If you haven’t heard the term “bottle film” before, it refers to a movie that is set entirely within one, generally spatially limited, location. It’s not hard to imagine how the experience of 2020, with people being asked to stay home as much as possible as well as limit their interactions with others, could bring this topic to mind. Why is it satisfying to sit between your own four walls and watch someone else stare at theirs? I’m not sure, but I do think there’s a sense of connection now with films like this – so here are a few to try.
How could I not start with this Hitchcock classic? Jimmy Stewart plays a photographer who is confined to his apartment after breaking his leg. This movie is from 1954; there’s not a whole lot for him to do while stuck at home besides look out his window and watch what his neighbors are up to. He becomes convinced that he’s witnessed the coverup of a crime, and the boredom and claustrophobia of the atmosphere make for a wonderfully tense thriller.
Everybody has heard of Rear Window, but sometimes I think I’m the only person who has heard of this one. It’s a comedy/murder mystery, and the location is a little larger – it’s opening night at Chicago radio station WBN. The movie is limited to just the station (and, timewise, to just that evening and event). I thought it was quite funny, with likable characters and entertaining silliness. And although it’s a small part, Christopher Lloyd as the imaginative and increasingly-improvising sound effects guy is a highlight for me not only for the comedy but for how interesting the creation of sound effects for radio plays had to be. [ed. note: Molly pointed out to me that “foley artist” is the term I’m looking for here!]
You don’t see a whole lot of bottle films that are set outdoors, but here we have a based-on-a-true-story movie about a hiker in Utah. The single location is due to his circumstances – stuck in a canyon with his arm wedged between a huge boulder and the canyon wall, completely alone, with no way to call for help. Even if you know how the movie ends (I feel like everyone was talking about it back when it came out), it can be a pretty brutal ride, so make sure you’re in the right mood for a survival movie if you check this one out.
Is it cheating to put another Hitchcock movie on here? I feel like this one is not nearly as well-known as Rear Window, which is a shame, because it’s excellent. It’s also set in one apartment, where a murder has been committed and then a party held. It’s not a mystery (you’ll know who is guilty from the beginning although I won’t give it away here) but instead a psychological thriller between the main characters. And, of course, Jimmy Stewart puts in a wonderful performance as always.