Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Pleasure Garden (The Hitchcock 9) (BFI National Archive 2012 Restoration)

Il giardino del piacere. DE/GB © 1925 Münchener Lichtspielkunst. D: Alfred Hitchcock. Dal romanzo omonimo di Oliver Sandys. SC: Eliot Stannard. DP: Baron Ventimiglia. AD: Ludwig Reiber. Ass. D: Alma Reville. C: Virginia Valli (Patsy Brand), Carmelita Geraghty (Jill Cheyne), Miles Mander (Levet), John Stuart (Hugh Fielding), Frederic K. Martini (Mr Sidey), Florence Helminger (Mrs Sidey), George Snell (Oscar Hamilton), C. Falkenburg (principe Ivan). P: Erich Pommer, Michael Balcon per Gainsborough Pictures, Emelka. 35 mm. 2076 m. 92’ a 20 f/s. Tinted. English intertitles.
    Accompagnamento al piano di Donald Sosin. E-subtitles in Italian. Da: BFI National Archive per concessione di Park Circus. Cinema Jolly (Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna), 29 June 2013
    Restored by BFI National Archive in association with ITV Studios Global Entertainment and Park Circus Films. Preservation funded by The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, The Film Foundation, Matt Spick con Deluxe 142

Bryony Dixon: "The 25 year old Alfred Hitchcock had done nearly every job on the studio floor by the time he was given his first directing job by the Gainsborough studio boss Michael Balcon he had designed titles, written scripts, art directed and had been assistant director to the studio’s most successful director, Graham Cutts. His first assignment was an adaptation of the bestselling 1923 novel by Oliver Sandys, the pseudonym of Marguerite Florence Barclay. The fates of two chorus girls fall into sharp relief Jill, the schemer, finds success, and Patsy, the good hearted girl, is betrayed by her unscrupulous husband. Hitchcock’s confident filmmaking style is evident from the first frame, with a cascade of chorus girls’ legs tripping down a spiral staircase, but it is his ability to condense the story and then to weave in extra layers of meaning that is truly impressive. The Pleasure Garden is a conventional enough story of the period as Hitchcock conceded: “Melodramatic. But there were several interesting scenes in it”. He may not have cared much for the subject matter but he certainly gave it an extra dimension. The Pleasure Garden is a treatise on voyeurism, sexual politics and the gap between romantic dreams and reality. Hitchcock uses the minor characters to comment on the principals, to contrast the behaviour of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ characters through the use of parallel action. The shot of the casually discarded apple, one bite taken from it, effectively symbolises Patsy’s husband’s disregard for her on their wedding night, and hints at his future conduct. It also fits into a scheme of visual images of ‘natural’ elements, such as fruit and flowers, that Hitchcock uses to express the Patsy’s character. Reintroduced by the restoration, these little flourishes and Hitchcock ‘touches’ reveal how much of his talent was present in his very first film as director."

"It was presumably this kind of artiness that C.M. Woolf, one of the partners in the early Gainsborough enterprise, took against and he postponed the release of the film for over a year. The reaction from other quarters was much more positive. “The Daily Express” in their review of The Pleasure Garden saw the cleverness that we see now and dubbed Hitchcock the “Young Man With a Master Mind”. His career was launched."

"More than any other of Hitchcock's silent films, The Pleasure Garden has been transformed by restoration. An international search for material revealed copies held in France, the Netherlands, the United States as well as the BFI National Archive. It was thought for many years that The Pleasure Garden had circulated, in what appeared to be two versions, perhaps representing two different releases but close comparison of the five copies, four of them original nitrate prints, meant that they could all be traced back to the same negative. Major narrative strands and twists have now been reintegrated making it possible to reconstruct, as fully as possible, the original edit and using the best of these sources we have been able to achieve a huge improvement in image quality." Bryony Dixon

AA: It's been 25 years since I last saw The Pleasure Garden, and I cannot really compare the new reconstruction to the print that was available in the 1980s. But the film certainly looked different this time. It is now also a deeper and richer affair.

Hitchcock affection towards the world of show business is evident in the backstage and rehearsal scenes of this movie. The audition and rehearsal sequence is the funniest in the movie.

Already in this film religion is a serious matter for Hitchcock. Patsy (Virginia Valli) has a habit of reading her evening prayer before going to bed. Also during her honeymoon she prays in front of a statue of Christ. Faith helps Patsy in her ordeal with her treacherous husband Levet (Miles Mander). Concepts of grace and salvation are relevant here. Rohmer and Chabrol were on the right track in their pioneering study on Hitchcock.

In the opening sequence we already have Vertigo (the spiral staircase) and Rear Window (the voyeurist with the binoculars). We also have a woman returning the look. The Pleasure Garden is already very consciously about the look and insight. Patsy and Hugh (John Stuart) are at first deceived by the surfaces of Mr. Levet and Jill Cheyne (Carmelita Geraghty) respectively. The drama is about their eyes being opened.

Perhaps Hitchcock had seen Stroheim's The Merry Widow which had just been released? In the Italian honeymoon sequence there is an interesting span of feeling from the holy to the profane. For Patsy the honeymoon is a holy experience, but Levet is already getting bored ("after you get what you want you don't want it"). The apple remains only partly bitten, and Levet throws the special rose into the water ("it's faded now"). Patsy is delighted when she meets children; Levet chases them away, thinking Patsy is "sloppy with those filthy brats". Viaggio in Italia! On board the ship to the Tropics Levet is already casting an eye to another woman while Patsy is still at the port waving goodbye.

The tragic climax of the film is the murder scene: the delirious Levet drowns his native mistress (uncredited in the film!) who has already waded into the sea and is delighted to see Levet whom she believes has arrived to rescue her.

There are many instances of striking cinematography by Baron Ventimiglia in the movie, especially the Lake Como sequence shot on location.

The visual quality of the restoration: the definition of light is beautiful, as are the tinting and the toning. It is a top job of reconstruction. The digital restoration has been conducted in a 2K resolution. It would be interesting to see a 4K restoration for perhaps even more fine detail in the images.

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