The SF Silent Film Festival presented all the (surviving) silent films Hitchcock made--all 9 of them--over the weekend at the beautiful Castro Theatre. I'm cheating on Docfest to see them. If you missed them, I'm sorry I didn't get this posted sooner. But there is a second chance, at the PFA in August.
Friday was one movie, Hitchcock's final silent, BLACKMAIL (1929.) Silent Film Festival Artistic Director Anita Monga assured us that when we see his first (credited) turn in the director's chair with PLEASURE GARDEN (1925) we'll see that he was a master from the beginning. For now, I can tell you that he was a master by 1929. Hitchcock, like many others, bemoaned how talkies led to a decline in visual storytelling, and BLACKMAIL visually is a master class on montage. From the very start with a sequence showing the cops tracking down and arresting a career criminal, we see a fluidity and inventiveness that's rare in cinema from any generation. Narrative-wise, that sequence serves to introduce our protagonist cop, who then goes out on the town with his best gal, where we learn (but he doesn't, in a very funny scene) that she has another fella on the side. Like in many Hitchcock films, the men are helpless in their desire for the female, and the masculine action is actually moved along by feminine wiles. I'll avoid spoiling too much by revealing who ends up blackmailing whom over what (in fact, it changes) but I will say it culminates in an exciting chase through the British Museum, which features some pretty seamless trick shots (look up the Shüfftan process for some delicious cine-geekitude.)
And oh yeah, if you play the spot-the-Hithcock-cameo game, he makes it way too easy, he's on screen for several seconds as a passenger on a train being pestered by a kid. He made his cameos briefer in his later films.)
And finally, lest I forget, silent films rely on the work of their musical accompaniment, and the Mont Alto Orchestra did a perfect job of it. I don't know if it was their own composition or the original score, but there was something about it that just felt Hitchcockian.
And that was Friday. Now I'm looking forward to a full weekend of silent Hitchcock at the Castro.
Running Time: 75 minutes
My Total Minutes: 330,726