“North by Northwest”, Alfred Hitchcock’s immortal thriller with Cary Grant was the UN’s first big coming out in popular culture. With film, television, radio rapidly evolving back then, the future was already being scripted: diplomacy would no longer be merely about protocol as much as it is about reaching the public consciousness. Only thing worse than bad press would be no press. Social media only intensifies the scrutiny but also opportunity. Unlike when I first served at the United Nations 20 years earlier, the UN has become the platform for numerous presentations in art: including pop concerts and film premiers.
In Hitchcock’s thriller the scene for intrigue is set when this time literally and not just figuratively a diplomat gets a knife in the back with the protagonist (Cary Grant) incriminatingly holding the knife. Originally I believed that the scene was filmed at the UN. The set looked very much like the real “Delegate’s Lounge” where so many of my conversations/exchanges with diplomats, journalists and NGO’s and others took place. There was a bit of intrigue frequently as well. (For example - on one occasion I was approached by someone posing as a Russian diplomat offering to sell a shipload of weapons, even though Moscow’s diplomacy was certainly not favorable to Bosnia & Herzegovina). I would find out later that the UN Delegates Lounge scene in “North by Northwest” the was filmed in a faithfully recreated studio-set.
“North by Northwest” also brought together UN and US symbols into film – ironic as many Christian rightwingers would come to project the UN as the cocoon for a future Anti-Christ. Many Americans still perceive the UN as threat to what they claim as “American values” as well as US sovereignty. The last scenes take place on Mount Rushmore, the iconic representation of America, and just like the United Nations relatively recently constructed. As relatively recent phenomena in human development, the US and UN are complementary rather than contradictory, but branding is the key.
Also Read our Blog for Film – “(In)Famous UN Moments in Popular Culture”
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