By the middle of the second of the 21st century, Hollywood was on the verge of a filmmaking revolution. The capability to attach a movie camera to a drone carried with the potential to undo the damage that the music videos of the 1980s and the entry into feature films by a generation who had honed their visual style by making commercials had wrought. Looking at the films of the early 21st century from the perspective of the future, one might well imagine that a contagion had gripped Hollywood; a contagion of fear that if a director included in his final cut any single shot lasting longer than the time it takes for a member of the audience to look down and retrieve and piece of popcorn from their oversized super-jumbo container the film just possibly disintegrate before their very eyes.
The potential to use camera-equipped drones to film smooth, uninterrupted takes for minutes at a time would likely have appealed to Alfred Hitchcock very much. After all, his 1948 fictionalization of the scandalous Leopold and Loeb thrill kill murder, Rope, is primarily remembered less for the its artistry than its technique. A decade later the film Compulsion would cover the same territory in a far more artistically satisfying way that continues to make it and not Hitchcock’s version the definitive film treatment of the infamous story of two privileged youths who commit a random act of murder simply to prove they can.
On the other hand, Rope remains one of the all-time great experimentations in cinematic technique; an attempt to make an entire movie appear as it were shot in one single continuous take. Of course, for those who enjoyed the cinematic magic that allowed the Oscar-winning Birdman to be composed of many different takes seamlessly fitted together to provide the illusion to which Hitchcock yearned, Rope will looked hopelessly stagy and its technique particularly clumsy.
When watching Rope, one must remember that Birdman was made with all the magic that digital cameras and editing can provide. By contrast, Hitchcock’s experiment hung on the fact that the longest any movie camera could continuously record without needing to change the film was 10 minutes. Therefore, Rope tells its loosely fictionalized story of Leopold and Loeb in uninterrupted and continuous shots lasting as few as four minutes and as long as ten. These shots are then edited through not-particularly smooth in-camera editing so that they all appear to have been shot in just one take.
How successful the result is will depend on the viewer, but even those not impressed by the how Hitch’s great experiment turned out should find the film fascinating. The story that Rope tells is less an expansive examination of how Leopold and Loeb actually committed their crime than it is a psychologically penetrating examination of the anxiety spurred by guilt that ultimately betrays their projection of themselves as Nietzschean Uberman. The fact that the actors were under increasingly tense pressure to avoid ruining takes which would result in retakes lasting just as long actually enhances the jittery anxiety the characters they play are supposed to be exhibiting.
It’s no Compulsion, but Rope won’t leave you hanging for entertainment.