Cinema: Lighting up the Showman

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Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams are lighting up our screens this week in Australian director Michael Gracey’s Moulin Rouge-esque spectacular, The Greatest Showman.

For anyone seduced by the rustle of the big top and the lure of greasepaint, the swish of the trapeze and the roar of the crowd – this is the story of sideshow ringleader P.T Barnum and the origin of the Barnum & Bailey Circus.

An original musical from the lyricists behind La La Land, this is the perfect stuff to illuminate the winter doldrums.

I’ll throw my hat in the ring and focus in on one of cinema’s greatest ever showmen, the inimitable Alfred Hitchcock. Often labelled the master of suspense, his acrobatic tightrope plotting, and visually iconic scenes have created scores of enduring cinematic moments that stand up resolutely to the test of time.

The pattering of water, Bernard Herrmann’s icy soundtrack, gruesome sound effects made by messing around with fruit, black and white fear in the dark; the man behind the curtain and a lifeless staring eyeball: 78 camera set- ups and 52 edits, culminating in 3 taut minutes that changed cinematic history forever. 78/52 is a new documentary about Psycho that’s out at the Showroom on New Year’s Day. Talking heads in a motel talk directly to the camera about voyeurism and primal moments, breaking down and unpacking a dense web of allusions, double bluffs and MacGuffins to discover what really makes a Psycho. But these Bates buffs are Guillermo del Toro, Bret Easton Ellis, Jamie Lee Curtis, Eli Roth, and Peter Bogdanovich. As Hitchcock once said - “I once made a movie. It was intended to cause people to scream and yell, but I was horrified that some people took it seriously.” This film certainly does.

Even more excitingly (for fans of the devilishly urbane Cary Grant – also an acrobat with his roots in screwball slapstick and circus tricks) Hitchcock’s 1959 barnstormer North By Northwest returns to the Showroom from January . A rip roaring, romantic and rarefied rollercoaster ride, concerning cynical New York advertising man Roger O Thornhill who falls victim to a deadly case of mistaken identity. To clear his name and stay alive, he leaves town, first for Chicago, then South Dakota. En route, protection from his pursuers is provided by the intriguingly named Eve, played by the wonderful Eva Marie Saint. Famous for superb scenes set in claustrophobic or agoraphobic locations – the UN building, a sinister cornfield, a hysterical auction room, and most unforgettably a seminal scramble across Mount Rushmore. Witty, roguish and oozing with suspense, this is Hollywood filmmaking at its most debonair: ‘That’s funny, that plane’s dustin’ crops where there ain’t no crops!’