If you're an Alfred Hitchcock fan, as I am, perhaps you remember the distinctive way this auteur of murder and suspense would start his weekly television show. Nobody said that mundane greeting quite the way Hitchcock did.
On Thursday evenings all through the rest of February and March, Film Streams is bringing fans like me a treat: The Hitchcock 9, a series of nine surviving silent movies he directed between 1926 and 1929.
The series is significant for at least three reasons.
The first is the importance of film preservation. The British Film Institute's National Archive used elements of the movies borrowed from seven international archives to restore sharpness of image, intertitles and tinting. New shots were discovered in the process, adding to the historical record of these movies.
The most fun reason is that Film Streams has hired musicians to accompany eight of the nine silents with live scores. Film Streams director Rachel Jacobson says audience surveys consistently point to silent-film screenings accompanied by live music as a favorite attraction for the nonprofit art-house theater. Donald Sosin, internationally renowned as a silent film musician, will play for a double feature of “Champagne” and “The Pleasure Garden” on March 6.
The third reason is that these early films from a truly great director add to the understanding of his later work. The St. James Film Directors Encyclopedia notes that, through Hitchcock's early British films, we can trace the evolution of his professional image, his style and the recurring themes that mature in his later work.
“His third film (and first big commercial success), 'The Lodger,' was crucial in establishing him as a maker of thrillers,” the book notes.
If you see these silents, you'll find the roots of Hitchcock themes such as the wrongly accused man being chased by the law as he pursues the real criminals. It's familiar to many from movies such as “The 39 Steps,” “Saboteur,” “Spellbound,” “To Catch a Thief,” “The Wrong Man” and “North by Northwest.” But it appears already in “The Lodger” (1926).
Similarly, the guilty woman recurs in familiar titles like “Rebecca,” “Notorious,” “Vertigo,” “Psycho” and “The Birds.” But the original Hitchcock use of this device is in “Blackmail” (1929).
You'll find Hitch's obsession with beautiful young women as early as “The Pleasure Garden” (1926). That movie is also the first time he depicts a woman who, like Rebecca, marries a man she doesn't really know. He plays with point of view in “Easy Virtue” (1927), something he often did in later works. The foibles of the filthy rich, a long-term Hitchcock fascination, bubble up in “Champagne” (1928). His use of long takes, most famous in “Rope” and “Rear Window,” traces back to “The Farmer's Wife” (1928).
Here's a quick summary of the Hitchcock 9, with dates, times and musicians for each screening.
“Downhill” (1927), 7 p.m. Thursday. Recorded soundtrack. A privileged young man (Ivor Novello) descends into depravity after taking the blame for a friend's misdeeds.
“The Farmer's Wife” (1929), 7 p.m. Feb. 20. A rare Hitchcock romantic comedy in which a widower draws up a list of potential wives and sets out to court them — to disastrous results. Dan McCarthy performs the soundtrack with James Maakestad.
“Easy Virtue” (1927), 7 p.m. Feb. 27. An innocent woman accused of adultery finds that no one believes her. Based on a Noel Coward play. Music by Ben Brodin.
“Champagne” (1928) and “The Pleasure Garden” (1926), double feature March 6 starting at 6 p.m. In “Champagne,” a wealthy distrusting father tests his daughter (Betty Balfour) and her fiance by feigning bankruptcy. “The Pleasure Garden,” Hitchcock's first film as director, focuses on continental decadence. Live soundtracks by Donald Sosin.
“Blackmail” (1929), 7 p.m. March 13. One of the last great British films from the silent era, it includes attempted rape, murder and blackmail. A talkie version of this one was also made. Musical accompaniment by Joe Knapp, Jim Schroeder, Luke Polipnick and classically trained soprano Amanda deBoer Bartlett.
“The Ring” (1927), 7 p.m. March 20. Hitchcock's only original screenplay is melodrama set in the world of boxing, where two men are rivals for the same woman. Music by guitarist Alex McManus and percussionist/keyboard player Aaron Markey.
“The Lodger” (1926), 7 p.m. March 27. A killer is stalking blondes in foggy London. A shifty newcomer (Ivor Novello) draws attention. The director himself called this “the first true Hitchcock movie.” Music by the Ghosts Collective (Simon Joyner, Michael Krassner, Megan Siebe, Mike Friedman and Kevin Donahue).
“The Manxman” (1929), 7 p.m. April 3. Two friends — one who left his remote fishing village to find his fortune, and one who stayed — vie for the same woman. Music by the Ted Stevens Unknown Project (Ted Stevens, Lincoln Dickison, Ian Aeillo and David Ozinga).