19 August 2013

Having a Wonderful Time Wish You Were Here -- Hitchcock Silents and I at the PFA

I was in line Friday at the Pacific Film Archive's for Alfred Hitchcock's The Lodger (1927). Surrounding me were other film goers. Most of whmo looked as though they were part of the cast for a Grapes of Wrath remake. One that would feature dozens of Ma and Pa Joads. I live in Berkeley California where informal attire has morphed into slovenliness. I've seen gents (that's stretching a word) at fancy restaurants wearing a Pendleton over tee shirt old jeans and sandals sans socks. It's not a generational thing either. These are often old geezers who look like they just finished gardening and couldn't be bothered changing for going out on the town. Some of my fellow film goers looked like they had spent upwards of $5 on a haircut -- once. A long long time ago.  Most appeared not to have taken exercise since the Eisenhower administration. On the plus side they were a group who clearly had good taste in film and were probably all peace loving community minded citizens as many of my fellow Berkeleyans in fact are. I've never been anything but proud of Berkeley even if you have a deuce of a time distinguishing the homeless from the city elders.

As I said at the beginning of my digression I was queuing for a Hitchcock film. This was night one of nine in which the newly restored Hitchcock silents are being shown. They of course represent the great director's earliest work are all but two of the silent films that he directed. They've been available for sometime but in pretty shabby condition indeed. The British Film Institute led the restoration of these films a couple of years ago and they've been making the rounds of important cinematic venues around the world for over a year. I've been anxiously awaiting their arrival here having never seen a one of them.

So over the weekend I saw the first third of the films (alas I will miss the very last one on 31 August owing to a prior commitment at the football stadium just blocks away from the PFA). The Lodger is probably the best known of the the Hitchcock silents and for me the most eagerly anticipated. It did not disappoint. Ivor Novello starred as the mysterious lodger who fit the description of the murderer preying on young blondes in foggy London town. Novello was a very very famous British entertainer of the period much lesser known in the US and today mostly known as a fictionalized character in Robert Altman's Gosford Park (2001). He was a singer/songwriter/actor who even a straight man would have to readily acknowledge was incredibly handsome. Novello himself was not straight and was in a 35 year relationship with another man at the time of his death. He is perfect in The Lodger which is a very good film that turns into a brilliant one by virtue of a twist that I wouldn't dare reveal.

You may have heard that Hitchcock is known as the master of suspense (and if you haven't heard that I've got to wonder about you). It's interesting to see how soon in his career this mastery was evident. The Lodger is a suspense film a love story a mystery and -- as was typical of Hitch -- a bit of a comedy.
Hopefully you'll get a chance to see it on the big screen. If not I would suspect it's newly spiffed up self will be coming out on DVD in due time.

Saturday nights' showing was The Ring (1927) and no this was not the ring of recent horror films it refers to the "squared circle" where pugilists bash away at one another. Yes a boxing film from Hitchcock but more than that a love story -- of the triangular kind. The three principals are a reigning boxing champ a would be champ and the girl that they both love and who -- despite marrying one -- loves both the big lugs. The climactic scene is predicable but artfully done. Hitch proved nothing if not that he was a versatile director. I thought that The Ring dragged at times as the great director hadn't developed the wonderful economy in shooting scenes that marked the majority of his work. While a few scenes took a bit too long the movie itself was a good one and if it dealt in a cliche or two at least Hitch handled them artfully.

The weekend concluded with The Farmer's Wife (1928) which was darn near a straight up comedy. The story concerns a widower who after marrying off his daughter decides to get himself a wife. He even sits down with his housekeeper and composes a list of candidates. The farmer (Jameson Thomas) takes the approach that he will just walk in and ask each prospective bride until one says yes. This he attempts with hilarious consequences. Well maybe not quite hilarious but there are some very funny moments in The Farmer's Wife as this mule headed temperamental man lumbers his way through courtship. A wonderful supporting cast help make for a delightful romp. This is lighter Hitchcock fare but again displays his many talents and his growing comfort with using the camera as a key component in story construction.

I've got five more Hitch silents to go and I can't wait. If time permits I'll write about them -- sans digressions on my sartorially challenged fellow film goers.

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