Friday, June 14, 2013

Film concert Blackmail silent version, The Hitchcock 9 version (2012), music composed by Neil Brand (2008), played by Oulu Sinfonia, conducted by Timothy Brock

GB 1929. D: Alfred Hitchock. A BFI 35 mm print [The Hitchcock Nine, BFI 2012, 2K restoration, printed from DI to 35 mm] with e-subtitles in Finnish, viewed at Iso Teltta / The Big Top, Sodankylä (Midnight Sun Film Festival), 14 June 2013

In the presence of Neil Brand, introduced by Peter von Bagh.

The Festival Catalogue: "Blackmail (1929) was Hitchcock's second breakthrough film and thereby confirmed what his “right” and “chosen” genre was. At the same time it masterfully integrated some main elements from his earlier, non-criminological works into a functioning form that signified an understanding of the ambivalent basic nature of an “unambiguous” domain."
   "The original layout is a classical one, even Simenonian in its plainness: despite having a police for a boyfriend, a woman ends up flirting with an artist she has met at a café, things get out of hand, and the artist gets semi-accidentally stabbed in the twilight of his studio. A coincidental bystander witnesses the homicide committed by the woman and starts blackmailing her."
   "Hitchcock's enduring obsession, the topic of “the wrong man” is an exceptionally ambiguous theme in this film. The police start chasing an innocent, yet otherwise dubious male character despite the fact that the actual murderer is the detective's girlfriend. The detective knows this all too well but at the same time allows his colleagues to chase the blackmailer and scapegoat straight to his death."
   "What is present at the very beginning with almost a documentary thoroughness is the sense of teasing that always interested Hitchcock. Picking someone up at a restaurant, flirting, mutual participation (the director clearly shows male chauvinist compassion: the man is entitled to his putt!), climbing up stairs (which later become a similar skeleton of guilt and an abstract summary as in Vertigo), and the geometry of human relations: this and only this is how it is supposed to happen."
   "The minute details and trivial settings are counterbalanced for the first time by a national monument, the British Museum, or as Raymond Durgnat put it, “an arcanum of timelessness, omniscience, and eternity - an absolute”. In view of the beginning of the film as well as its basic theme, this is the only proper culmination, as the institution is a greater embodiment of the fiction that man has constructed in order to hide his own limitations and moral volatility from himself as well as his fellow human beings."
   "The “execution” itself is like a scientific discovery that has the same kind of coldness as a fighter pilot's performance or Harry Lime's observations. In the final, comic elaboration with the ironic use of a public building, the sorry excuse for a human being - the small-time blackmailer and son of the streets - finds himself in the midst of the props of civilisation probably for the first time in his life."
   "In this sense, all subsequent similar sequences have been more abstract by nature. Hitchcock's vision personifies the humour of the situation - and the maximal unreasonableness of all human activity, in which the true culprits are always somewhere else."
(Peter von Bagh)

I had seen Blackmail the silent version with the magnificent score by Neil Brand in its premiere screening in Bologna (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2008).

In 2008 the Orchestra del Teatro Comunale played the score at the strength of 56 players. Now the Oulu Sinfonia interpreted it at a strength of 15 players. It still sounded great - and unique due to the Sodankylä Big Top experience. It was raining outside, but the screen was shining inside. Admittedly, the score is even more magnificent at the full strength of a big orchestra.

In 2008 the print of Blackmail the silent version was still the familiar all-photochemical one. Here I got to see for the first time the celebrated The Hitchcock Nine version (BFI 2012), digitally restored in 2K, and shown here in a 35 mm film print struck from the digital intermediate. The quality looked superb. The circumstances in the Big Top are not ideal for visual quality due to the orchestra lights, but the total experience more than compensates.

Blackmail has always looked good, and now it looks even better.

The true Hitchcock music sound started first in 1940 in Hollywood in Rebecca, after Hitchcock had already directed 24 films. David O. Selznick had to push Hitchcock into a full-blooded musical mood. Hitchcock still had misgivings about romantic emphases in movies... But probably Hitch liked Franz Waxman's work in Rebecca since they collaborated four times. Dimitri Tiomkin, Alfred Newman, Frank Skinner, Miklos Rozsa, Roy Webb, Richard Addinsell, Leighton Lucas, Bernard Herrmann, John Addison, Maurice Jarre, Ron Goodwin, and John Williams were composers with whom Hitchcock collaborated later, all good, but the best-known is deservedly Herrmann able to reach both Wagnerian depths in Vertigo and contemporary minimalism in Psycho.

It is a formidable bunch who created the Hitchcock sound, but Neil Brand rises to the challenge in this imaginative Blackmail score. It is very good music for this movie for someone who has never seen a Hitchcock film before, and it is also a fascinating reflection on the Hitchcockian music legacy for those who know their Hitchcock well. There are some quick coups d'œil: the famous Charles Gounod theme adapted to Alfred Hitchcock Presents when Hitchcock himself appears in the subway, harassed by the little rascal boy and some Herrmannian strings when Alice (Anny Ondra, the first true Hitchcock blonde) grabs a big kitchen knife to protect herself from the artist who has invited her to his studio and soon tries to have his way with her.

My only complaint: the Neil Brand score should also be available on the soundtrack of The Hitchcock Nine DCP's and prints of Blackmail, and it should be released on dvd.

The movie itself remains haunting and efficient. Alice has killed the artist in self-defense. Even today women cannot trust in justice in cases of sexual violence, much less then. Alice did what she had to to protect herself. In the movie-viewer's opinion she is guilty only of a minor thing: she had booked a double date both with her policeman boyfriend Frank and the artist.

But Alice is a woman with a conscience. She would want to confess, but Frank prevents it, and a blackmailer who falls to his death in British Museum becomes the culprit.

Blackmail is already an essential Hitchcock movie because of its sense of ambivalence and its unresolved sense of guilt.

The visual quality: this restoration looks great.

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