds.

After World War II, cinema trends changed.  Political philosophy was a common theme. The darkness also helped Stewart, as Wilkins said, move from an “all-American paper boy to a darker, film noir character.”

Filming “Rope” was difficult; Hitchcock wanted the movie to run like one long take, with no cuts or scene changes.  This proved too burdensome, so the film is comprised of nine different ten-minute takes.  

“Hitchcock,” said Wilkins, “was very upset with the last half of the film. He reshot it because the color of the sunset wasn’t right.”

And after this laborious process, the film was not highly recognized.

“’Rope’ was not successful at first,” said Wilkins, “due to homoerotic subtexts.”  Although the movie is not have outright homosexual themes, those who look for the themes can find them.  In the 1940s and ‘50s, these ideas were bad for popular publicity.

The film is set in one large apartment, filled with different characters.  The irony in the dialogue is almost too much to take. 

“The movie is very similar to Dial M for Murder and Rear Window because the set is claustrophobic and the discussions are very important,” Wilkins explained.

The Critic’s Choice Cinema is hosted at the Crown on a consistent basis.  Next month, they will present a special Halloween movie series which will also be hosted by Wilkins.  The series will kick off on October 6th with the 1962 version of “The Phantom of the Opera”, and continues with films like “The Thing”, “Hands of the Ripper”, “Twins of Evil” and “They Live”.

The purpose of the film series is to keep classic films appreciated and alive.  Throughout the night, one question remained constant: Will Hitchcock live on? 

“If you go to the UNCG Library, in the film section,” Wilkins informed the crowd, “you can find shelves of books on Hitchcock.  I hope people don’t just remember a knife in a shower and a silhouette in the window.”

Categories: Arts & Entertainment

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