Blue Eyes in the Desert: Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962)

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Ah, Lawrence of Arabia… An illustrious man and the subject of one of movie history’s best films. It is British movie director David Lean who created this masterpiece. With movies like Lawrence of Arabia (of course), Great Expectations The Bridge on the River Kwai, Doctor Zhivago and Brief Encounter, he is considered to be one of England’s best filmmakers. So, that’s not without any reason that Maddy from Maddy Loves Her Classic Films has decided to host a blogathon in his honour. And I agree, it was about time! Lawrence of Arabia is without any doubt my favourite Lean film. So, why not take the occasion to visit the many wonders that compose this epic historical drama?

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Released in 1962, Lawrence of Arabia is based on the life of Lieutenant T.E Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) and tells his exploits in the Arabian territory during the First World War. His first mission is to find Prince Faisal and take note of the situation of the revolt against the Turks. Lawrence, who wants to help the Prince and the Arab people take the lead of an expedition to Aqaba, a Turkish territory. His plan is to do a surprise attack by passing by the Nefud Desert. The Turkish guns in Aqaba are facing the water because they don’t expect anybody to be able to cross the desert. But for Lawrence of Arabia, nothing is impossible.

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Of course, in this almost four hours movie, a lot more happens but it would be too long to tell. But keep in mind that Lawrence of Arabia is a man who doesn’t give up, or almost not. That expedition to Aqaba is not the only one, but perhaps the most impressive one in the film.

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Where do we start with Lawrence of Arabia? You see, this film was brilliantly directed by David Lean and everything about it is sensational. No wonder it won seven Oscars and was nominated for three others.

Wins:

  • Best Picture (Sam Spiegel)
  • Best Director (David Lean)
  • Best Original Score (Maurice Jarre)
  • Best Cinematography (Frederick A. Young)
  • Best Art Direction (John Box, John Stoll and Dario Simoni)
  • Best Film Editing (Anne V. Coates)
  • Best Sound (John Cox)

Nominations:

  • Best Actor (Peter O’Toole)
  • Best Supporting Actor (Omar Sharif)
  • Best Adapted Screenplay (Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson)
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David Lean with his Oscar

Lawrence of Arabia was based on the autobiographical book Seven Pillars of Wisdom written by Thomas Edward Lawrence and published in December 1926. Despite being based on a true story, the film takes some liberties and some events or characters depicted are fictionalized. For example, Sherif Ali played by Omar Sharif is a combination of various Arab leaders. American Journalist Jackson Bentley played by Arthur Kennedy was based on American journalist Lowell Thomas who built fame around Lawrence of Arabia. Some scenes in the film are highly fictionnalized as well, such as the Battle of Aqaba.

 

 

But, this didn’t prevent the film to mark history.

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Exploration

Since I went to England, Lawrence of Arabia has taken even more significance for me. First, in Oxford, I visited the beautiful Magdalene College that the British Lieutenant attended between 1910 and 1914. Also, during my trip, I was reading the first volume of Peter O’Toole’s autobiography. I also felt as if I was in the movie when I visited Seville in Spain last year. Scenes from the film were shot there, including at the majestic Plaza de España and at the Alfonso XIII hotel. That hotel is probably one of my most favourite places ever in the world. I went there, an ordinary tourist, in this very chic place just to have a coffee and read. The waiters were so nice and NOT SNUBBISH AT ALL. Ah, Spain…

Magdalene (Oxford)

 

 

Hotel Alfonso XIII (Seville)

 

 

Plaza de España (Seville)

 

 

The film was also shot in other places in Spain (Playa del Algarrobico, Cabo de Gata, Desierto de Tabernas, Genovese Beach in San José, Tabernas, Almería, and Carboneras), in Morroco (Ait Benhaddou and Desert South of Ouarzazate), in Jordan (Wadi Rum, Al Jafr, Jebel Tubeiq, and Ma’an), in UK (Chobham Common in Surrey, Merthyr Mawr, St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, Englan, and Shepperton Studios), and in the USA (Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area in California).

With a lot of on-location shooting, David Lean’s film is one that makes you travel a lot. Well, after all, the characters are constantly moving from one place to another. What an adventure! We guess it was a long shooting, especially for Peter O’Toole who appears in almost all the scenes!

An image worths a thousand words:

This is something David Lean understood perfectly. Despite being a long film, Lawrence of Arabia doesn’t contain a ton of unnecessary dialogues. It’s a movie of contemplation. The director, along with his editor and cinematographer, perfectly knew how to use the power of editing or create very strong images to let us know what’s happening. For example, one of my favourite moment is when, at the beginning of the film, Lawrence blows a match and it cuts to a desert scene. It’s just one of my most favourite transitions ever.

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There are some scenes with no lines that are quite long, but so mesmerizing. I can think of the scene where Lawrence rescues Gasim. The various transition between the sun shining, Gasim walking, Daud (one of Lawrence’s servants) waiting, and Lawrence looking for Daud make us realise that there’s no time to lose.

 

 

At university, I had a class called Landscape Paintings and Films and, for my final essay, I wrote about desert landscapes and discuss Lawrence of Arabia and The Ten Commandments (interestingly, at one point in the film, Lawrence compares himself to Moses). I compared both the films to the landscape paintings of Charles-Théodore Frère (for Lawrence of Arabia) and Frederick Goodall (for The Ten Commandments). Even if David Lean’s true inspiration for the cinematography of his film was John Ford’s The Searchers (1956) it was still interesting to make the comparison.

Paintings by Charles-Théodore Frère

 

 

Scenes from Lawrence of Arabia

 

 

Scenes from The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)

 

 

I had the chance, I think it was last year, to see the film on the big screen. And this was one of my best cinematic experiences ever. For the beauty of its landscapes, the film is meant to be seen on big screen. I was in awe during the whole viewing. The majestic scenes become even more majestic, Peter O’Toole blue eyes and Omar Sharif’s dark eyes were even more beautiful, and everything became more powerful. If you ever have the chance to see this film in a movie theatre, don’t hesitate a second.

Casting

Marlon Brando, Albert Finney, Anthony Perkins and Montgomery Clift were all choices for the role of T.E Lawrence. But, with all due respect (as they are all brilliant performers), I honestly think they would have been all wrong for the role. Finally, it’s the one and only Katharine Hepburn who insisted on producer Sam Spiegel to cast Peter O’Toole for the role. And she was so right! Peter O’Toole’s performance in this film is one of my favourite ever. I am always amazed by it. The way he talks, the way he moves, the way he delivers his lines are the work of a true genius. A relatively unknown actor at the time (having no major films to his credits), Peter O’Toole found his most iconic role with Lawrence of Arabia. He was 30 when the film was released.

Peter O’Toole as Thomas Edward Lawrence

 

 

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The real Thomas Edward Lawrence

Fun fact: You know that I’m a fan of David Bowie. Well, his character, Jack Celliers, in Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (Nagisa Oshima, 1983) shares resemblance to T. E Lawrence according to Nick Nobel of the Austin Film Society. And we agree! Interestingly, the film that takes place in a Japanese POW camp during the Second World War was compared to David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai.

 

 

For the role of Prince Faisal, Laurence Olivier was the original choice, but the part went to Alec Guinness instead. This was not his first film under the direction of David Lean, nor his last. He also appeared in The Bridge on the River Kwai, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, Doctor Zhivago, and A Passage to India. Guinness plays the role with a beautiful humbleness. His chemistry with some of the actors such as Peter O’Toole and Arthur Kennedy make his scenes some of the best. While he was not Arab like the real Prince Faisal, he reminded convincing for the roles and, during the shooting, he was even mistaken for the real prince by locals in Jordan!

 

 

Egyptian actor Omar Sharif had already several movies to his credits in the Egyptian movie industry, but it’s with Lawrence of Arabia that he made his big break to Hollywood. In the fictional role of Sherif Ali, he creates an amazing contrast with Peter O’Toole’s portrayal of Lawrence of Arabia. With an Oscar nomination, he was immediately noticed. He became a close friend of Peter O’Toole. His entrance in the film is pretty unforgettable. [SPOILER] ok, he kind of kills Lawrence’s Bedu guide [END OF SPOILER], but what will be the film without him? His role is considered to be one of the most difficult supporting roles in movie history. Is it due to the fact that Sherif Ali is a very ambiguous character?

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Mexican actor Anthony Quinn had already an established career in Hollywood when he made Lawrence of Arabia. His character, Auda Abu Tayi is one we don’t forget! A dynamic role that was played with a lot of cleverness.

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Arthur Kennedy was one of the rare American actors to appear in this film. His very down to Earth role (journalist Jackson Bentley) adds a lot to the film. Faithful to his amazing talent, he doesn’t need to do too much to be convincing. According to IMDB, Edmond O’Brien was initially supposed to play the role (this could have been interesting) but suffered from a heart attack. It’s Anthony Quinn who suggested to cast Kennedy in the role. As he is my favourite character actor, I obviously always wait with impatience for the Kennedy scenes in Lawrence of Arabia.

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Anthony Quayle thought his character, Colonel Harry Brighton, was a stupid one. Yes, he kind of is (well, he’s not a very optimistic one) but, being used to military roles, Quayle gave a convincing performance.

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Puerto Rican actor José Ferrer appears in a very short but unforgettable scene of the film. His acting is very calculated (in the good sense) and Peter O’Toole claimed he learned a lot from it. Ferrer wasn’t too happy his part was so small but he later recognized it was one of his best performances and said: “If I was to be judged by any one film performance, it would be my five minutes in Lawrence.”

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Claude Rains well, is Claude Rains. He can do anything, it will always be great. Just like Peter O’Toole, he had this amazing voice, very smooth and comforting. Mr. Dryden was among his last roles.

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Finally, we cannot talk about Lawrence of Arabia‘s cast without discussing the duo formed by British actor Michael Ray and John Dimech who play Farraj and Daud, Lawrence’s servants. The young friendly duo works wonder and both are among the best characters of the film. [SPOILER] Their loss create a big emptiness in the film [END OF SPOILER]

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Nothing is written…

If Lawrence of Arabia is a very visual movie, this didn’t prevent screenwriters Robert Bold and Michael Wilson to write some of the best lines of movie history. Those accentuate the film’s majesty and give us perfectly the essence of each character. Peter O’Toole’s Lawrence of Arabia is a man who speaks only if he has great things to say.

Here are some examples of my favourite lines and dialogues:

1- [Lawrence has just extinguished a match between his thumb and forefinger. William Potter surreptitiously attempts the same]

William Potter : Ooh! It damn well ‘urts!

T. E. Lawrence: Certainly it hurts.

Officer: What’s the trick then?

T.E. Lawrence: The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.

2- Sherif Ali: Truly, for some men nothing is written unless THEY write it.

3- Sherif Ali: Have you no fear, English?

T. E. Lawrence: My fear is my concern

4- T.E. Lawrence: Nothing is written

Sherif Ali: You will not be at Aqaba, English. Go back, blasphemer… but you will not be in Aqaba.

T. E. Lawrence: I shall be at Aqaba. That, IS written.

5- Jackson Bentley [To Sherif Ali]: You answered without saying anything. That’s politics.

6- Auda abu Tayi: I am a river to my people!

7- Colone Brighton: Are you badly hurt?

T.E. Lawrence: I’m not hurt at all. Didn’t you know? They can only kill me with a golden bullet.

8- Sherif Ali: What is your name?

T.E. Lawrence: My name is for my friends. None of my friends is a murderer!

9- Mr. Dryden: Lawrence, only two kinds of creature get fun in the desert: Bedouins and gods, and you’re neither. Take it from me, for ordinary men, it’s a burning, fiery furnace.

T.E. Lawrence: No, Dryden, it’s going to be fun.

Mr. Dryden: It is recognized that you have a funny sense of fun.

10- Jackson Bentley: Never saw a man killed with a sword before.

T.E. Lawrence: [contemptuously] Why don’t you take a picture?

Jackson Bentley: Wish I had.

11- T.E. Lawrence: I know I’m not ordinary.

General Allenby: That’s not what I’m saying…

T.E. Lawrence: All right! I’m extraordinary! What of it?

12- Jackson Bentley: Ow, you rotten man… here, let me take your rotten bloody picture… for the rotten bloody newspapers.

13- T.E. Lawrence : No prisoners! No prisoners!

14- Jackson Bentley [on his interest in Lawrence and the Arab Revolt] I’m looking for a hero.

Prince Faisal: Indeed, you do not seem a romantic man.

Jackson Bentley: Oh, no! But certain influential men back home believe the time has come for America to lend her weight to the patriotic struggle against Germany… and Turkey. Now, I’ve been sent to find material that makes this war seem more…

Prince Faisal: Enjoyable?

Jackson Bentley: Oh, hardly THAT, sir. But to show it in its more… adventurous aspects.

Prince Faisal: You are looking for a figure that will draw your country towards war?

Jackson Bentley: All right, yes.

Prince Faisal: Lawrence is your man.

15- Prince Faisal: What I ow you is beyond evaluation.

16- Jackson Bentley [taking a picture of T.E. Lawrence] Yes sir, that’s my baby!

Ok, the last one sounds less “poetic”, but I personally love it!

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“I walk through a desert song” (David Bowie, The Secret Life of Arabia)

We cannot talk about Lawrence of Arabia without mentioning Maurice Jarre’s spellbinding score. The Oscar-winning music is a melody that is familiar to all. I remember, the first time I watched the film and heard it, I said: “Ah! That’s where it comes from!” The glorious notes reflect both the magic and dangerous atmosphere of the desert, of its obstacles, of T.E Lawrence’s quests, and of history itself. When images of the large desert are shown to us, the music that accompanies them is the perfect description.

 

Dressed like a prince

Lastly (but there would be many other things to discuss), what also makes the beauty of this film (aside from the cinematography, Peter O’Toole’s blue eyes, and the music) are the costumes designed by Phyllis Dalton (Island in the Sun, The World of Suzie Wong, Doctor Zhivago) and John Wilson-Apperson. The only reason why their creations weren’t nominated for an Oscar is simply because We forgot to submit their names for the competition… Silly as that. The creativity of the costumes doesn’t reside in the British officers’ uniforms but in the clothes worn by the Arabs and Lawrence in the desert. Peter O’Toole’s looks created with the white silk gown became an iconic look. The way the costumes are designed perfectly highlights the characters’ features and make this movie even richer visually. Peter O’Toole’s eyes have never been bluer and Omar Sharif’s dark iris doesn’t lack deepness, thanks to this majestic black robe.

 

 

 

 

Despite being criticized for some inaccuracies and banned in some Arab countries, Lawrence of Arabia received an important critical and financial success. And with no surprise. Interestingly, to avoid the movie to be banned in Egypt, Omar Sharif showed it to President Gamal Abdel Nasser so he could realize there was nothing wrong with it. All ended well as the president loved the film and it became a huge success in Sarif’s native country.

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Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif dancing at the premiere of the film!

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A few pictures on the set of the film because I just love them!

 

 

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Lawrence of Arabia is a complex film, both for its history, it’s creation, and the impact it created. We could talk about it for hours, but there’s nothing better than watching it to really understand its meaning.

I want to thank Maddy for hosting this awesome blogathon honouring the great David Lean! It was a pleasure to participate and FINALLY write about this iconic film.

Make sure to read the other entries here!

See you!

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William Holden as Erik Erichson in “The Counterfeit Traitor” (Guest Post by Juliet Campbell)

The following article on The Counterfeit Traitor was written by Juliet Campbell, a huge William Holden fan!


Erik Erichson was a reluctant spy…much like William Holden was a reluctant participant at first to take on the role. But the lure of visiting distant European countries was a magnet to him.

No disagreement then that Eric Erichson was at the beginning the reluctant spy executing a selfish act to save his business  and William Holden played the part perfectly from beginning to end.

From not a moral thought to what he was doing or how it affected those around him , to a realization about morality and the correct thing to do, his conscience eventually took over..

“It just takes one atrocity”….”suddenly he becomes your brother”

William Holden played his part to perfection….it was his gem in what was considered his “down period” after many successful roles.

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He played so many emotions….resignation, pathos ,humour, terror, sensitivity….any emotions he had shown in any of his movies beforehand were rolled up and out in this one.

A man whose conscience becomes morally refined by circumstances around him.

To me this was one of William Holden’s finely etched portraits ….It didnt get the accolades it deserved, possibly because at the time he had decided to forgo living in the U.S.A and opted for living in Switzerland, a decision that caused a backlash with the public and the filming industry.

But once again he played the part as though it was made for him and once again I cried with him…

Dreaming in Hitchcock Movies

“Dream dream, filling up an idle hour
Fade away, radiate”
– Debbie Harry, Dreaming


I’m one of those persons who are quite fascinated by dreams. From the most ordinary ones to the most extraordinary ones,  I saw them in all their colours. When I can remember my dreams, I write them in a little notebook to make sure I don’t forget them later. Actually, this is also a way to stimulate my subconscious and the more I work on them, the more I can remember them. I sometimes read my dream notebook and I have some fun reading stuff I didn’t remember.

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Dreams inspire art; paintings, songs, and, of course, cinema. So I thought, why not discussing the dreaming world in movies. I cannot talk about ALL the movies with dreams. So, why not focusing on the dreaming world in Hitchcock’s films?!

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Spellbound (1945)

“Good night and sweet dreams… which we’ll analyze at breakfast.” – Dr. Alex Brulov (Michael Chekhov), Spellbound

When one thinks of dreams in classic films, I’m pretty sure the first scene that comes to his or her mind is the one created by Salvador Dalí for Spellbound. Well, when Dali, the master of surrealism, accepts to direct a dream scene, you know it’s going to be a winning result. Dali’s painting themselves seem to be inspired by dreams or, at least by something that mysteriously poped-up of his mind for whatever reasons. I must admit, I didn’t do any dreams where the objects were weird and misshapen like in Dalí’s paintings, but the importance here is the symbolism of this dream.

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In the 40s, psychoanalyse was a subject that was very “en vogue”. With Spellbound, Hitchcock had for desired to direct the first movie on the subject. Like he explained to François Truffaut, he consulted famous psychoanalyst during the making of his film. The Master of Suspense also explained that he had for break the tradition of blurry and confused dreams that we usually see in movies. That’s why he wanted to work with Dalí. This one would create a visually very clear dream with clear and acute traits.

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So, in a movie about psychoanalyze, dreams are of a high importance. If I’m not mistaken, Dali’s sequence originally laste around 20 minutes, but it was cut to only a few. Not to mention that some of Dalí’s ideas were a bit difficult to shot as Hitchcock explained to Truffaut.  In a way, there’s something interesting about that. Have you ever heard that, even if your dreams sometimes seem to last forever, they only last a minute or a few seconds? In Spellbound, JB (Gregory Peck)’s dream is of a central importance since it helps Constance Peterson (Ingrid Bergman) and Professor Brulov (Michael Chekhov) to understand him and to help him regain his memory. It is said that dreams all have a meaning. Well, Spellbound‘s dream sequence is the perfect example of that.

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I feel that, in classic films, you had some of the most weirdly illustrated dreams. Of course, we all remember Spellbound’s dream for these curtains with painted eyes that are cut by a man with a giant pair of scissors. This is maybe the most iconic part of the sequence. Objects also have weird forms and proportions. For example, one can think of this crooked wheel or this giant table where a game of card is being interrupted by a man without a face. My personal favourite part of the dream is when Gregory Peck is running down a slope and followed by a pair of big wings (we only see their shadows). There’s something very beautiful in this shot that fits perfectly the dreaming world. Of course, we learn later in the film what is the meaning of all this.

 

Vertigo (1958)

“Only one is a wanderer; two together are always going somewhere. ” – Madeleine (Kim Novak), Vertigo

The scene designed by Dalí isn’t the only memorable dream sequence from an Hitchcock’s film. In 1958, Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart)’s nightmare had something truly terrifying. The mix between Bernard Herrmann’s score and the flashy colours create a haunting moment. Interestingly, Vertigo was the first film to use computer graphics, these being designed by Saul Bass. Those weren’t only used in the opening titles but also in the nightmare scene. The script doesn’t try to reveal the “meaning” of this dream like it is the case with Spellbound. However, the symbols are clear enough to understand that it reflects a part of Scottie’s life that begins to haunt him more and more.

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Vertigo‘s dream sequence is also the proof that this film used Technicolor to its full potential. I must admit, the first time I saw this scene, I felt slightly uncomfortable, but I think it is meant to be. What particularly frightened me is this moment when Scottie advances toward’s Carolotta’s tomb where a hole has been dug to put a coffin. I was only expecting to see Carolotta’s rotten corpse lying there, but, luckily, there wasn’t anything of the sort. I remember my sister coming in the living room right during this dream sequence and saying “Ah, that’s scary!” before leaving. But once you are more “used to it” you find it somehow fascinating. I love the short moment were Galvin Elster, Carlotta Valdes and Scottie are next to a window and the first two just stare at Scottie with a very cold look. The nightmare scene is also in perfect harmony with the music and, therefore, there’s something very choreographical about it.

 

Rebecca (1940)

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” – Mrs. DeWinter (Joan Fontaine), Rebecca

It’s with this iconic sentence that Daphné DuMaurier introduced her most acclaimed novel, Rebecca. Of course, Hitchcock had to use it in his Oscar-winning film. “I” De Winter (Joan Fontaine)’s dream evokes the memory she has of Manderley, the place where she used to live with her husband Max DeWinter (Laurence Olivier). In her dream, Manderley is burnt and now a desolate place. This is also a vision of reality and the rest of the film is a long flashback that will help us understand the mystery and the fatal faith of this rich domain.

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This dream scene at the beginning that introduces the film is filmed in a subjective point of view. It is seen through the narrator’s eyes, the second Mrs. DeWinter. Joan Fontaine’s enchanting and smooth voice adds a certain tranquility to the sad vision of the abandoned place. It’s interesting how this dream that is so calm is abruptly interrupted by a crash of waves in the following scene. This sequence wasn’t directed by Dalí, but we still can admire its beautiful black and white cinematography that gives it a vision of poetry.

 

Marnie (1964)

“You Freud, me Jane? “ – Marnie Edgar (Tippi Hedren), Marnie

Just like Spellbound, Marnie has psychoanalysis as a central subject. The main character, Marnie, is a cleptomaniac and also has a phobia of the colour red. Interestingly, in opposition to the previous movies, we actually never see Marnie’s dreams. We only see her dreaming. It is obvious that those are nightmares. To highlight her fear of red, these scenes are filmed with a red flashy lightning which makes the dream even more threatening than it already is. But what is the symbolism or this red that Marnie is so afraid of? The Devil? Violence? Blood? Marnie’s dreams always start with something knocking and the furious first notes of Bernard Herrmann’s score. Marnie constantly evokes her mother in her dreams and it seems that she is associated with some bad memories. Just like Spellbound, these dreams will help us to discover the truth about the title character. However, here the subject of psychoanalyse wasn’t as developed as it was with Spellbound.

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These are, I would say, the essential Hitchcock’s dream scenes. However, one can observe that some of his scenes, although they portrait reality and not a dream, are almost filmed like a dream because of the light, the colours, the blurry image, the way it is shot, etc. A few examples would be the weird trial scene in Dial M for Murder (Margot Wendice is living a real nightmare); the flashback scene in I Confess (which has a very clear and white image); when Margaret Lockwood’s faint in The Lady Vanishes; in Vertigo when Judy comes out of the bathroom metamorphosed into Madeleine, etc. François Truffaut even said to Hitchcock that, for him, many of his films, such as Vertigo and Notorious, looked like filmed dreams.

Dream scenes in movies give the occasion to the film crew to explore a different way to illustrate something. Of course, all dreams are different so, according to each movie director, a dream scene can be very different. We observe that Hitchcock’s dream scenes are mostly nightmare or, in Rebecca‘s case, the vision of something sad. Most of the time, these reflect the past of a character, a trouble hidden in his or her subconscious or a difficult situation.

Which Hitchcock’s dream scene fascinates you the most?

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Source:

– Truffaut, François. Hitchcock/Truffaut. Gallimard. 1993.