Hitchcock 9, Part 2: Saturday

I spent most of yesterday at the Castro, watching the Hitchcock 9 festival of early, silent Alfred Hitchcock movies, all newly restored. Here’s what I saw:

B Champagne
With it’s ditzy heiress ingénue, romantic plot, broad humor, and class consciousness, this Hitchcock silent has all the ingredients of a screwball comedy except sparkling imagedialog. I won’t go into plot details, but the story goes from an ocean liner to Paris to a very wild nightclub. Betty Balfour is as bubbly as the title drink in the lead role. She’s rich, wild, and spoiled, but her love life and financial security teeter and tumble over the course of the story. A bit slow at times, it’s overall quite fun. But I couldn’t help wondering what Howard Hawks could have done with the story a decade later.

The restoration is okay, although a few odd edits didn’t match. That’s not surprising. According to the program, the only source available for the restoration was a second negative, intended essentially as a spare. Judith Rosenberg did a fine job on the piano, carrying the light story along.

D Downhill
This moralistic melodrama seems intent to teach us that it’s horrible to be irresistible imageto women, that people born wealthy should not have to work for a living, and that you shouldn’t marry someone who wants your money, especially if they’re smarter than you and has an ex hanging around. Overwrought and essentially pointless, Downhill is also dreary, obvious, humorless, and dull.

The print was great though (and I do mean print; this one was in 35mm). Tinted and occasionally toned, it was great to look at. Stephen Horne’s accompaniment on the piano, flute, and I’m not sure what else helped make this dull movie considerably less dull.

A- The Ring
This is the best of the nine so far. Neither a thriller, comedy, or melodrama, The Ring presents us with a love triangle in the world of boxing. Two boxers love the same woman, and she loves both of imagethem. Although our sympathies go mostly to the boxer who knew her first and is most committed to a relationship, both his rival and the girl are drawn sympathetically, as well. It’s a virtuoso work, filled with experimental use of the camera and editing table. Hitchcock shows us the after-effects of a knockout blow for the point of view of the victim, and a flirting wife viewed by her husband in a mirror down the hall. Much of the first half is set in a carnival, and there’s a nice sense of camaraderie between the characters.

The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra provided wonderful accompaniment, much of it sweepingly romantic. But when appropriate, it becomes full-ahead jazz. The restoration–presented digitally off a DCP–looked fantastic.

The Ring has an intermission. The Festival used that time (about six minutes) for a text-heavy slideshow. The first half discussed the importance of intermissions in silent films, primarily to allow the musicians to rest. (It also discussed other musician-friendly techniques, such as switching between orchestra and organ.) Then the slides told us about the score created by Mont Alto’s leader, Rodney Sauer. Much of it  came from tunes originally composed by Henry Hadley.

I opted to skip the last movie of the evening, The Manxman.  I’m also skipping the first two films tomorrow, and will only catch The Pleasure Garden and The Lodger.

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