Wednesday 02 March 2016

Over the course of half a century, Alfred Hitchcock directed 53 features. A number of them are ranked amongst the greatest films ever made. But 40 years after the release of his final film, Family Plot (1976), is Hitchcock still as influential a figure in film? The answer to that question lies in the recent re-release of nine silent films the director made between 1925 and 1929.

Hitchcock’s career began in London. He made 23 features in the UK before leaving for Hollywood in 1939 to direct Rebecca (1940). His British films are a mix of different styles, from comedy to drama. They also saw his emergence as one of – if not the – greatest director of suspense. Among these early films are the masterpieces The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1926), Blackmail (1929), The 39-Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938). All thrillers, they revealed a director hugely influenced by a variety of film styles – from classical Hollywood and German Expressionism to the radical Soviet filmmakers of the 1920s. These films also cemented his position as a creative force who pushed cinematic invention to new heights.

Today, there are so many elements of film that we accept as part of the cinematic language that were either invented, developed or perfected by Hitchcock. Not just in terms of a visual language either, although he was the director who said “show, don’t tell” and emphasized the importance of conveying plot, character and mood visually, rather than burdening an audience with unnecessary exposition. The musicality of Hitchcock’s style is present in so much of his work, so it’s not surprising that many of his most memorable and acclaimed films featured his collaboration with Bernard Hermann. He composed the scores for nine of Hitchcock’s films, including Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963). However, beyond these memorable scores, there was always a musicality to the way Hitchcock constructed his films. Even before the coming of sound.

Hitchcock directed ten silent films. One of them, his second feature The Mountain Eagle (1926), remains lost. But the remaining nine have been gloriously restored. These films have travelled around the world over the last few years and in each country local musicians have provided original scores to accompany them. It might have been a recipe for disaster, but instead it has offered a different perspective on each film with every new musical encounter. Hitchcock’s themes, from jealousy and desire, to repression and self-expression, are universal. The musician’s role is to explore these themes and to provide audiences with a journey into each film’s world. In the case of Hitchcock’s ninth feature The Manxman (1929), which receives its Jamaican premiere at Carib 5 Cinema on 13th March, the encounter between British director and Jamaican band seems a perfect match.

The Manxman remains one of the few Hitchcock films to take place entirely outside a city environment. A love triangle, it is set in a fishing village on the Isle of Man, an island off the British coast. It might not be a thriller, but there is certainly a lot of suspense in what happens, but its uniqueness in terms of storyline offers musicians the opportunity to offer something different, or new, to accompany the action. And could there be a more perfect suit for a screening in Jamaica of a Hitchcock film. After all, what better environment to show an island film than on another island. It’s something even Hitchcock might have been thrilled by. The Manxman will screen at 05:00pm on 13 March at Carib 5 Cinema, Crossroads. Invite Only.