Monday, October 26, 2009

The Haunting

1963, US, directed by Robert Wise

As much as I admired Robert Wise's direction - his sense of pace and the rhythm of movement from longer shots to extreme close-ups are both exceptional - and the idea of a haunting that's grounded both in the physical (a haunted house) and the psychological (a troubled, perhaps susceptible woman in whose imagination the entire film may well be happening), I still found myself somehow on the outside looking in, not so much unconvinced as perhaps left a touch cold by Wise's very measured, even scientific gaze.

There's human suffering to spare - both in flashback and in the very vivid present of the film - and I had the sense that the filmmaker was sitting there observing, fascinated, but never compelled to intervene. It's an unsettling feeling, and perhaps ultimately a matter of taste; I found, for instance, the directorial gaze in Requiem warmer, more humane, even if that film makes no more attempt to provide a final "explanation" for the extraordinary story it narrates.

That said, The Haunting remains full of extraordinary moments: a woman tumbling backward down a staircase (the shot is quite brilliant, the camera towering over her and creating a sense that the twenty or so steps are stretching away to infinity), a close-up of Nell's face (or rather Julie Harris's face) as she cowers terrified in her bed, the camera prowling around the edge of a door from which unearthly sounds emerge, or even just the exquisitely careful placement of characters in the shot as they all await who knows what fate.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States