Without much fanfare, The SIFF Uptown this week is playing five of the greatest movies ever. Perhaps the lack of publicity (it isn’t even mentioned in this week’s SIFF newsletter (Edit: well, it wasn’t in the first one I got for this week, it was in the second one)) is due to the fact that these films are hardly strangers to Seattle screens, or perhaps because they’re all screening digitally instead of on film. But regardless, the fact remains that there are few better ways to spend your cinematic weekend than watching a half dozen Alfred Hitchcock films in a movie theatre.
Hitchcock, from 1954 to 1964, had arguably the greatest decade any film director has ever had, producing eleven films, more than half of which rank with the very best the American cinema has produced. (That he had at least as many great films outside this run cements his case as the Babe Ruth of motion picture directors.) The Uptown is presenting the best five of those films over three days, with Rear Window, Vertigo, North By Northwest, Psycho and The Birds. In addition, on Sunday night they’re playing the digital 3D version of Dial ‘M’ for Murder, a fine mystery film and one of the shining examples of Hollywood’s first big flirtation with funny glasses.
Of course, you’ve probably seen all these movies before, perhaps even on the big screen (I’ve caught both Vertigo and Rear Window on film in Seattle, and I’m sure the others have played, at least digitally, several times at SIFF or other theatres over the past ten years or so). But one of the things that marks them as great is their re-watchability. I swear Vertigo gets better every time I see it, and Psycho and North By Northwest and Rear Window are so addictively entertaining that they pose a dire time-consuming danger every time one flips around a television dial, lurking in the triple digit channels just waiting for some unsuspecting cinephile to pass by and get caught in their web, doomed to spend the rest of their afternoon watching a movie they’ve seen a dozen times before, more enrapt than ever. These are canonical films, but they are by no means ossified, or defined. Their richness, the idiosyncratic strangeness at their core that marks these mass-entertainment studio products as expressions of the personal obsessions of their director. The uneasy mix of black comedy, psychological trauma and movie-geek knowingness bely their status as Official Classics. They’re works of the ultimate Hollywood artist dissolving Hollywood storytelling from the inside, a progression from the voyeuristic auto-critique of Rear Window to the Modernist anti-movie of The Birds.
There are so many movies to watch, and, as every true cinephile knows, the more movies you watch, the more you realize just how many more movies there are out there that you simply have to see. As such, it can be easy to ignore frequently-revived classics like these Hitchcocks (or like Casablanca, which played in Kirkland last weekend and comes to the Grand in Tacoma this week) in favor of the new and unexplored. That is as it should be, we should always be in search of the new. But let’s not deny the power and pleasure of the old, of diving back into the greats. And if for some reason you haven’t seen these movies yet, or seen them in a theatre, well, you have one task this weekend.
Big-Screen Hitchcock runs Friday through Sunday, March 13-15, at the SIFF Uptown. Program Details and Film Schedule.