(Colin Bucksey, USA, 1992)


Remakes are always interesting artefacts for study – especially when they are dismal.

Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious (1946) was remade as a telemovie in 1992 by Colin Bucksey, with John Shea, Jenny Robertson and Jean-Pierre Cassel in the lead roles.

There is much that could be said about this sorry attempt to modernise the script and its characters, but what is particularly striking for my purpose is the complete absence of any intersubjective tension, any trembling aura of mystery, any uncanny strangeness, in the bland, telemovie mise en scène of the remake. This occurs not simply because Bucksey lacks Hitchcock's touch but above all because the ground rules of verisimilitude, of dramaturgical realism, have changed so radically between the Hollywood studio system of 1946 and the mainstream television industry of 1992.

When revisiting the original after viewing the remake, one realises with a jolt how extraordinarily elliptical and abstract Hitchcock's film is, and how astonishingly minimal many of its scenes are. But this abstraction is not Hitchcock's sole innovation; such an attenuated, minimal style is a key feature of the little-recognised genre of the film blanc, and even more generally it is characteristic of a certain Hollywood manner common to many lesser films, across many genres.

Virtually every scene of the remake loses specific atmospheric qualities and crucial layers of meaning from the original by having to fill out the staging in a manner that will not be jarringly stylised or unrealistic to the contemporary viewer. Thus, in the party scene near the start, Bucksey cannot risk placing Shea's head entirely in blackness, nor even so prominently in the foreground of the shot; and, lacking the licence to so completely focus the scene on the exchange between Shea and Robertson once this starts getting more intimate, he constantly dissipates the tension by cutting away to business with surrounding party goers. Every stylistic aspect of the remake is inflated to currently realistic standards in a like manner: always more background noise in place of the silences of the original; always some redundant in-between shots of travel to explain the relocation of the characters and their permutations from one situation to another.

Hitchcock built his mise en scène on moments where one character suddenly sees and experiences what the other character doesn't – as in the plane scene where Devlin turns back to the front to suddenly find that Alicia has pushed herself across virtually right into his lap. He sees her and we enter into his awareness of her erotic presence, but she does not see or feel what he and we are seeing and feeling.

The almost identically scripted scene in the remake loses virtually all the mise en scène dynamic, and thus the entire point, of this exchange.

© Adrian Martin September 1993

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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