Restored early Hitchcock films meet Turkish audience
Ian Haydn Smith was the Editor of The International Film Guide between 2007 and 2012“Istanbul Modern‘s Hitchcock9 season, which began last night with a gala screening of the director’s final film ‘Blackmail’, with music by Replikas, offers an incredible chance to see the entire output of the great British director’s silent work,” wrote Ian Haydn Smith, a London-based writer, journalist and the Editor of Curzon Magazine, for British Council Turkey’s blog last Friday.
The British Council has collaborated with Istanbul’s hip contemporary arts venue, Istanbul Modern, to bring to Turkey for the first time the nine silent films of arguably the greatest film director in history, Alfred Hitchcock. The films, dating back to the silent cinema era of 1920s and to the early British career of Hitchcock before he moved to Hollywood, have been restored by the British Film Institute (BFI) in an ambitious project.
The restoration project has been some quite complex and elaborate work of removal of decades of damage, improvement of the images, and inclusion of new shots. “The silent films were the purest form of cinema,” had said the “Master of Suspense,” a name given to him in Britain before he moved to the other side of the Atlantic in 1939 to global fame.
The nine films screened at Istanbul Modern under Hitchcock9 title until Nov. 17 include his directorial debut “The Pleasure Garden.” Others are “Blackmail”, “Champagne”, “Downhill”, “Easy Virtue”, “The Farmer’s Wife”, “The Manxman”, “The Ring”, as well as “The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog,” a film described by Hitchcock himself as “the first true Hitchcock movie.”
A ‘fantastic opportunity’ for cinephiles
Why did Hitchcock describe “The Lodger” as “the first true Hitchcock movie”? Haydn Smith, who is in Istanbul right now for a series of masterclasses and discussions on Hitchcock 9, answered the question for the Hürriyet Daily News. “It is classic Hitchcock in that it is a thriller and it displays so many of the themes that Hitchcock would return to throughout his career. There is also a level of visual invention that we have come to expect from Hitchcock.”
As for “what is so great about the Hitchcock9,” Haydn Smith said, “it is not just that we have the chance to see the two masterpieces of this period, ‘The Lodger’ and ‘Blackmail’, the way that they would have been seen when they were first released. Lesser films have been re-assessed and acknowledged as great. Films such as ‘The Ring’ and ‘The Manxman’.”
Ian Haydn Smith was the Editor of The International Film Guide between 2007 and 2012. He has also lectured on film and literature in various countries as a visiting guest of the British Council. Haydn Smith has also introduced a screening of “The Lodger” in Kiev, Ukraine. “Istanbul is one of the only places outside the UK that is screening all nine films,” said Haydn Smith. “That’s a fantastic opportunity for local audiences to see the films, whether they are accompanied by local musicians, John Sweeney from the UK, or with a pre-recorded score.”
The restoration project by the BFI also included a commissioning of a number of new score, where the acclaimed silent film accompanist Sweeney has performed during the screenings. Local artists have been included into the mix as the Hitchcock9 films have been traveling the world. Here, the Istanbul-based experimental rock band Replicas have played for last Thursday’s gala screening of “The Blackmail.”
Adding another layer with Replikas
Haydn Smith’s impressions on Replikas’s performance have been quite positive. “Like any great artist, the themes Hitchcock tackles are universal, speaking to us all, no matter what culture we come from,” said Haydn Smith. “When the British Council began promoting the films outside the UK it soon became clear that local musicians could add another layer to these films. That is exactly what Replikas did at the gala opening of the season when they accompanied the screening of Blackmail. Their improvised score embellished on the subtle nuances of both plot and tone, gradually building towards the thrilling climax.”
Any personal favorites among the Hitchcock9? “’The Ring’, for me, was a real surprise. However, ‘Blackmail’ still remains my favorite from this period.” “Blackmail” will also be screened in Ankara on Nov. 28 as the opening film of the Festival on Wheels, an old favorite among moviegoers that kicks off in Ankara, and later travels to different cities across Turkey. The screening, to be held in the State Art and Sculpture Museum and in collaboration with the British Council, will be accompanied by Hakan Ali Toker on the piano.
As for Ian Haydn Smith’s all-time favorite Hitchcock movie, “It changes every week,” he said. “There are obviously the great films – ‘Vertigo’, ‘Rear Window’, ‘Psycho’, ‘Shadow of a Doubt’, ‘Rebecca’, ‘Notorious’... The list goes on. But there are also the films I enjoy purely for the sheer entertainment of watching them.” “To Catch a Thief” is one of them. “Some critics write off that latter film as a popcorn movie – lacking the substance of his greatest work,” said Haydn Smith. “That may be so, but for popcorn it still has great taste.”
Haydn Smith reminded why Hitchcock9 is one of the most valuable projects on the history of cinema. “Hitchcock is one of the few filmmakers known throughout the cinemagoing world, but it tends to be his American work, from 1940 onwards, that most people know so well,” he said. “The pleasure of the Hitchcock9 film program is not only that it shines a light on his equally impressive British work, but it offers those watching the films an opportunity to see the development of a truly great filmmaker, from his very first film through to his last silent film ‘Blackmail’.” Here is your rare chance to catch a glimpse of an auteur-in-the-making.