The mysterious blonde, the frantic flight in handcuffs, the knife wielding psycho and the constant gnawing suspense are familiar themes to aficionados of the "Master of Suspense", Alfred Hitchcock. Until recently, film researchers looked back only as far as his 1930s talkies to probe his psychological acuity, but in fact the biggest clues to Hitchcock's success lie in his silent movies of the 1920s. The Hong Kong Film Archive (HKFA)'s "Restored Treasures" series will screen six of his recently restored and captivating silents from August to January 2014. These restored treasures will open a window on the recurring motifs and threads of gripping suspense that were to be woven into the tapestry of Hitchcock's mysteries.
"Restored Treasures: Captivating Hitchcock Silents" will screen "The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog" (1926) at 2pm on August 4 and 25; "Downhill" (1927) at 2pm on September 1 and 7.30pm on October 1; and "The Ring" (1927), "Champagne" (1928), "The Manxman" (1929), and "Blackmail" (1929) at 2pm on October 6, November 3, December 1 and January 5, 2014, respectively.
Presented by the HKFA, the British Council is the programme's Partner Organisation with screening courtesy of the British Film Institute (BFI). The BFI restoration team has extensively researched Hitchcock's extant silents and recently restored most of the surviving films to their former glory. Film reels preserved at the BFI, some made from unstable and highly flammable nitrate film stock, together with materials sourced from other international archives, were meticulously checked, repaired and digitally captured shot-by-shot for editing and restoration, resulting in vivid, crisp and vibrant versions for audiences' enjoyment.
"The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog", "Downhill" and "The Ring" will be screened in DCP (Digital Cinema Package) format with a music score. "Champagne", "The Manxman" and "Blackmail" will be screened in 35mm format with live music accompaniment. All of the silents have English intertitles.
Described by the director as "the first true Hitchcock film", "The Lodger" has all the ingredients of a gripping Hitchcockian thriller - mistaken identities, sex and murders. A serial killer with a taste for young blondes is terrorising London. A blonde model who fits the bill for the next victim has a reclusive and secretive new tenant. Is he or isn't he the murderer?
Hitchcock displays the mark of the master in "Downhill", fleshing out a melodramatic script with minimal title cards, prefering to engage in imaginary play with brilliant visual narratives. Chiaroscuro lighting in German expressionist cinema is used to create a gloomy and melancholic atmosphere. The story depicts the fall from grace of a promising public school head boy, when a false accusation sends him into a spiral of descent to become a rent boy in a Paris music hall.
"The Ring", which was raved about by French New Wave masters Rohmer, Chabrol and Truffaut, is Hitchcock's one and only original screenplay. Eschewing crime and the fugitive theme, the film features a love triangle between a fairground boxer, his lover and a boxing rival, with the characters caught in a paradoxical tug-of-war of love and career. A modern-day audience needs only to look at the stunning montages and ingenious use of dissolve, the classic cinematic transition of time and place that has since become widely used, to appreciate the pioneering qualities of his work.
The light comedy, "Champagne" was allegedly inspired by Hitchcock's liking for the bubbly drink. The director was set to make a female version of "Downhill" but, having failed to get a green light from the studio boss, channelled his penchant for humour into a witty rom-com about a frivolous heiress on the verge of bankruptcy. Adding to the mix is a mysterious man's voyeuristic observation from behind the glass that is reminiscent of the sinister-looking James Mason in "North by Northwest". With a useful measure of visual distortions - the film begins and ends with a shot through the bottom of a large champagne glass - and stylistic quirks, "Champagne" offers a world of make-believe combined with slapstick humour.
"The Manxman" is the most accomplished silent film Hitchcock directed before making the transition to talkies. A poor fisherman leaves his island home to seek his fortune abroad and entrusts his lover to a friend, who quickly grows too fond of the girl. Flickering through a myriad of emotions, the blonde's evasive eyes articulate the unspoken desires and moral struggles. The accumulated suppressed emotions suggest a pre-incarnation of Kim Novak in "Vertigo" (1958).
Hitchcock's last silent, "Blackmail" was commissioned both as a silent and as the first talkie with music, with some dialogue scenes to be released simultaneously. A girl kills a rapist in self-defence and her boyfriend, a Scotland Yard detective, removes the evidence of her presence at the crime scene, thus opening himself to blackmail and setting off a chain of events leading to a death. Ever the visionary, Hitchcock surreptitiously filmed almost the entire feature in sound, turning technical obstacles into a visual spectacle that begins with an action-packed police operation, moves to a bewildering stroll along empty streets and later sees a frantic chase inside the British Museum, creating images borne out of the editing deck but residing in the realm of the imagination.
Film critics Thomas Shin, Matthew Cheng, William Cheung, Lau Yam, Mary Wong and Wong Ainling will share their views with the audience at post-screening talks at various screenings. The talks will be conducted in Cantonese and admission is free.
Tickets for "The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog", "Downhill" and "The Ring" are now available at URBTIX while tickets for other films will be available from October 3 onwards. Tickets are priced at $50. Half-price concessionary tickets are available for senior citizens aged 60 and above, people with disabilities and their minders, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance recipients. Credit card bookings can be made on 2111 5999, or on the Internet at www.urbtix.hk .
Detailed programme information can be found in "ProFolio 68", which is distributed at all performing venues of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. For enquiries, please call 2739 2139 or 2734 2900, or browse the webpage: www.lcsd.gov.hk/CE/CulturalService/filmprog/english/2011rt3/2011rt3_film.html .
Ends/Thursday, July 25, 2013
Issued at HKT 12:57
The film still from "The Lodger A Story of the London Fog" (1926).
The film still from "Downhill" (1927).
The film still of "The Ring" (1927).
The film still of "Champagne" (1928).
The film still from "The Manxman" (1929).
The film still of "Blackmail" (1929).