A Video Essay
Before I was able to write a blog post about this video essay, Jacob Oller at Film School Rejects beat me to it: “The Art of the Single Room Film.” It was super cool to have FSR write about my essay. Oller writes about video essays regularly, check out his work here.
In his post, Oller correctly identified the impetus for the essay: my fascination with the way directors make great films despite great limitations. The idea for this essay came after watching Dial ‘M’ for Murder (1954) and reading about the film in Hitchcock/Truffaut. Unfortunately, the exchange between the two filmmakers is as short as it is insightful.
Hitchcock believed the film was not truly his, since it was an intensely faithful adaptation of Frederick Knott’s highly successful stage play of the same name. In their interview, Hitchcock tries to brush any mention of the film aside, however, Truffaut smartly reels him back in, recognizing the film is a masterpiece.
(Unfortunately, I am in Massachusetts and my copy of Hitchcock/Truffaut is in Vermont, so I am unable to quote directly from it. My description of their exchange is from memory, please forgive any errors until I am back in VT!)
Hitchcock talks about how the film is a departure from the way in which plays were typically adapted. Normally, he says, filmmakers would merely take the play and extend it, meaning they would have shots of a character getting out of a taxi, walking to the door, walking through the hallway, etc., before they arrived in the space where the main dramatic action is to take place. Always a challenger of the form, Hitchcock instead limited himself to a single room, leaving only briefly two or three times throughout the entire film. Rather than recording a play on camera, he delivers a limited setting story in cinematic form.
As someone who studies both film and English (with a focus in drama) Hitchcock’s insight got me excited to further explore the turning of drama into cinema. A few weeks later, on one of my late-night Internet deep-dives, I discovered this Hollywood Reporter roundtable discussion with Quentin Tarantino and a handful of other directors from 2016, around the time The Hateful Eight (2015) was released. During the course of the discussion, Tarantino talks about his want to turn his film into a play. In other words, the inverse of Dial ‘M’ For Murder. This excited me, so I went to the library and borrowed a copy of the film. As soon as Kurt Russell began exploring Minnie’s Haberdashery, with Dial ‘M’ fresh on my mind, I knew I had the beginnings of a video essay.
With help from a few of my film professors and some online lists, I began exploring films that mostly take place in a single room and settled on two: Rope (1948; Hitchcock) and Wait Until Dark (1967; Terence Young). The end product: “How to Shoot a Film in One Room.”
Also, I’d like to thank Prof. Jason Mittell and my classmates in Videographic Film Studies at Middlebury College for their guidance and feedback. I hope this essay will be only the beginning of my exploration of films that take place in a single room. If there are any I should check out, please let me know!