#48. Blackmail (1929)

blackmail pic 2I’m writing this essay from a bar at 1:30 p.m. on a Friday and it feels like a defeat, slothful and self-sabotaging, because I work at the restaurant tonight, from 6 to 10, and I know this’ll make me sluggish during my shift — but I’m also in a mood to reward myself because woke up at 7:30, a little earlier than usual, and I got to Starbucks at 8:30 and by noon I had watched a movie, edited an essay, and done some other personal business. So I felt accomplished and good when I left the cafe. I started heading back to my dad’s house to have lunch but then turned away when I remembered that he’s working from home right now. So I just drove around town, trying to think of a place I could go that (1) wouldn’t rush me out the door, (2) isn’t expensive, (3) where nobody will talk to me and (4) where I won’t get drunk because, fine, I drink too much. This isn’t a secret. For a while I’d say that I only drank so much because I was young and new to it, still charmed by booze, but now at 25 I’ve reached the point where I end up haggling with myself about how many beers I’m gonna have, the rate at which I’ll drink them, and the compensatory/penitential exercise or homework I’ll do afterward. Or beforehand.

blackmail pic
Hitchcock, just outside the shot, while a camera films the action through a sound-proof booth. One of the first obstacles of making movies with sound: suppressing the noise of the camera.

My inclination is also to say that I drink a lot because I enjoy drinking. Everybody else’s input suggests it’s cuz I’m avoiding something. Which I guess you could build a defense for. Things haven’t gone so well over the past year. 2016 was bad. Money problems, the 50+ agent rejections for that second book, unprecedented family drama with my parents’ divorce. Pedestrian stuff. And so I do wonder if maybe at some point down the road, when I’ve got my own place and enough money to feel comfortable, I won’t keep flocking to the bar for respite from one thing or another. And yes I realize that this, too, is the way alcoholics talk.

“I probably won’t drink so much once the semester is over.”

“It’s just for the holidays.”
“Once I achieve this goal, all of my problems will go away, I’ll slow it down.”

blackmail poster 1Anyways. There’s like an angry 2nd self in my head taking a bat to the windows right now because I’m not talking about the movie, as I intended, so I’ll get to the point (sorta) by saying, first, that I love Blackmail and that I’ve seen it a couple times before today, back when I took a class on Alfred Hitchcock in my junior year of college. What most attracted me to it then, as now, is how the narrative keeps shifting its focus. First it’s a police procedural, then a story of infidelity, then a kind of seduction drama where we’re wondering if these folks are gonna have sex — and who’s that stranger looking in through the window?

And then it’s something else.

And then it’s something else.

It’s episodic. It’s methodical. “Slow burn” seems for some reason to be a scorned phrase in film criticism but it describes Blackmail well, and I used the phrase lovingly. This was Hitchcock’s first film with sound (the first real “talkie” on the List) and he uses it as artfully as he does the camera, like he’s been at it for years already. I’ll need to watch all those other Hitchcock movies again, but for now, tentatively, I’m gonna say that Blackmail is my favorite of all his work.

blackmail painting
And this, for some reason, is one of my favorite images in all of Hitchcock’s work. If ever my pockets are really full, and I’ve got a place of my own, a reproduction in oil’s goin’ on the wall.

As for favorites from the List so far: I think Blackmail is tied with Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler.


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