I’ve been thinking a lot about light and dark lately, only partially because of a recent film noir marathon I undertook. In this post I’m going to discuss light and shadow contrasts, and other delicacies, in Alfred Hitchcock’s brilliant film adaptation of du Marier’s novel, “Rebecca”. As a testament to the film’s greatness, it won the Oscar for both Best Picture and Best Cinematography (black & white). Should mention the year, 1940, and that it was Hitchcock’s first American film. Here is a slew of pretty loose prose I patched together watching it last night:
Tall castle rooms with fireplaces you can walk into without bending over. Light on wooden walls, from unseen windows with iron work, casting cross hatch shadows. A fire burning supernaturally bright against the blackest iron hearthstone.
Everyone in light colors, then Mrs. Danvers walks in, a dark hand. Covered in a long-sleeved black dress to the floor like a second skin, the dark hair coiled across her head, the calm judgmental looking over. Set that against the loose white coat Joan Fontaine wears down on the beach where Rebecca died. It flaps wildly around her, everything is loose, about to break open. The creepy old man in the haunted stone cottage on the beach; the new Mrs. DeWinter picks up a rope from a dark room covered in cobwebs, slips sideways past the crazy old sailor hat man.
There is a severity of wool collars on everyone’s coats, straight lines leading up to a fixed jaw. Joan Fontaine’s black evening gown, a sash of white roses across her breast, saving her from being all black, like Mrs. Danvers. Mrs. Danvers like a gothic statue carved from petrified wood. She is especially dark, a negative force moving through, sucking up the light. Looking pointy and vampirish, spreading shadows across the sun.
And then, Mrs. DeWinter running through the halls in a dress like a china bell, so fragile and wide. Hitchcock was a master of subtlety, extending a character into a dress, a cigarette holder, a glove and an eyebrow. Laurence Olivier is an Englishman gentleman unraveling in a fine wool coat. Wearing it light, wearing it heavy.
That’s it, that’s all the messy prose I got down before the movie ended; there’s much more to write on such a cinematic triumph, but I got so sucked in by the sets and gestures I couldn’t get my thoughts down very well. Please feel free to add your own thoughts on “Rebecca,” or any other old movie that still reverberates for you, whether visually, narratively, culturally, or…oh, any way you like, there are so many ways to watch good black and white films.