The "Hitchcock 9" festival organised by British Council Russia and hosted by Strelka Institute opens on 1st August. For 9 days the open-air cinema in the yard of the Institute will be screening films from the silent period of the famous British-American director epitomized with the thriller genre, Alfred Hitchcock. There's an element of intrigue to the festival: all of the films will be shown in Russia for the very first time. Our blog found out which movies made the programme and why no one has ever seen them before.
Why "Hitchcock 9"?
9 films from Hitchcock’s silent period were recently discovered and restored with the help of the latest digital technology by the specialists at the British Film Institute after being considered lost for many decades. The fate of the 10th film from that period still remains unresolved. Archivists Kieron Webb, Bryony Dixon and a big team of BFI specialists searched for copies of the lost films in archives all around the world. Unfortunately, each found copy had some kind of a defect: either it contained only a fragment of the film, or it was too damaged, or it lost colour and the special effects that were usually applied in 1920s cinema. There were also copies that had some of the characters cut out, so the restoration team had to look for them separately in private collections. The main goal was to establish what the original version looked like and to restore the film as close to that as possible. The team worked with kilometres of film examining and restoring each shot.
The programme of the festival will include a series of lectures and workshops with British and Russian experts who will be talking about Alfred Hitchcock and his influence on cinema, and specifically about silent cinema and working with film archives.
1 August "The Ring" (1927)
"The Ring" is the only film in Hitchcock's career written by the director himself: he was known to be an avid boxing fan. The plot is based on a love triangle between a fairground fighter, his lover and a rival professional boxer. While making this movie, Hitchcock was already using some of his trademark effects, such as image distortion, that will re-appear in his later films.
The screening of "The Ring" will be accompanied by a live performance of the famous British alto-saxophonist and hip-hop artist Soweto Kinch and a jazz ensemble. The festival opening and the first screening will be an invitation-only event but an online streaming will be available via strelka.com website. Some of the lectures will be also available for streaming on britishcouncil.ru.
2 August "Champagne" (1928)
The screening will be preluded by a lecture "Restoring Hitchcock 9" given by Robin Baker who is head curator at BFI National Archive. Baker will be talking about the complex restoration process and the significance of the early Hitchcock films.
"Champagne" is a witty comedy in which the bubbly drink plays one of the major roles. The story revolves around a rich father who is in conflict with his imprudent, money-spending daughter. Even though the initial script didn't involve much experimentation, Hitchcock couldn't resist including some cinematic tricks like the «seasickness effect» and a scene shot through a champagne glass.
"Champagne" presented the BFI team with the most difficult task in terms of restoration. Despite discovering one of the original copies of the film, the specialists soon realized that it was only a draft version specifically preserved in case the final one was lost. The only surviving copy of the film, it contains some very clumsy editing, framing errors and bad acting which means that the film can never be restored in its full glory.
3 August "The Manxman" (1929)
Before the screening of "The Manxman" the audiences will be treated to a lecture entitled «Alfred Hitchcock: His Life and Films» delivered by British film critic and radio host, the editor of Curzon Magazine, Ian Haydn Smith.
"The Manxman" is the last of Hitchcock's silent films and is considered to be the best of his early works. The film is based on a novel by Hall Caine: the paths of two childhood friends, who grew up together in the same village, intersect years later when they fall in love with the same woman. The emotional film becomes a metaphor for the rigid puritanical society.
4 August "The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog" (1926)
The director himself called this work the "first true Hitchcock" film and the Bioscope journal declared it "the finest British production ever made".
A serial killer is wandering the foggy streets of London: who is this mysterious man? The audience is kept in suspense for the whole duration of the film. This is the first of Hitchcock's thrillers and the first feature to bring him fortune and fame. The film is an adaptation of Marie Belloc Lowndes best-selling novel "The Lodger" based on the Jack the Ripper stories. Interestingly, this is one of the first films to feature a cameo appearance from the director himself.
The surviving nitrate prints used for the restoration provided good quality material, but the process of digitally editing the image to imitate the tinting and toning used by Hitchcock for dramatic effect proved to be quite time-consuming for the BFI specialists.
5 August "The Pleasure Garden" (1926)
The film will be introduced by Charles Barr, a writer and British cinema expert, who will deliver a lecture entitled "Alfred Hitchcock: Untold Stories" spanning 5 years in the early period of Hitchcock's career before he became a film director.
"The Pleasure Garden" was young director's debut released when Hitchcock was just 25 years old. Despite being the first of Hitchcock's features, the film already showcases some of the bright and memorable symbols that will be later popularized in world cinema. It manages to portray both the deep feeling of loneliness and a sense of inevitability in the lives of the main characters and the wider cultural landscape of the epoque.
The fragments of the film were discovered by the BFI specialists in the UK, the Netherlands, France and the US. After months of studying and comparing different copies, the archivists managed to restore the film literally trace by trace.
6 August "The Farmer's Wife" (1928)
The 6th day of the festival will start with a public talk "Fashion and cinema in the roaring 1920s". It is a well-known fact that women always held a special place in Hitchcock's movies. British cinema expert Ian Smith, fashion historian Megan Virtanen and curator of Campus Generation at Kinotavr film festival Anna Gudkova will be discussing the role of clothes, make up and fashion in the works of the great filmmaker.
"The Farmer's Wife" is a romantic comedy that tells the story of a widowed farmer who is desperately searching for a new wife. Although Hitchcock himself renounced this film as insignificant, it is a cinematic work embedded with deep meaning. The director showed the social realities of the 1920s and portrayed a character overcoming his self-confidence. The comedy is based on a play by Eden Philpotts.
7 August "Blackmail" (1929)
The film of the day will be introduced by a public talk between Russian and British film critics, writers, historians and cinema experts, dedicated to Hitchcock's influence on cinema in general and on the thriller genre in particular.
"The Blackmail" is often considered a groundbreaking film in the thriller genre. It was released in 1929 – the very advent of sound cinema. Hitchcock made both a silent and a sound version, and the latter showcases a lot of his trademark touches. Nevertheless, Hitchcock cared a lot about the fate of silent pictures, considering them the «the purest form of cinema» in which the suspense is created by visual means only without the unnecessary sound effects.
8 August "Easy Virtue" (1928)
Before the screening Ian Haydn Smith will read a lecture «Hitchcock, Suspense and Style» dedicated to the artistic and psychological techniques employed by the famous director. "Easy Virtue" is based on a famous Noёl Coward play and is considered one of the most interesting films from Hitchcock’s early period.
The copy was discovered in very bad quality and the experts at BFI spent months digitally restoring it. The plot revolves around a young woman who is forced to become an outsider after being wrongly accused of frivolity.
Hitchcock shows his mastery to the fullest with the grand opening scene that takes place in a court and tells the viewer about the events that took place earlier. The use of non-linear narrative is another brilliant example of the possibilities of cinema.
9 August "Downhill" (1927)
The 9-day festival will come to an end with a screening of "Downhill" accompanied by a musical score composed by beatboxer, conductor and musician Shlomo. The last day of the festival will be invitation-only, but the film will be streamed live online. «Downhill» is based on one of Hitchcock's most favourite plotlines - the story of the 'wrong man'.