Random “Niagara” notes

"Niagara", directed by Henry Hathaway

“Let me stay dead” - that’s at least as good a line as “drag me to hell” - except the former actually comes from a screen dialog. It’s Niagara (1953). Strange picture: watching Marlin Monroe there, one senses her huge and unstoppable wave coming. Or is it just one’s off screen knowledge of her other films slated by destiny to appear later? A very few can see the future screen stardom cocooned in a performance. Afterward everybody “knows”.

Some say “Niagara” is a Hitchcockian film: in some remote and pale way it could be true. Yet such comparison unavoidably brings a question “how would the Master himself handle the plot and show the Falls”? I bet it would be different than in this (absolutely watchable) Henry Hathaway’s film.

The Niagara location insists to be more than a backdrop for action. When a young couple gets on the “Maid of the Mist” the film action stops and dissolves into a state of some unnerving, mysterious expectation. As if the location forced itself upon an anecdote.

The same happened to me when I was there shooting a documentary. In the doc ("A Philosopher's Paradise") a group of philosophers got onto the boat facing the brutal nature. Immediately the situation turned allegorical.

Furthermore, in the doc and in the “Niagara” the scenes on the “Maid of the Mist” are similarly edited and the shots similarly composed. Clearly there is something “in the air” there that forces such an approach.

The above similarities bother me. Anybody can show a roaring falls as dangerous and awe inspiring. A true visionary filmmaker would squeeze out of such a location its true psychic essence. I am thinking of the sequoia trees in “Verdigo” - which for me is one of the best use of space for expanding a character’s psyche. Such handling of the Falls I would love to see!

The conclusion that I am directing to myself is - even if it looks good, never shoot the obvious.

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