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The Times (07/Aug/1972) - Aquarius: London Weekend

(c) The Times (07/Aug/1972)

Aquarius: London Weekend, by Stanley Reynolds

First off, one should welcome back Aquarius in a new series on rather more of the network than this London Weekend television arts magazine has had in the past. Humphrey Burton and Aquarius are the spiritual successors of the BBC's Huw Weldon and Monitor but, alas, Burton and Aquarius struggle in the scatty world of ITV networking. It is not a fully net-worked show even now, it is shown at different times and even on different days in some areas.

The first of the new series this weekend, Alfred the Great, a profile of Alfred Hitchcock, must have brought in many viewers who would not normally watch an arts programme. Hitchcock is, as Burton said, the film director whom everyone knows. He is now 73 and has been in London making his fifty-third film, Frenzy, which is, surprising to hear, the first film he has made in England in 21 years.

Interesting as it was to see Hitch in action, strolling along the sidelines of the movie making rather like a football manager (I never look through the camera) and exercising his extraordinary eyesight which apparently enables him to pick out the extras who were moving too slowly or too quickly in a large and jostling crowd scene, the Burton-Hitchcock interview was pedestrian in the extreme. Hitchock's success as a maker of thrillers has been the many levels of his appeal, but on Saturday night Burton seemed to be concentrating on the lowest level. Hitchcock, of course, is an old stager, the veteran of 3,000 interviews, who answer the questions he is asked; thus, while one saw, for example, his use of Dali-like surrealistic landscape in a snip from Spellbound we got no explanation from the film-maker of his reasons for using purposely artificial backdrops — remember the childish painted water front in Marnie, the stylized falling scenes in Vertigo. No other director in this most seemingly realistic of media has dared to use such blatantly unreal backgrounds.

This combination of the real and surreal has done much for the charged emotions of a Hitchcock film. But we received no word on this. Instead Hitchcock was allowed to speak proudly of his most mundane achievements: the vulgarly cute cinema trick of the phallic train entering the womblike tunnel as the hero gets into bed with the girl at the end of North by Northwest; the opera singer who sees a man murdered and turns her high note into a scream; and, from Frenzy, the totally expected corpse in the river as the politician stands on the banks of the Thames making a speech about pollution. There was also a great poverty of film clips.

One wailed for favourites — The Lady Vanishes, The 39 Steps — but we seemed to be stuck with North by Northwest, and, of course, the shower scene from Psycho with Janet Leigh being stabbed starkers. Somehow I felt BBC 2's Film Night or Granada's Cinema would have done Hitch more justice.