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Review: The Hitchcock 9 Moves to LACMA UPDATE

Photo of Meredith Brody By Meredith Brody | Thompson on Hollywood June 26, 2013 at 5:03PM

The carefully-orchestrated release of Alfred Hitchcock's nine surviving silent films, freshly restored by the British Film Institute National Archive, is burnishing his already polished reputation. Cinephiles around the world are gathering to watch the movies, made between 1925 and 1929, in venues from coast to coast. The first United States performances were held in San Francisco under the auspices of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, at the venerable 1922 movie palace the Castro, on June 14, 15, and 16th. Following the Silent Film Festival's most excellent tradition, the movies were shown with live musical accompaniment, ranging from solo piano to the five-member Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

The exquisitely tinted and toned "Downhill" (1927) is based on a play by its popular leading man Ivor Novello, another, more sordid riches-to-rags story, of a public-school lad whose life is ruined when  when he is falsely accused by a predatory shopgirl of impregnating her and his honor will not allow him to name the true father. The brilliant word-traveling British-based musician Stephen Horne created a fluid, vivid score that featured him on accordion, flute, and glockenspiel in addition to the piano (which he uses as a percussion instrument as well).

"The Ring" (1927), Hitchcock's third film that year (after "Downhill" and "Easy Virtue") is the filmmaker's sole original screenplay credit (he frequently worked with other writers, notably the unsung Eliot Stannard, credited on all the other Hitchcock silents).  It's a triangle love story in a boxing setting, in which Lillian Hall-Davis is torn between her husband, the hunky Danish star Carl Brisson, and fellow boxer Ian Hunter.  An intermission was created midway through the film, in order to allow the hard-working Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra a breather, during which witty slides informed the audience just how the Orchestra had assembled its score from period silent film music, including creating leitmotifs and themes for the main characters.  

Informative and amusing slideshows in-between its screenings, for the stalwarts who remain in their seats all day long, are a beloved feature of the elegantly-produced San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Other nice touches are beautifully illustrated and edited free keepsake program books, and tempting books on sale, this time a all-Hitchcock array, including such specialist titles as "Hitchcock and Philosophy: Dial M for Metaphysics," and a $39.95 paperback entitled "Alfred Hitchcock's Silent Films." Somehow I managed to keep my credit card in my wallet.

The final film of the day was the rarely-seen "The Manxman" (1929), another love triangle featuring the riveting Carl Brisson, who the early Hitchcock blonde Anny Ondra bizarrely dumps in favor of the rather lumpy Malcolm Keen (but the heart has its reasons).  Its strong suit is its gorgeous (and gorgeously photographed) natural settings -- supposedly the Isle of Man, but actually shot in Cornwall. Stephen Horne composed an original score for five musicians (including violin, oboe, and percussion), but in the event, Anita Monga gaily told us, her budget permitted her to employ only two -- so Horne played the piano, accordion, and flute, and harpist Diana Rowan played the Celtic harp.

After such an exhilarating day of movies, it was a wrench not to be able to return for Sunday's equally alluring lineup of "The Farmer's Wife," "Easy Virtue," "The Pleasure Garden," and "The Lodger," but I was somewhat mollified by the fact that I can catch up with them at the Pacific Film Archive's August presentations -- not to mention eventually acquire the boxed set of the Hitchcock 9, with different musical accompaniment, when the BFI makes it available.

And there's also the main presentation of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival to look forward to next month, from July 18 to 21st, also at the Castro Theatre, featuring an eclectic program of more than a dozen films, including Louise Brooks in "Prix de Beaute," Ozu's "Tokyo Chorus," Feyder's "Gribiche," Pabst's "Joyless Street," and Harold Lloyd in "Safety Last."

This article is related to: Reviews, Hitchcock, Alfred Hitchcock, Festivals

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.