The Evolution of the Hitchcock Trailer

Once he was established as a Hollywood director Alfred Hitchcock cleverly used his persona as a major promotional tool for his films.

Although he is rightly regarded as one of the great directors in cinema, the marketing of his movies reveal a lot about how he managed to combine his artistic sensibilities with commercial instincts.

Charlton Heston was once quoted as saying:

“The trouble with movies as a business is that it’s an art, and the trouble with movies as art is that it’s a business”.

Perhaps more than any other director, Hitchcock managed to solve this conundrum and we can see his mastery of the movies as both an art and a business by looking at the trailers to several of his films.

For his breakthrough US work Rebecca (1940), the trailer played up the fact that it was a David O’Selznick production as much as an Alfred Hitchcock film and that it was also “the most glamorous film of all time”:

At this point, despite his experience, he was essentially a director for hire and had yet to become the portly icon of later years.

Notorious (1946) goes for the ‘big fonts proclaiming big things’ approach to trailers and Hitch is still nowhere to be seen, although it is worth noting that he is referred to as ‘the master of suspense’.

A sign that Hitchcock was more talented than the average Hollywood director was the ambition of Rope (1948), a film which had the illusion of being mostly shot in one take, although it was actually a string of set pieces cleverly stitched together.

The trailer was partly narrated by Jimmy Stewart’s character and didn’t feature the director, although the form of the film played an important part in establishing his reputation as more than just a director for hire.

The 1950s saw Hollywood embrace all kinds of technical innovations (e.g. Cinemascope, 3D) to stave off the threat of television, but Hitchcock was embracing it both as a form in itself and seizing the opportunity to become a familiar face to great swathes of Americans every week.

In 1949 one million Americans owned TV sets and by the end of the decade this number had sky-rocketed to over 50 million, so here was a director clearly in touch with both his audience and the emerging trends of the time.

By 1955 Hitchcock had his own TV series – Alfred Hitchcock Presents, later to become The Alfred Hitchcock Hour – which became famous for his opening monologues.

This is the first episode, where he addressed the audience in his own inimitable way:

On the burgeoning medium of television during this period it provided invaluable publicity for his career as a movie director.

It was ironic that in an age of chiselled movie stars he would become such an American cultural icon, especially after a childhood in England crippled by shyness and obesity.

But perhaps there was a conflicted showman inside the director.

What else could explain his famous cameos throughout his career, which were a simultaneous expression to stay hidden and be noticed?

By The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), which saw him remake his own film, his reputation was established but for the trailer it was Jimmy Stewart who again who addressed the audience to describe the making of the movie.

The same year Hitchcock made his first notable appearence in a trailer, talking about himself in the third person no less, whilst narrating the outline for The Wrong Man (1956):

A vitally important film for the director both in content and style, it seems appropriate that he would make an early marketing appearance here.

Perhaps his promotional performances every week on TV in front of millions of viewers had convinced the studio bosses he not only had a reputation but could be trusted to sell to the audience directly?

For Vertigo (1958) however, Hitchcock took a back seat to a conventional narration guy.

Was it because the story of an obsessive man who forces a reluctant brunette to become an icy blonde was a bit too personal for him?

After the relative commercial failure of this hypnotic film – which would mushroom in critical esteem decades later – he returned with his most commercial project to date.

North By Northwest (1959) was a pretty big deal for MGM and they let Hitchcock completely take over the trailer, using his dry wit to play up the humour in the material and guarantee they would be in for a ride.

Can you imagine any modern studio or contemporary director approve a trailer like this?

His next film was less obviously commercial, based on a novel with grisly real life influences, and was to be filmed in black and white with his TV crew.

The project began life at Paramount, who were so put off by the material that they originally refused to make it and sold off key rights to Universal and the director (even today it is often mistakenly thought of as a Universal movie).

Psycho (1960) certainly presented a marketing challenge and Hitchcock responded with perhaps his most famous trailer, which was this 6 minute promotional short.

It was a shrewd move as the director’s trademark humour let viewers know that the film wasn’t as dark as they may have heard.

That being said, the sudden climax at the end, complete with Bernard Herrman’s violins hinted that there was something dark and sinister within the main attraction.

Not only did Psycho represent the high watermark of the director’s artistic and commercial career, is also saw him reach a plateau as a marketing genius.

Hitchcock persuaded cinemas not to allow audiences in if they were late, which intensified the must-see factor and also provided the film with valuable extra publicity.

Who did audiences see in the foyer of their local cinema?

The director pointing at his watch and telling them that if they were late they had to attend the next showing of the film.

Whilst the public loved it, critical reaction was decidedly cooler with The Observer’s critic embarrassing themselves by not even staying until the end (I’m happy to report that their current critic Philip French always stays until the end credits of each movie he sees).

For The Birds (1963), the director repeated the trick with another witty short.

Note how the dry humour again deflects from the dark subject matter, which could have proved a commercial turn off.

By this point Hitchcock was a major cultural personality due to both his movies and TV shows, which first aired on CBS from 1955 to 1960, and then on NBC from 1960 to 1962.

This was then followed by The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, which lasted from 1962 to 1965 and such was the director’s longevity that even after his death in 1980, NBC and USA Network even revived the show for four seasons in the late 1980s.

If you think of each TV introduction as free publicity for his films, it also ranks as one of the longest and most cost-effective marketing campaigns in movie history.

The Marnie (1964) trailer continued the concept of the director as master showman.

Such was Hitchcock’s elevated status at this point – note how he literally ascends from a lofty position at the beginning – that he could refer to his previous films with the expectation that the general audience would know what he was talking about.

Perhaps one of his most interesting films, the trailer captures the changing social attitudes of the 1960s as Hitchcock is being less coded about sex and uses his dry, comic prudishness to neat effect.

One can almost imagine the team from Mad Men working on the campaign for this movie, and although Cary Grant in North By Northwest is often rightfully cited as an influence on Matthew Weiner’s show, Sean Connery’s character in Marnie seems like a more accurate touchstone for Don Draper.

In retrospect, the film is a fascinating collision of two cinematic icons as the ‘Master of Suspense’ cast James Bond in a major role – the commercial side of Hitchcock’s brain wanted a star in Sean Connery, but the artist knew his screen presence would add an extra dimension to the film.

However, the explosive success of the Bond franchise may have had an adverse effect on Hitchcock’s films as the mid-60s craze for Cold War spy films led him to make two films which saw him go somewhat astray.

Torn Curtain (1966) was beset by production difficulties and reflected the uneasy reality that was dawning on directors like Hitchcock and studios such as Universal.

Stars like Paul Newman and Julie Andrews were becoming increasingly important and the days when the men in suits could order them around like cattle were beginning to change.

This is reflected in the trailer which plays up Hitchcock’s brand name but places greater emphasis on the two leads, violence (‘Shock! Intrigue!’) and the Cold War intrigue which had gripped pop culture.

Topaz (1969) saw the problems of his previous film multiply and is rightly considered one of his weakest.

Again we have a Cold War spy thriller, although this one is even more muddled.

We briefly see Hitchcock at the beginning saying that it is ‘a story of espionage in high places’, before a self-consciously groovy montage of split-screen techniques which seems to reflect the messy, fragmentary nature of the film.

In creating his own worlds he was often a master, but in this period he was less successful in crafting suspense out of the complexities of the Cold War, when actual news stories could be more shocking than anything in his imagination.

Frenzy (1972) saw Hitchcock return to his home country of England and is by far his most interesting later work.

The trailer sees him return to centre stage with a monologue which seems to reference his extended promotional short for Psycho – which is appropriate as both films revolve around a sinister murderer (Mrs. Bates/The Necktie Murderer) and a single location (Covent Garden/Bates Motel).

This film saw the director’s career come full circle, as he returned to the murder-mystery genre after his unsuccessful espionage movies and it was set and shot around Covent Garden, where his father used to make a living as a greengrocer.

It is hard to watch the bit where Hitchcock spots his tie without thinking of the childhood story the director once told about being sent to a police station as a boy, or the William Friedkin anecdote about when Hitch questioned his young apprentice for not wearing a tie whilst shooting the final episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

The trailer for his swan song Family Plot (1976) sees the director make his final appearence in a trailer.

The quality of the film and his customary dry wit seem to betray the fact that he had one eye on retirement.

What do all these trailers say about Hitchcock?

In them we can see the evolution of a director who managed to use the very commercialism of the Hollywood system to his artistic advantage.

By cultivating a showman persona, he enticed audiences into cinemas and once they were there he usually surprised them in strange and imaginative ways.

> More on Alfred Hitchcock at Wikipedia
> The Hitchcock Wiki
> Hitchcock TV

The Hitchcock and Truffaut Tapes

In 1962 François Truffaut carried out a series of extensive interviews with Alfred Hitchcock at his offices in Universal Studios.

Recorded to audio tape, the content was eventually edited down into Truffaut’s famous book Hitchcock.

A landmark meeting of two great directors, the conversations cover Hitchcock’s life and career in great detail as they discuss films such as Blackmail (1929), The 39 Steps (1935), Sabotage (1939), Rebecca (1940), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Lifeboat (1944), Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946), Rope (1948), Strangers on a Train (1951), The Birds (1963), Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), North By Northwest (1959) and Psycho (1960).

Truffaut did not speak much English, so he hired Helen Scott of the French Film Office in New York to act as the translator for the sessions.

The half hour sessions were subsequently broadcast on French radio and in 2006 Tom Sutpen started posting audio files on his blog ‘If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger, There’d Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats‘.

HIGHLIGHTS

FULL LENGTH AUDIO

You can listen to the 25 parts individually below (just click on the relevant links to download as single tracks):

PART 1: Childhood through to his early years in the film industry (26 mins) [MP3]

PART 2: Mountain Eagle through to the end of the silent era (27 mins) [MP3]

PART 3: Blackmail through to a discussion about American audiences (26 mins) [MP3]

PART 4: Rich and Strange through to realism in films (27 mins) [MP3]

PART 5: The 39 Steps through to plausibility in film and film critics (28 mins) [MP3]

PART 6: Secret Agent and Sabotage (27 mins) [MP3]

PART 7: Young and Innocent and The Lady Vanishes (27 mins) [MP3]

PART 8: Final years in Britain through to his move to America (28 mins) [MP3]

PART 9: Rebecca (27 mins) [MP3]

PART 10: Discussion about Hollywood through to Notorious (27 mins) [MP3]

PART 11: Mr and Mrs Smith through to Suspicion (26 mins) [MP3]

PART 12: Saboteur through to Shadow of a Doubt (26 mins) [MP3]

PART 13: Lifeboat through to Spellbound (27 mins) [MP3]

PART 14: Notorious through to The Paradine Case (27 mins) [MP3]

PART 15: Rope (27 mins) [MP3]

PART 16: Rope and Under Capricorn (26 mins) [MP3]

PART 17: Stage Fright through to Strangers on a Train (27 mins) [MP3]

PART 18: Strangers on a Train through to I Confess (28 mins) [MP3]

PART 19: Notorious through to a discussion about suspense (27 mins) [Mp3]

PART 20: Initial discussion about the The Birds through to Rear Window (27 mins) [Mp3]

PART 21: The Wrong Man through to Vertigo (27 mins) [MP3]

PART 22: North by Northwest through to Psycho (26 mins) [MP3]

PART 23: Psycho (27 mins) [MP3]

PART 24: The Birds (27 mins) [MP3]

PART 25: Psycho through to characterisation in films (27 mins) [Mp3]

> Find out more about Alfred Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut at Wikipedia
> Buy Hitchcock by Francois Truffaut from Amazon UK

The Best DVD and Blu-ray Releases of 2010

Here are my picks of the DVD and Blu-ray released in 2010, which include Dr. Strangelove, Pierrot Le Fou, The White Ribbon, Dr. Zhivago, The Last Emperor, A Prophet, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Psycho, The Third Man, Se7en, The Exorcist, Carlos and Inception.

Just click on the film title to read the original reviews and the links on the side to buy them.

JANUARY

FEBRUARY

MARCH

APRIL

MAY

JUNE

JULY

AUGUST

SEPTEMBER

OCTOBER

NOVEMBER

DECEMBER

NOTABLE IMPORTS

N.B. As I’m based in the UK, all of these DVDs are UK titles (apart from the imports) but if you live in a different region of the world check out Play.com or your local Amazon site and they should have an equivalent version of the film.

> Browse more DVD Releases at Amazon UK and Play
> Browse all the cinema releases of 2010
> The Best DVD and Blu-ray releases of 2009

In Defence of Blu-ray

Blu-ray won’t be as successful as DVD but it is still the best way to watch a properly restored film at home.

A recent post on The Guardian’s film blog by Shane Danielson titled ‘The devil is in Blu-ray’s detail‘ put forward the notion that the sharpness of Blu-ray is somehow a problem.

For those still unaware of it, Blu-ray is the high definition successor to the DVD, an optical disc format for which you need a specific player and an HD television.

As someone who was once a partial sceptic of HD formats, at least until the industry sorted out the ludicrous format war and high prices, I read Danielson’s post with a mixture of intrigue and then gradual disbelief.

I suspect it was meant to be a contrarian think-piece putting forward the notion that the upgrade to Blu-ray isn’t really worth it.

After all, who needs to fork out extra for a format in which you can see the make-up on actor’s face? Isn’t it all just a big money making scheme to make us replace our DVD collection?

Well, it is certainly true that commercial imperatives have driven the shift to Blu-ray, as broadcasters and consumers gradually move to digital and high definition.

If you want to buy a new TV, you will be hard pressed to find one that isn’t an HD set.

One of Danielson’s points is that too much detail revealed in a high definition version of a film can be a bad thing, but he makes some key mistakes in highlighting the Blu-ray versions of Psycho and The Godfather.

For a piece with the word ‘detail’ in the title, he gets Martin Balsam‘s name wrong (calling him ‘Robert’) and there is no mention whatsoever of how the whole film actually looks on the format.

Furthermore, it is a little silly to complain about the strings on Martian spaceships in the Blu-ray version of George Pal’s The War of the Worlds, especially when no such version of the film actually exists. (I can only assume he is referring to the DVD version, which kind of undercuts his wider point).

Having actually seen the Psycho Blu-ray, I can only repeat my admiration for the team who oversaw its transfer as it looks marvellous and, as someone who has only ever seen it on television, the sharpness and clarity of the image makes a welcome change.

As for the make-up on Balsam’s head in a particular scene, it isn’t really noticeable unless you want to freeze the image and analyse the split second it occurs.

I get the idea that some people take issue when certain elements of a film are ‘corrected’ for the Blu-ray release, such as when DNR is used to smooth out the image (e.g. the new Predator Blu-ray) but in this case I don’t think the argument stands up at all.

The restoration of The Godfather Blu-ray is another matter entirely.

Danielson says:

I remember being in the Virgin Megastore in Times Square back in 2008, and pausing to look at a screen showing Coppola’s The Godfather, which had been released on Blu-ray a fortnight earlier.

It was the trattoria sequence, when Michael kills McCluskey and Sollozzo, and it looked great . . . in fact, it looked TOO great.

The colours were rich and burnished (that background red, in particular), the shadows were deep – yet at the same time, there was a precision to the images, a sort of hyperreal clarity, that didn’t jibe with my memory of having watched the film, either in the cinema or at home.

It seemed weirdly artificial, somehow, and watching it, I felt that I could almost see the grain of the film stock, the flicker and shudder of individual frames, such was the degree of visual information on offer.

I felt, suddenly, like Ray Milland’s character in The Man With the X-Ray Eyes. This could, I realised, drive me mad, if I let it.

Aside from the fact that it is highly dubious to make a judgement on a transfer from one scene observed in shop two years ago, he couldn’t have picked a worse one to illustrate his point.

Not only is the restored Blu-ray version of The Godfather a thing of beauty to behold, it is probably probably one of the landmark releases in the format, overseen with great care and attention by restoration guru Robert Harris.

Anyone who actually watches the complete version of The Godfather on Blu-ray, rather than idly chatting to a Virgin Megastore employee, will actually realise this.

There is also a twenty minute feature titled ‘Emulsion Rescue’ which details the painstaking task of restoring this sequence, featuring interviews with director Francis Ford Coppola, cinematographer Gordon Willis and others involved in the process.

In particular, they discuss the famous restaurant sequence with Michael, McCluskey and Sollozzo and reveal that the original materials on which the film was shot were in a particularly poor shape.

Explaining the full technical details on how that scene was restored, they highlight how digital technology was used with the co-operation of the filmmakers, helping preserve their original artistic vision.

With this in mind, there have been cases where the Blu-ray release of a classic film has caused some controversy.

For the 2009 Blu-ray release of The French Connection, director William Friedkin altered the fundamental look of the film, which angered cinematographer Owen Roizman, who described the new transfer as “atrocious”.

This presents a peculiar conundrum. Digital technology allowed Friedkin to change the look of his own film for the Blu-ray version, but is he betraying his original vision from 1971 that first captivated audiences? Or is that his artistic right as director?

On the wider matter of the format as a whole, it is probably true to say that it will never be as popular or as profitable as DVD.

Last Christmas the current rate of sales was reportedly nowhere near the original projections Sony had for it a few years ago and the cost of consumers upgrading to new television equipment in a recession also stunted the uptake.

Perhaps the most useless aspect of Blu-ray Discs is BD-Live, which is meant to provide interactive experiences when you hook up your player to the Internet.

Aside from the technical hassle of actually connecting a Blu-ray player to your home internet connection (and I speak from bitter experience on this) the features aren’t all that appealing.

But bizarrely, BD-Live always seems to be one of the ‘selling points’ talked up by manufacturers and Blu-ray marketing campaigns when it is clearly rubbish, for now at least.

So with all the teething problems the format has had, why would I recommend it?

Unlike Danielson I don’t see any romance or inherent ‘magic’ in cathode ray tube televisions and I’m not suspicious of carefully restored digital transfers of great films.

A good Blu-ray simply looks far better than its DVD counterpart, with a much tighter and richer image. For the most part, it really is that simple.

The optimal experience for seeing any motion picture is still a fine print at a decent cinema, but aside from critics and cinephiles visiting repertory cinemas, how many times do viewers experience quality projection and sound at their local cinema?

Just in the last year I saw two films (Funny People and Sherlock Holmes – not exactly classics, admittedly) at a multiplex and the projection and image quality for both were appalling.

When you think of why DVD proved popular, it wasn’t just because of the relative cost but was also partly due to digital technology in the home rapidly catching up with that of the average cinema.

Another obstacle Blu-ray faced from early on was that the jump from VHS to DVD was much more noticeable to the casual consumer than the leap from DVD to the newer higher definition format.

Not every release looks pristine, but when they have had care and attention lavished on them the results can be stunning: Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, The Godfather trilogy, North By Northwest, Baraka, Blade Runner, The New World, The Dark Knight and Psycho are just some films that look incredible on Blu-ray.

As for the cost, they have come down in price a lot over the last 18 months to the point where many new releases are actually cheaper than DVDs were at a certain point in time.

Another misconception appears to be that you need to replace your whole library of DVDs.

This is incorrect as Blu-ray players do actually play DVDs, which means you can pick and choose which titles you want to see in glorious HD (e.g. The Godfather) and those you don’t (e.g. any film featuring Danny Dyer).

When discussing Blu-ray and future home video formats, someone often pipes up with a line about how we are all ‘downloading films now anyway’.

It is almost inevitable that some time in the future, the legal delivery of films to our homes will be via a next generation broadband pipe.

However, that is still some way off as most people still watch films on physical discs (DVD, Blu-ray) with a more targeted niche choosing digital downloads via iTunes, Netflix, Lovefilm, Amazon and presumably YouTube by the end of this year.

If you are a visual purist, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to get 1080p films via iTunes anytime soon as the size of the film. It seems 720p is more likely when Apple unveil their revamped ‘iTV’ box.

Whilst there is a convenience factor to digital downloads that will probably mean that Blu-ray is the last optical disc format, it will take a few years before mainstream viewers fully embrace full digital delivery via their television sets or other devices.

Added to this is the fact that Blu-ray sales in Europe grew siginificantly during the first quarter of this year, although that is tempered by the fact that DVD sales are still around ten times greater.

Blu-ray has had its problems and will eventually go the way of DVD and VHS, but there is still a lot to be said for the format, especially when it comes to revisiting classics that have been properly restored.

> More details on The Godfather restoration at The Digital Bits
> Find out more about Blu-ray at Wikipedia

UK DVD and Blu-ray Releases: Monday 9th August 2010

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DVD PICKS

Psycho (Universal Pictures): Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1960 film is one of the most significant Blu-ray releases of the year. The tale of a woman on the run (Janet Leigh) who stays at a lonely motel run by a man (Anthony Perkins) with some serious parental issues remains a landmark in cinema history.

The groundbreaking depictions of sexuality and violence might seem tame by today’s standards but helped shape what could be shown on screen and arguably paved the way for the modern horror genre.

Categorizing the film is still tricky. It is a thriller? A horror? A mystery? The real answer is probably a combination of all three, but certainly it built upon Hitchcock’s reputation as the master of suspense towards something more shocking and sinister.

If you are revisiting the film, it is hard not to be struck by how fresh it still feels despite being so iconic. Certain sequences still have a visceral, raw power and there is a sinister aura throughout.

Universal have included a raft of extras for this release, which include the following:

  • 50th Anniversary Special Edition Steelbook Blu-ray – including 20-page ‘Making of Psycho’ booklet
  • Psycho Sound: A never-before-seen piece that looks at the re-mastering process required to create a 5.1 mix from the original mono elements using Audionamix technology.
  • The Shower Scene: A look at the impact of music on the infamous “shower scene.”
  • The Making of Psycho: A feature-length documentary on Hitchcock’s most shocking film.
  • In the Master’s Shadow – Hitchcock’s Legacy: Some of Hollywood’s top filmmakers discuss Hitchcock’s influence and why his movies continue to thrill audiences.
  • Hitchcock/Truffaut Interviews: Excerpts from a 1962 audio interview with Alfred Hitchcock.
  • Audio Commentary: Feature-length audio commentary with Stephen Rebello (Author of “Alfred Hitchcock and the making of Psycho”)
  • Newsreel Footage: The Release of Psycho: Vintage newsreel on the unique policy Alfred Hitchcock insisted upon for the release of the film.
  • The Shower Scene: Storyboards by Saul Bass: Original storyboard design.
  • Production Notes: Read an essay on the making of the film.
  • The Psycho Archives: See the gallery of on-set photo stills from the film’s production.
  • Posters And Psycho Ads: See a gallery of original posters and ads from the theatrical campaign.
  • Lobby Cards: View a gallery of promotional lobby cards from the film’s theatrical campaign.
  • Behind-The-Scenes Photographs: View rare photos showing the cast and crew at work.
  • Theatrical Trailer: Watch the original promotional trailer from the film’s theatrical campaign.
  • Re-Release Trailers: Watch the promotional trailer created for the re-release of the film.

> Buy Pyscho on Blu-ray from Amazon UK
> Psycho at the IMDb

The Seven-Ups (Optimum): This neglected 1973 crime drama was the sole directorial effort of Philip D’Antoni, best known for producing Bullitt (1968) and stars Roy Scheider as an NYPD cop who runs a task force charged with catching criminals guilty of offences worth at least seven years in jail.

When a valuable street informant (Tony Lo Bianco) double-crosses the cops, they decide to throw out the rule book in taking on the criminals of the city.

It bears some notable similarities to The French Connection (1971): there is a classic car chase (featuring stunt driver Bill Hickman) and Scheider’s character has more than a passing resemblance to his role in William Friedkin’s film.

Despite this, there is much to appreciate in The Seven-Ups. It paints an evocative picture of New York in the early 1970s and the screenplay by Albert Ruben and Alexander Jacobs doesn’t squeeze characters into clichéd situations.

D’Antoni gives the film a vivid and gritty look whilst also coaxing some fine performances from his cast, which includes Scheider, Tony Lo Bianco, Richard Lynch and Larry Haines.

Whilst not as good as The French Connection, if you’re a fan of cop movies from this era it is well worth seeking out.

> Buy The Seven-Ups from Amazon UK
> The Seven Ups at IMDb

Spiral: Series 1 & 2 (2 Entertain): This intelligent French police drama first aired on UK TV back in 2006 on BBC Four and like The Wire attracted a small but devoted following, especially amongst critics.

This week sees the release of Series 2, but as it might not be on the radar for a lot of viewers I’d recommend the combined Series 1 & 2 boxset.

The French title “Engrenages” literally translates as “Gears” and presumably hints at how crime and violence, amongst other things, can spiral out of control.

The first season deals with the death of a young Romanian woman found on a rubbish dump in Paris. The resulting investigation slowly reveals her past life but also sheds uncomfortable light on the very legal system that is trying to uncover the truth about her death.

The second season starts with a burned corpse discovered in the boot of a car and what initially appears to be a case of urban violence slowly grows into a much larger case involving international trafficking and arms dealing.

Like The Wire, it is an intelligent look at crime as a social disease rather than simply a puzzle to be solved. But it is arguably darker and more twisted than any US cop show would dare to be.

There aren’t too many shows that feature charred corpses in grisly detail or teenagers snorting heroin before collapsing into a coma.

It might not yet have the popularity of crime dramas on the mainstream channels but Spiral is a subtle and refreshing antidote to what’s currently on the box.

> Buy Spiral Series 1 & 2 from Amazon UK
> Spiral at the IMDb

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ALSO OUT

Deep Blue Sea (Warner Home Video) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Kamui – The Lone Ninja (Manga Entertainment) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Legion (Sony Pictures Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (Park Circus) [Blu-ray with DVD]
The Blind Side (Warner Home Video) [Blu-ray with DVD]
The Infidel (Revolver Entertainment) [Blu-ray / DVD]
The Stranger (Anchor Bay Entertainment UK) [Blu-ray / DVD]

> The Best DVD and Blu-ray releases of 2009
> UK cinema releases for Friday 6th August 2010 including Knight & Day