Friday, June 14, 2013

Blackmail (1929)

WHO: Alfred Hitchcock directed it.

WHAT: More frequently cited (including by Hitchcock himself) as his first talking picture than his last silent, it in fact was made in two versions during that technologically transitional period when "wired-for-sound" cinemas co-existed with those still committed to extending the silent film era for as long as movie-makers cooperated. (Hmmm... what does that remind me of?)

I haven't seen the sound version, actually, but I've seen the silent twice, and it's hard to imagine audible dialogue improving it. The story is, as Hitchcock himself allowed, somewhat simple (though diverting enough), but the moviemaking is just astonishing. Camera angles and movements still feel inventive to this day. Thanks to a new restoration (which I've been able to preview thanks to a screener DVD) there is more image clarity than ever. And it's the perfect introduction to Hitchcock's earliest period of movie-making, for anyone who hasn't experienced his pre-Man Who Knew Too Much work before.

WHERE/WHEN: Tonight at 8:00 at the Castro Theatre, and August 23rd at 7PM at the Pacific Film Archive.

WHY: Tonight's screening of Blackmail kicks off a full weekend devoted to the Hitchcock 9- new restorations of all nine of the surviving films made by the director before he turned thirty, and still had a lot to prove. Earlier this week I was able to interview Anita Monga, and I brought up the idea that silent moviemaking never left Hitchcock's bloodstream, and that the most iconic sequences in some of his most celebrated films (Vertigo, Psycho, Rear Window, Strangers On A Train, etc.) included no dialogue but only music, and perhaps sound effects (or screams).
Really, you can go home and turn off the sound to these films. Did you ever see [Emir Kusturica's] Arizona Dream with Vincent Gallo, Johnny Depp and Jerry Lewis of all people? There's a talent contest, and Vincent Gallo does, completely silent, completely devoid of any context, the Cary-Grant-running-from-the-crop-duster sequence from North By Northwest. I think that Kusturica was on to something. Hitchccock knew the power of cinema was about directing your attention, and the value of telling a story with images. He was very sparing with intertitles. There are hardly any intertitles in these movies. Just if something can't be expressed [visually]. 
If you want to hear more from Ms. Monga, I'll be posting more of her comments here in the next few days, or you can listen to Andrea Chase's podcast interview.

HOW: DCP presentations at both venues, with live musical accompaniment by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra tonight and by pianist Judith Rosenberg at the PFA in August.

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