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Nothing will come of nothing

October 16, 2010

A few days ago I re-watched Minority Report for the first time since I saw it at the cinema on release, and enjoyed it far more than I expected. The virtual touchscreen imagery has only become more compelling thanks to smartphone touchscreens (I’m assuming the Kinect controls for Sky Player on Xbox 360 will come with fingerless cyber-gloves and tortured memories of lost children) and I loved the icy visual look, the relentless plotting, and the fact that it’s sci-fi done very well, which is pretty rare.

The viewing also reminded me of something else I’d thought at the time, having then recently read Truffaut’s Hitchcock book, a series of interviews with Hitchcock conducted by the French director. My favourite part has always been when Hitchcock describes a scene he thought up for North By Northwest.

It occurred to me that we were moving in a northwesterly direction from New York, and one of the stops on the way was Detroit, where they make Ford automobiles. Have you ever seen an assembly line? They’re absolutely fantastic. Anyway, I wanted to have a long dialogue scene between Cary Grant and one of the factory workers as they walk along the assembly line. They might, for instance, be talking about one of the foremen. Behind them a car is being assembled, piece by piece. Finally, the car they’ve seen being put together from a simple nut and bolt is complete, with gas and oil, and all ready to drive off the line. The two men look at it and say, “Isn’t it wonderful?!” Then they open the door to the car and out drops a corpse!

Truffaut loves the idea, and calls it “a perfect example of nothing”, but Hitchcock couldn’t fit it into the film. But there’s a scene in Minority Report which recalls the idea in a pretty direct if inverse way.

It’s still about impossibility, of course, but featuring Tom Cruise it’s about a different kind – it’s about stars and presence, rather than suspense and absence.

Was it deliberate? I hope so. There was another discussion about Hitchcock’s influence on Spielberg recently, with Dreamworks sued over the similarities between 2007’s Disturbia and the short story behind Rear Window. Hitch would probably have given him this one for free.

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