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Costumes reveal character revelations

As the Making Movies exhibition demonstrates, a costume can reveal much about a film character. For example, a character’s social and economic class can be represented through the style and quality of her or his clothes, shoes, and jewelry, and whether those clothes are clean and fresh or tattered and soiled. Clothing also exposes a character’s unique personality traits and self-image. Steve Wilson, the Ransom Center’s Associate Curator of Film, talks about Robert De Niro’s costume in Taxi Driver, and how it supports and enhances the interpretation of the character Travis Bickle.

Making Movies: "North by Northwest"

Brochure from Mount Rushmore that Ernest Lehman used in his research for North By Northwest (1959). Click image to enlarge.
Brochure from Mount Rushmore that Ernest Lehman used in his research for North By Northwest (1959). Click image to enlarge.
The Making Movies Film Series runs throughout the summer and features films that are highlighted in the Making Movies exhibition. Tonight, the Ransom Center will screen Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959), starring Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint. Throughout the series, Cultural Compass will highlight an exhibition item related to each film.

Alfred Hitchcock directed a string of masterpieces in the 1950s, including Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, and Psycho. At the height of this remarkable run came North by Northwest, a unique marriage of Hitchcock’s trademark suspense and humor. Ernest Lehman, well known in Hollywood for adaptations such as Sabrina and The King and I, wrote the screenplay, his only original one and now widely regarded as his best.

The film follows Roger Thornhill, played by Cary Grant, in a journey that travels “in a northwesterly direction” through New York, Michigan, South Dakota, and eventually Alaska. The plot emerged through Hitchcock and Lehman’s usual process of batting around ideas and imagining their character into impossible situations, then figuring out ways to extract him.

This brochure from Mount Rushmore National Memorial shows notes made on the cover by Lehman during his research trip. You can view a slideshow of more photos that Lehman took during this trip to the national monument.

Art Director: Set design for boathouse in "Rebecca"

Click image to enlarge. Set still of the boathouse set from 'Rebecca,' 1940.
Click image to enlarge. Set still of the boathouse set from 'Rebecca,' 1940.
The art director, in creating the environment that a character inhabits, reveals much about a character’s personality through the type of house, the style of furniture, the pictures on the walls, and even the items on the coffee table or in the kitchen sink. Furthermore, the sets designed by an art director must correspond to the geographic and historical context of the story.

Here, producer David O. Selznick writes in a memo to director Alfred Hitchcock and art director Lyle Wheeler that their movie’s title character, Rebecca, would have decorated her boathouse in a style reflecting her personality, and that the inside would look much different from the outside.

Click image to enlarge. Memo from David O. Selznick to Alfred Hitchcock and Lyle Wheeler regarding sets for 'Rebecca,' September 13, 1939.
Click image to enlarge. Memo from David O. Selznick to Alfred Hitchcock and Lyle Wheeler regarding sets for 'Rebecca,' September 13, 1939.
“I have been thinking about the furnishing of the boathouse,” Selznick writes, “and I feel that we may be missing an opportunity here in not dressing the interior as incongruously with the exterior as possible. I think that it was after all Rebecca’s pet rendezvous and she would certainly have done it up beautifully. I have accordingly asked Wheeler to submit some new sketches on this.”

This is just one item from the “Art Director” section of the Making Movies exhibition, which runs through August 1 at the Ransom Center.

"North by Northwest": The Chase Across Mount Rushmore

Contact sheet of research photos for 'North by Northwest' taken by Ernest Lehman.
Contact sheet of research photos for 'North by Northwest' taken by Ernest Lehman.

Alfred Hitchcock directed a string of masterpieces in the 1950s including Strangers on a Train (1951), Rear Window (1954), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Vertigo (1958), and Psycho (1960). At the height of this remarkable run came North by Northwest (1959), a unique marriage of Hitchcock’s trademark suspense and humor. Ernest Lehman, well known in Hollywood for adaptations such as Sabrina (1954) and The King and I (1956), wrote the screenplay, his only original work and which is widely regarded as his best.

View a slideshow of Lehman’s photographs of Mount Rushmore from his research trip. The photographs were developed from previously unstudied negatives found in the Lehman collection.

This is just one film scene highlighted in the Making Movies exhibition at the Ransom Center. Follow our RSS and Twitter feeds or become a fan on Facebook to see new items from the exhibition revealed each day for the next few weeks as part of “Script to Screen.”

For Central Texas readers, join us on the red carpet for a special opening celebration for the Making Movies exhibition tomorrow night. Details at www.hrc.utexas.edu/redcarpet.

Director: Alfred Hitchcock and Ernest Lehman plan Hitch's final film

Behind the scenes photograph of Alfred Hitchcock drawing a storyboard for 'Spellbound'; ca. 1945
Behind the scenes photograph of Alfred Hitchcock drawing a storyboard for 'Spellbound'; ca. 1945

Except for the actor, no other position in filmmaking is as much discussed or as little understood as that of the director. Directing a film requires sensitivity to the story, understanding of technical filmmaking processes, and coordination of these two skills. It also demands the ability to communicate, persuade, and shape the work of other artists and technicians working on the film.

Visit the Ransom Center’s website to listen to an audio clip of director Alfred Hitchcock and screenwriter Ernest Lehman developing the storyline for what would be Hitchcock’s last film, Family Plot (1976).

Publicity: From painting to poster

Finished film poster for 'Kidnapped'
Finished film poster for 'Kidnapped'
The star system emerged around 1910 when film producers began noting the public’s preference for individual actors. People wanted to know who the “Biograph Girl” was (Florence Lawrence) and the real name of the girl with the golden curls they knew as “Little Mary” (Mary Pickford). They also wanted their photographs.

The studios quickly learned the value of controlling their own publicity. By establishing their own photography studios, they could create a consistent look for their stars that the public would associate with the studios themselves. They hired teams of publicists to control the dissemination of those images to newspapers and magazines, especially the all-important fan magazines. At one point there were more than 300 motion picture fan magazines in print.

These publicity departments planted stories with gossip columnists like Ed Sullivan, Hedda Hopper, and Louella Parsons and set up “publicity stunts” to attract attention. David O. Selznick’s head of publicity, Russell Birdwell, once flew the entire population of Zenda, Ontario, Canada to New York for the premiere of The Prisoner of Zenda (1937).

But perhaps most importantly, the publicity departments created movie posters and “campaign books” or “press kits.” Press kits were prepackaged sets of advertising layouts, film stills, plot synopses, star biographies, and other tools and ideas for use by the movie theaters to attract local attention to the movies they were playing. Press kits are still in use today, although they are now almost always delivered digitally.

Unfinished painting that served as basis for 'Kidnapped' poster.
Unfinished painting that served as basis for 'Kidnapped' poster.
Here you can see an unfinished painting by F. C. Madan that served as the basis for the poster design for the film Kidnapped (1938).

The finished poster is just one item from the “Publicity” section of the Making Movies exhibition, which opens tomorrow at the Ransom Center. Follow our RSS and Twitter feeds or become a fan on Facebook to see new items from the exhibition revealed each day for the next few weeks as part of “Script to Screen.”

For Central Texas readers, join us on the red carpet for a special opening celebration for the Making Movies exhibition on Friday, February 12. Details at www.hrc.utexas.edu/redcarpet.

Cinematography: The financial effects of Ingrid Bergman's beauty

Director Alfred Hitchcock frames Ingrid Bergman in a still from the set of
Director Alfred Hitchcock frames Ingrid Bergman in a still from the set of

The art of cinematography goes far beyond the simple recording of a scene or event. It is a creative and interpretive process that involves many skills and techniques, some that are shared with still photography and some that are unique to motion pictures.

The cinematographer can manipulate the image through the selection of film stock, by moving the camera, or, in the case of digital cameras, through the adjustment of color sensitivity, light sensitivity, and image contrast. Color filters can be used for dramatic effects, and lenses can be chosen for their control of perspective and spacial relations. A cinematographer may film a subject in sharp focus but leave the background blurry (“rack focus”), or he might keep the entire scene in focus (“deep focus”), as the innovative cinematographer Gregg Toland did in Citizen Kane (1941).

Among the myriad options available to the cinematographer, the most important and constant element is lighting. The art of lighting has a significant impact on the emotional response of the viewer. The most beautiful sets and most talented actors will have no impact unless they are lit and photographed effectively.

Click image to enlarge. Memo from David O. Selznick to production manager Ray Klune, director Gregory Ratoff, and editor Hal Kern regarding the importance of close-ups of Ingrid Bergman in 'Intermezzo,' July 11, 1939
Click image to enlarge. Memo from David O. Selznick to production manager Ray Klune, director Gregory Ratoff, and editor Hal Kern regarding the importance of close-ups of Ingrid Bergman in 'Intermezzo,' July 11, 1939

A close-up connects with the viewer in a very different way than an establishing shot of a setting or a full shot of a group of people. A close-up is meant to focus the viewer’s attention. And in the case of a glamorous close-up of the lead actor it is meant to establish an emotional connection between the viewer and that actor. In this memo, producer David O. Selznick carries the idea further, into the financial returns a good close-up can provide—specifically good close-ups of actress Ingrid Bergman.

“As I have said so often, I think the success of ‘Intermezzo’ is to an unusual extent dependent upon how beautifully we can photograph Miss Bergman,” Selznick writes. “Every beautiful shot of her is a great deal of money added to the returns on the picture and I urge Mr. Kern and Mr. Ratoff [to] start to work on a list of where re-take close-ups might be made.”

This is just one item from the “Cinemetographer” section of the Making Movies exhibition, which opens February 9 at the Ransom Center. Follow our RSS and Twitter feeds or become a fan on Facebook to see new items from the exhibition revealed each day for the next few weeks as part of “Script to Screen.”

For Central Texas readers, join us on the red carpet for a special opening celebration for the Making Movies exhibition on Friday, February 12. Details at www.hrc.utexas.edu/redcarpet.

Special Effects: Norman Dawn creates earliest techniques

Click image to enlarge. Norman Dawn. Card 5, June 1907.
Click image to enlarge. Norman Dawn. Card 5, June 1907.

Special effects in film are most often associated with monsters and space aliens, explosions and gunfire. While such features certainly fit into that category, more often than not special effects are used to make something look real and normal that would otherwise be too difficult or expensive to photograph. Fair weather, for example, can be unpredictable; exotic or imaginary locations may be inaccessible or may not exist at all. But both can be realized through the use of matte paintings, glass shots, or other special effects techniques.

Many of the techniques were devised in cinema’s earliest years by Norman O. Dawn (1886–1975) and subsequently refined and improved by succeeding special effects artists. Recently, digital technologies have enabled new ways to create the “trick shot.”

Dawn was a relatively obscure yet historically significant early special effects cinematographer, inventor, artist, and motion picture director, writer, and producer. He worked with many important film pioneers including Mack Sennett, Carl Laemmle, Irving Thalberg, and Erich von Stroheim. The Dawn collection consists of 164 display cards that illustrate over 230 of the 861 special effects Dawn created in more than 80 movies.

Constructed personally from his own field notebooks and methodical records, the cards contain original oil, watercolor, pencil, and ink sketches used to sell the effects to skeptical film executives and directors; production and personal photographs; detailed camera records; film clips and frame enlargements; movie reviews, advertisements, and other trade press clippings; explanatory texts and recent sketches to illustrate his methods; and pages from an unpublished autobiography.

Each display card documents one of his special effects, most often a refinement or improvement of a matte shot process. This card illustrates a very early special effect Dawn created with Edwin S. Porter, one of the top directors in Thomas Edison’s motion picture company. Dawn’s notes about Porter, Mrs. Edison, and his sketch of Edison’s Bronx studio are also of interest.

This is just one item from the “Special Effects” section of the Making Movies exhibition, which opens February 9 at the Ransom Center. Follow our RSS and Twitter feeds or become a fan on Facebook to see new items from the exhibition revealed each day for the next few weeks as part of “Script to Screen.”

For Central Texas readers, join us on the red carpet for a special opening celebration for the Making Movies exhibition on Friday, February 12. Details at www.hrc.utexas.edu/redcarpet.

Film editing: How the script supervisor tracks and controls the editing process

Click image to enlarge. Continuity supervisor’s copy of The Prize, 1963.
Click image to enlarge. Continuity supervisor’s copy of The Prize, 1963.

Film editing is the selection, arrangement, and combination of shots into sequences, sequences into scenes, and scenes into the final film. Editing is where a motion picture takes its final shape.

The editor controls and often enhances the emotional and narrative aspects of a motion picture. Through the selection of “takes” or alternate versions of the same shot, the placement of “cuts,” and the layering of images, sound, and music, the editor manipulates time and space, controls the pacing and rhythm of the story, shapes the actor’s performances, guides the viewer’s attention, and creates an emotional connection with the viewer. Indeed, the editor can, in some cases, effectively rewrite and redirect a motion picture.

The continuity supervisor, known as the “script clerk” in early industry parlance, records information about such details as which costumes are worn and whether or not a collar was turned up. The continuity supervisor also records the “takes” that were filmed, whether they were long or medium shots or close-ups, and any associated action—information that is especially valuable to the editor.

Shots or “takes” are recorded as vertical lines through the text of the script. The shot number is noted at each end of that line. A wavy part of the line indicates action or dialogue that takes place off screen, and notes are often written near the shot number.

In this script for The Prize (1963), we see that shot 106A is a close-up of Inger Lisa (Elke Sommer) and 106B is a close-up of Craig (Paul Newman). This part of the scene consists mostly of intercutting between these two close-ups. The cuts are numbered before each character’s lines of dialogue. Shots 106F and 106J near the bottom were panning shots of the characters’ feet. These shots were not used. Shot 106D, however, a pan from right to left following Craig into a two shot with Inger Lisa, was the shot the editor selected.

This is just one item from the “Film editing” section of the Making Movies exhibition, which opens February 9 at the Ransom Center. Follow our RSS and Twitter feeds or become a fan on Facebook to see new items from the exhibition revealed each day for the next few weeks as part of “Script to Screen.”

For Central Texas readers, join us on the red carpet for a special opening celebration for the Making Movies exhibition on Friday, February 12. Details at www.hrc.utexas.edu/redcarpet.