Trespassing: From Manderley to Xanadu – Updated

Trespassing: From Manderley to Xanadu – Updated

In December, I wrote about a video essay I made comparing Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) and Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941)I wrote an expanded version of that post for Film School Rejects. Feedback is most welcome!


A few months ago, I was lucky enough to watch Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca and Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane within weeks of each other on the big screen. With the former fresh on my mind as I watched the latter, I couldn’t help but pick up on similarities.

Given that the two films were made within a year of each other — they were released in 1940 and 1941, respectively — they often invite comparison, especially since a foreboding mansion is central to both. In Rebecca, it’s Maxim de Winter’s Manderley, while in Citizen Kane, it’s Charles Foster Kane’s Xanadu.

That specific relationship between the two films is explored in a video by Rob Stone entitled “No Trespassing: From Manderley to Xanadu,” which places the opening and closing sequences from each side by side. Watch it below.

Rebecca and Citizen Kane both begin with foreboding exterior shots of their respective mansions, suggesting, as Stone does in his essay’s title, that we enter the story through trespass.

Rebecca is told from the subjective view of Joan Fontaine’s character, the second Mrs. de Winter. Though she is married to Maxim, played by Laurence Olivier, she is an outsider at Manderley. She lives in the shadow of the first Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca. Surrounded by Rebecca’s objects and constantly reminded of her greatness by Mrs. Danvers, the second Mrs. de Winter is a trespasser in her own home. And since Hitchcock presents the story from her subjective view, so are we.

Citizen Kane actually opens with a “No Trespassing” sign. The notion of trespassing is more or less what prompts the story, since the film is an investigation of the life of Kane (Welles) by the journalist Jerry Thompson (William Alland), the ultimate trespasser. Kane is also a kind of trespasser. He never truly belongs in the aristocratic world that his inherited fortune allowed him to enter into.

Susan Alexander (Dorothy Comingore), Kane’s second wife, is also a trespasser. With Kane’s financial backing, she trespasses into the world of opera, despite having little to no ability. In the scenes of her at Xanadu, we see her again, like the second Mrs. DeWinter, as a kind of trespasser, this time into the life of Kane. She appears out of place, small and insignificant compared to the grand staircases and fireplaces of Xanadu. She doesn’t belong.

Both films also end in fire. Rebecca ends with Manderley in flames, and the final shot is of the embroidered “R” on Rebecca’s pillow being devoured by them. Hitchcock’s ending influenced Welles. The final shot of Citizen Kane is Kane’s Rosebud sled turning to ash in a furnace. The fire, in both cases, brings us a kind of closure. It eliminates Rebecca’s ghost, allowing the couple to be together. And it provides the audience an answer to the question “what is Rosebud?”.

After watching these two films and Stone’s video, I couldn’t help but think more about their similarities. I am excited by videographic criticism because it allows us to reexamine old films in new ways. For us younger film critics, it is sometimes discouraging to watch an old film, fall in love with it, want to write about it, and then realize that there are shelves and shelves of books filled with ideas we thought were original. Video essays and works like Stone’s “No Trespassing” allow us to revisit films like Citizen Kane and learn from them in new ways.

What I also love about video essays in general are their emphasis on exploration. This form allows us to create criticism that perhaps results in more questions than answers. After I watched Stone’s video, I thought to myself, “What happens when we trespass? What happens when we explore the halls and grounds of de Winter’s Manderley and Kane’s Xanadu?” So, I uploaded both films to Adobe Premiere, played around, and made the below video, which has the incredibly original title of “Trespassing: From Manderley to Xanadu.”

The comparisons you see do not create a specific argument about character, theme, the directors, etc. They’re simply shots and sequences that reminded me of one another. I’m curious to hear what folks think, so please comment on Vimeo or tweet at me (@willdigravio) and let me know!

How to Shoot a Film in One Room

How to Shoot a Film in One Room

A Video Essay

Before I was able to write a blog post about this video essay, Jacob Oller at Film School Rejects beat me to it: “The Art of the Single Room Film.” It was super cool to have FSR write about my essay. Oller writes about video essays regularly, check out his work here.

In his post, Oller correctly identified the impetus for the essay: my fascination with the way directors make great films despite great limitations. The idea for this essay came after watching Dial ‘M’ for Murder (1954) and reading about the film in Hitchcock/Truffaut. Unfortunately, the exchange between the two filmmakers is as short as it is insightful.

Hitchcock believed the film was not truly his, since it was an intensely faithful adaptation of Frederick Knott’s highly successful stage play of the same name. In their interview, Hitchcock tries to brush any mention of the film aside, however, Truffaut smartly reels him back in, recognizing the film is a masterpiece.

(Unfortunately, I am in Massachusetts and my copy of Hitchcock/Truffaut is in Vermont, so I am unable to quote directly from it. My description of their exchange is from memory, please forgive any errors until I am back in VT!)

Hitchcock talks about how the film is a departure from the way in which plays were typically adapted. Normally, he says, filmmakers would merely take the play and extend it, meaning they would have shots of a character getting out of a taxi, walking to the door, walking through the hallway, etc., before they arrived in the space where the main dramatic action is to take place. Always a challenger of the form, Hitchcock instead limited himself to a single room, leaving only briefly two or three times throughout the entire film. Rather than recording a play on camera, he delivers a limited setting story in cinematic form.

As someone who studies both film and English (with a focus in drama) Hitchcock’s insight got me excited to further explore the turning of drama into cinema. A few weeks later, on one of my late-night Internet deep-dives, I discovered this Hollywood Reporter roundtable discussion with Quentin Tarantino and a handful of other directors from 2016, around the time The Hateful Eight (2015) was released. During the course of the discussion, Tarantino talks about his want to turn his film into a play. In other words, the inverse of Dial ‘M’ For Murder. This excited me, so I went to the library and borrowed a copy of the film. As soon as Kurt Russell began exploring Minnie’s Haberdashery, with Dial ‘M’ fresh on my mind, I knew I had the beginnings of a video essay.

With help from a few of my film professors and some online lists, I began exploring films that mostly take place in a single room and settled on two: Rope (1948; Hitchcock) and Wait Until Dark (1967; Terence Young). The end product: “How to Shoot a Film in One Room.”

Enjoy:

 

Also, I’d like to thank Prof. Jason Mittell and my classmates in Videographic Film Studies at Middlebury College for their guidance and feedback. I hope this essay will be only the beginning of my exploration of films that take place in a single room. If there are any I should check out, please let me know!

Trespassing: From Manderley to Xanadu

Trespassing: From Manderley to Xanadu

A Video Essay

A few months ago, I was lucky enough to watch Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) and Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941) within weeks of each other as part of two separate courses at Middlebury, the former film as part of a course dedicated exclusively to Hitchcock’s body of work.

Since the two films were made within a year of each other, they often draw comparison, especially since a foreboding mansion is central to both: in Rebecca, it’s Maxim DeWinter’s Manderley, and in Citizen Kane, it’s Charles Foster Kane’s Xanadu. The similarities between the films’ beginnings and especially their endings is tought to miss:

Screen Shot 2017-12-23 at 5.29.47 PM

The above comparison is taken from Rob Stone’s video essay “No Trespassing: From Manderley to Xanadu,” in which he puts the beginnings and endings of both films side by side to illustrate their similarities, and how we enter both stories by trespassing.

As part of a videographic criticism course I took this fall, I responded to Stone’s essay with a video essay of my own, which I gave the incredibly original title, “Trespassing: From Manderley to Xanadu.”

The idea for this essay came after watching Stone’s essay and wondering, what happens when we trespass, when we go beyond the gates and explore the halls and grounds of Manderley and Xanadu?

What appeals to me most about the videographic form is its emphasis on exploration. The creation of this essay took place almost entirely in Adobe Premiere, that is, I simply uploaded both films to the program and explored. The side by side comparisons you see in this essay are not making a specific argument, nor are they explicitly saying something about character, theme, the directors, etc. Rather, they’re simply shots that reminded me of one another. The only definitive commonalities between them all are that they take place within the gates of Manderley and Xanadu.

Feedback is appreciated: