Monday, 19 April 2010

BLAST! (Alfred Hitchcock, 1978)

If indelible sources are to be believed, the eastward tilt of 's Alfred Hitchcock's candlestick after 1970 was not as a result of the miraculous cleansing of his muddied windshield (the Damascan turnpike event that legend dictates changed his pictures forever, 'The Accident'1 is merely a red herring here), nor because of a return home to a land of chocolate biscuits and hung parliaments; no, his Frenchified fervour for seditionary sang-froid was caused by, no drumroll necessary, a blonde. So bewitched was the octogenerian psycho-sex-genius by model Hansa that he stowed his boat down a river of blood and pledged solidarity with the blue collar rioters, made a racket akin to a thousand bombings of Coventry and turned up on late night television, stepping up through the gears of his Alfred Hitchcock Presents strand and shooting into the Third Eye directly with opiated visual nightmares that singed viewer and unviewer alike. 'Quick, Hitch is on the telly,' became a fearful warning as much as an invitation.

Hansadid her work, changed the man, and vanished, as if imaginary. She and her like flit through 20th Century history, changing important people but never threatening to be important; Eva Brauns, one and all, obscured by events and ideas, muses for geniuses and tyrants.

Those last five years, until his death in 1980, the clearly fretful Alfred clocked several hours of scorched earth television and an ignored final film, Blast! (1978), in which a ragged Mae West drove all over England in a Ford Cortina searching for nuclear oblivion. The film kicks and wails. Full of classic West lines ('I don't know if saying I love you means I love you or if it's just a phrase I'm going through'), it follows a rejected singer who, trading on her lost-foreigner schtick, picks up young hitchhikers, only to kill them. And kill them she does, splendidly, with the pay-off 'but I never said I was going to Plymouth.'

It's Hitchcock's Peeping Tom, of course; but instead of killing his career as that earlier film had done for Michael Powell, this was left to slide, because, well, by this point nobody much minded what Hitchcock did one way or the other. Legends reach such a status, and some reach it early, so that even pouring luminous vomit over their legacies fails to stain them, such is their power. Hitchcock was so far in credit by this point that nothing was at stake. Ditto David Bowie, whose Herculean efforts through the seventies has bought him many years of larking about as Laughing Dave. Imagine, if you will then, the dreck we might have had from Paul McCartney if he hadn't died at the height of his fame: cashing in his Fab Four chips (which happen to be some of the worthiest currencies in the house) with children's songs and nagging charity efforts, no doubt, and endless permutations of that Beatles sound, forever square-rooted until insignificance. Or Bob Dylan: what if his motorcycle hadn't slipped on wet roads, killing him in 1967, just a year after McCartney had gone? It is a pop parlour game, a nonsense to imagine his next moves, but such is the power of rock'n'roll that it is never more potent when it is gossipy, never more dangerous than when apparently ephemeral (think of the sweet sting of the sudden dynamic chorus intruding on a previously inane ballad, the cruel drama of a hated has-been hitting gorgeous payola for two and a half-minutes), and so these games stretch beyond philosophy. For my diceroll, I'm going to say that had Dylan lived he would have become a television actor, star of a detective show. In the mid 1980s he would have made a musical comeback, dovetailed with a run for Senator of Minnesota, then insane riches, a Rickenbacker Rockerfeller. Snake eyes for me, perhaps. But every dream in a pop world (which is based on fabrications of mythologies anyway) adds a slither of substance to its history. Just look at how many people believe that Elvis lives. Smoke and mirrors only add to the illusion of depth, and Mr Presley is alive because people all over the world see him going about his business frequently.

I digress. As West does throughout Blast!, going to the places her passengers request, only without them. She expends her wit at service stations ('Whadda ya gawkin' at, lady? I gotta penchant for ponchos') and in grim post-coital scenarios (West: 'Best three minutes of my life.' Man: 'Hey, if three minutes is all Motown needs, it's good enough for me.' West: 'More of an opera buff myself.'), but it is all wasted on West's greyscale fellow travellers. It is as if Hitchcock, after thirty years in exotic locales with Ingrid Bergmans and Princess Graces, was horrified to find his homeland still drifting in postwar ruin, and unleashed a Hollywood ghost: West as Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates as Mother, an aged blonde in a frightwig with a knife. And in doing so, the Leytonstone Lugger locks into a nebulous mind-meld with British culture, somehow finding himself in the same waiting room as Peter Sutcliffe (as played by Ian McKellen in Derek Jarman's Ripper Yarn (1983), John Lydon and Billy Bremner.

Reporter: Why did you kill 'em, love?
West: I was hungry.
Reporter: Any final words for our readers?
West: When referring to God, use an upper case H for all personal pronouns,
just in case.
Reporter: That's it?
West: That's it.

Blast! Directed by Alfred Hitchcock Produced by Alma Reville Written by James Costigan, Alfred Hitchcock Starring Mae West, Barry Foster Universal Pictures Release Date UK: Oct 1978 US: Nov 1978 Tagline: '...move. Stick and move. Stick and move. Stick and...'

1. Hitchcock's boating accident in 1970 in Cuba has been widely discussed to the point of invisibility, so I won't add any more reportage here; I'll simply pause to nod to its iconic power on his myth, before dismissing its significance completely. One, he fully reccovered, two, no charges were brought, three, Hitchcock was shooting again inside a week. Hansa, the
Austrian pummel horse, comes six months later, like a premonition. Hitchcock didn't shoot for three years after her arrival. She's the BC/AD coin-flipper here, if there is one.


  1. Good stuff, but I want to hear more about the film! Less tangents, more wicked lines such as "'I don't know if saying I love you means I love you or if it's just a phrase I'm going through'", 'Hey, if three minutes is all Motown needs, it's good enough for me.'" and "endless permutations of that Beatles sound, forever square-rooted until insignificance". And general descriptions of the plot, atmosphere and look. Love the blonde wig and knife element. And of course, Mae West in a Ford Cortina!

  2. I agree with Mrs Savage! What does it look like!!!!!!?

  3. Love it. Billy Bremner! Yoiur range of references is so wide.