This morning I received an e-mail from a cinephile friend, Christian Keathley, who teaches at Middlebury College and is the author of the book Cinephilia and History, or The Wind in the Trees (2006). A while back, I did a post on his idea of the "cinephiliac moment." With Chris's permission, I'm excerpting from his e-mail below. -- Girish.
We've just started our spring term here, and the first week has been hectic as usual. I wanted to write again about something I'm interested in -- perhaps you might have some examples/ideas. (If I had a blog, this is probably the kind of thing I'd post.) For lack of a better way of putting it, I'm interested in the often uncanny ways in which one film's diegesis trespasses onto another's.
Here's an example: There's a scene early in Anthony Mann's The Far Country in which James Stewart, running from the law for having allegedly killed two men, is invited to hide in the steamboat stateroom of Ruth Roman. The crew comes in looking for him. "There's a killer on board, miss." "And you think he'd be in here?!" That sort of thing. When I watched the film with my senior seminar last term, I thought of how closely this scene resembles the one in North by Northwest in which Eva Marie Saint hides Cary Grant (another killer on the loose) in her train compartment. There, too, the authorities come in and question her and she plays dumb. In both scenes, the man hides in the woman's bed. This similarity can of course be explained by the simple fact that Hollywood routinely recycled scenes and situations, and not just in B grade features.
But watching it a second time I noticed two more similarities -- the first a coincidence, the second wildly uncanny. After the steamboat crew leaves, Ruth Roman pulls back the blanket and Stewart sits up. She remarks, "I imagine you look better with a shave." He replies, "My razor is in my saddlebag ... unless you've got one I can borrow." Of course, that's exactly what happens in N by NW -- Cary Grant borrows Eva Marie Saint's tiny razor, which leads to a comic scene in the Chicago train station men's room.
Here's the uncanny part. In The Far Country, just before the authorities begin to chase James Stewart, the steamboat captain calls out to the pilot, "Full ahead. Pull her north by northwest." Most curious here is the fact that there is no "north by northwest" on the compass: it's a cartographic impossibility (see Donald Spoto's book on Hitchcock, but others have commented on this as well).
So, are there other such moments? More importantly, what can we do with moments in which two films' diegeses suddenly and unexpectedly overlap like this? A fun puzzle to chew on over the weekend...
[from Chris's follow-up e-mail] Along similar lines -- the statue that appears in the first shot of Laura also shows up five years later in Whirlpool - same director, star, and studio. Apparently Fox's prop closet wasn't as big as we might have guessed. [A friend] tells me that there's a set of draperies that shows up somewhere in virtually every film Monogram Studios produced. These coincidences are explainable – or rather, they are easily explained away (which isn't much fun)...
Any other examples/ideas of such overlaps or coincidences?
-- Jim Emerson at Scanners: "A Journey to the End of Taste".
-- Steve Erickson at Gay City News on Film Comment Selects: "Much of this year's programming suggests an emerging "Europe Extreme" aesthetic, influenced by directors including Gaspar Noe and Michael Haneke."
-- Gerry Canavan at Culturemonkey with a post full of Philip K. Dick links.
-- David Bordwell: "Strategies of staging, like other principles shaping how films tell stories, lie behind each concrete creative decision the film artist makes. They run as undercurrents through film history, almost never discussed by critics. They form a body of tacit knowledge, flowing across our usual distinctions of period, genre, director, national cinema."
pic: "I imagine you look better with a shave."