Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Alfred Hitchcock | Juno and the Paycock
what is the stars?by Douglas Messerli
The great Alfred Hitchcock’s 1930 attempt to film Sean O’Casey’s classic play, Juno and the Paycock, is generally recognized as a failure. Although critics of the day, such as James Agate declared the work as being “nearly a masterpiece,” Hitchcock himself described the movie as “just a photograph of a stage play,” expressing great doubts about the project even going into to. Yet he and his wife, Alma Reville, worked hard with O’Casey himself, changing some of the play’s language—including the introduction of an opening sequence in which a character performed by Barry Fitzgerald extolls Irish unity—and a shift in some of the characters’ focuses. O’Casey supported all of Hitchcock’s changes and, apparently, was pleased with the final production, hoping to work with the director on another later project that never took place.Perhaps the greatest difficulty facing Hitchcock was simply the quality of early sound, which made it extremely difficult to fluidly record the long monologues and dialogues of the original work. In the version I saw, heads often appear chopped off as the camera attempts to move while the characters are forced to stand in place, presumably to keep voices in range of the microphone. One can almost imagine the director whispering, as do the filmmakers of the musical parody about this period, Singin’ in the Rain, shouting “Into the microphone Sarah!”
Suddenly faced with new possibilities in a world that seemingly appeared closed for each figure, the Boyle family is caught up in both a larger economic framework and the local political struggles which do them in, as they put themselves into debt, fall into selfish bourgeois behavior, and put themselves on public display which helps, in the end, to utterly destroy them, separating the family, destroying the son, and forcing the women into destitution.These epic shifts, while metaphorically carried by O’Casey’s lilting language on the stage, seem far too large on a screen wherein the characters must gather round one another to be heard.
March 5, 2013