February 2016, arsenal cinema

The Hitchcock 9


Some of Alfred Hitchcock's work remains relatively unknown: The 10 silent movies that he made between 1925 and 1929. Nine of them survive, but one, his second film "The Mountain Eagle", is considered lost. The British Film Institute has intricately restored the surviving 'Hitchcock 9', which are now available as 35 mm prints. We will present all of them accompanied live by Eunice Martins on piano.

The fact that Hitchcock began his career in silent movies was formative for him. He learnt how to tell a story visually, to give more power to the image than to dialogue, to use genuinely filmic means to depict emotions. His joy of experimenting and a stupendous imagination are already clearly visible in his early works. Even though they are of different genres - thrillers, comedies and melodramas - they astonishingly already feature many of the themes and obsessions that would become characteristic of Hitchcock: Apart from the ambiguity of guilt, these are moral ambivalence and the motif of innocents under suspicion, his ironic humor and the cool blonde as an object of desire.

Born in 1899 in London, Hitchcock was obsessed with theater and film from his childhood and he started his career in the film industry in his early 20s as an illustrator of inter-titles. He wrote screenplays for fun on the side and soon became an assistant director and responsible for sets. This was when he met the editor and script girl Alma Reville, whom he married in 1926 and who would become his most important co-worker. By the time THE LODGER (1926) was made, he had earned recognition as a huge directing talent, which was valued by critics and audiences alike.

THE PLEASURE GARDEN (GB/D 1926, 1.2.) was Hitchcock's directorial debut. It is a German-British co-production that was filmed in Munich and Italy and is set in a London nightspot, called The Pleasure Garden. It focuses on two dancers and their love affairs, unfulfilled desires and moral transgressions: melodrama and murderous jealousy take their course. "The emphasis on small revealing gestures instead of sweeping theatrics that were so popular among silent film directors," (Donald Spoto) is typically Hitchcockian.

(GB 1926, 3.2.) Later dubbed by the director himself as the "first true Hitchcock picture", this is a classic suspense thriller. London is haunted by someone who goes by the name of "The Avenger" and kills young blonde women under cover of darkness. In this climate of fear, the Bunting family's mysterious new lodger raises terrible suspicion. Is he the wanted murderer? The expressionist lighting, the dark sets, the shadows and mirror effects reveal Hitchcock's interest in German cinema at the time. Hitchcock had an open ending in mind, but the producer wanted the lodger who was played by superstar Ivor Novello to turn out to be innocent - he would become the first in a long series of innocent men under suspicion in Hitchcock's oeuvre.

DOWNHILL (GB 1927, 5.2.) An upper class boarding school pupil falls from grace: Roddy (Ivor Novello) is expelled on false charges and cast out by his parents. He seeks a living in the nightspots of the big city and an unexpected inheritance allows him to marry an idolized actress who turns out to be a cheat. Robbed of all his illusions, he continues his descent into a hallucinatory delirium until his parents discover his innocence. One of the central motifs is deception because of false appearances, which takes in the protagonists as well as the viewers.

EASY VIRTUE (GB 1927, 6.2.) A melodrama based on a play by Noël Coward, in which a divorced woman who has remarried, is caught up by her poor reputation and the prejudices of society. "This is a film about judgment and prejudice, perspective and voyeurism, sensuality and prudery. It is about suspense and elegant filmic resolutions. It features a cool blonde, a weak boy and a monstrous mother. This small film can be understood as a prelude to many of Hitchcock's later works. The credits appear above the silhouette of a camera: because EASY VIRTUE is about making pictures, in every sense." (Hans Schifferle) In an entrancing scene, the film reflects the conversation about a marriage proposal only through the face of an eavesdropping switchboard operator, whose expression changes from joy to dismay, to suspense and triumph.

THE RING (GB 1927, 7.2.) A romance drama set in the world of boxing and based on an original screenplay by Hitchcock. The title refers both to the boxing arena and a wedding band. Two boxers are interested in the same woman, who is engaged to one of them, but can't resist the other. Hitchcock never loses sight of his leitmotif in this film shot with breathtaking virtuosity - the ring which crops up in numerous scenes and pictures, but also the moral ambiguity of the symbol as well as that of the protagonists.

THE FARMERS WIFE (GB 1928, 8.2.) The farmer Samuel Sweetland, a widower in his prime, seeks a wife. He tries out his chosen candidates one after another and discovers with surprise that his proposal provokes laughter in the best case and angry resistance in the worst. It is only at the end that he finds out that what he is looking for is so close and therefore so easily overlooked. This rustic, but also biting, comedy, which the producers hoped would echo the huge success of the eponymous stage-play, is a hilarious study about eccentric country beings.

CHAMPAGNE (GB 1928, 9.2.) An amusing, light comedy about a spoilt American heiress who is taught a lesson by her father. Betty's first appearance is stunning: Intending to annoy her father she arranges for her plane to land in the middle of the Atlantic so that she can gain her lover's ship. Angrily, her father allows her to believe that the family's fortunes, from champagne, are lost. Thus begins Betty's career in nightspots, where the champagne flows in abundance. Full of Hitchcock's usual visual wit, the film begins and ends with a shot through a glass of champagne.

(GB 1929, 10.2.) is about a love triangle between two childhood friends, one who is a fisherman, the other who's a judge, and the woman they both love (Anny Ondra). Torn between love and loyalty, the protagonists get caught up in their feelings of guilt and passion and try desperately to escape this suffocating fate. The beauty and vastness of the landscape of this film set on the Isle of Man offer a contrast. In his perhaps most beautiful silent movie, Hitchcock strongly reduces his use of stylistic games in favor of emotional substance and a dense depiction of a romantic drama.

(GB 1929, 11.2.) marked the transition from silent movie to talkie and was filmed in both silent and sound versions. However, it is rarely screened as a silent movie. This study of guilt shows the full breadth of the "master of suspense's" skills. "BLACKMAIL holds an anthology of Hitchcockian set pieces, leitmotifs and themes: rapid exposure, ironic variation about crime and guilt, entanglement in the machinery of justice, a mischievous happy ending." (Harry Tomicek) Hitchcock makes on of his first and longest cameo appearance as someone on the London Underground being bothered by a small boy. (al)

The Hitchcock 9 is a joint venture between BFI, Rialto Pictures/Studiocanal and Park Circus/ITV.