The Ring [1927)

In the movies.  What happens?  Life is lived for us.  We live vicariously.  And so, does this art/entertainment mirror life?  Yes and no.  It is a continuum.

With Alfred Hitchcock we know to expect the unexpected.  His career was built on bold stories and breakthrough storytelling.  Yet, this is a silent film.  1927.  Early Hitchcock.

This was not the mature filmmaker who would subvert expectations to thrill audiences by sneaking up on them.  This is a much more traditional film.

Indeed, it is (believe it or not) a sports film.  The sport?  Boxing.  Hence the title.  But Hitchcock was ever the astute bringer of details so we might well expect that the title will have, at the least, a double meaning.

What is truly Hitchcockean is the psychological thriller aspect of this film.  This is mostly embodied in the character of “One Round” Jack Sanders (Carl Brisson).

The plot then is driven by motives of redemption, revenge (of a sort), and vindication.  It would make sense that a sporting story should have as its ostensible goal a victory for the hero.

It should be noted that, despite the relatively mundane silent film trappings, this is actually an incredibly odd story.  The elevator pitch would go something like this…boxer’s wife obsessed with another boxer.  Yes, obsessed.  Like, pictures on the piano…staring dreamily at glossy portraits.  A very weird premise.  You’ll have to see the film to know just how Lillian Hall-Davis becomes enthralled with Bob Corby (Ian Hunter).  It should also be noted that Hitchcock (or some clueless front-office dork) managed to credit Lillian Hall-Davis as playing the character of (wait for it) Lillian Hall-Davis.

It is a weird birth-of-film aspect.  In fact, the copy of the film I have is off center to the left…such that the character names at the beginning of the film (not what we are used to nowadays with end credits) are cut off by the encroaching margin of a misaligned aspect ratio.  But the point is that when Ms. Hall-Davis makes her entrance in the film, there is an intertitle (and it was this to which I referred) which explicitly says “The Girl” and lower “Lillian Hall-Davis.”  It is as if Brecht (or Artaud) somehow got a hold of the film and decided to engage in a bit of narrative fuckery.

As for Ian Hunter (who actually has a full character name:  Bob Corby), we must remember the date (1927) and do our best to put Mott the Hoople out of our heads.  Likewise, I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t mention the immense talents of Gordon Harker (who plays Jack’s trainer).

While this film seems hundred of years removed from North by Northwest (for example), it is another integral glimpse into the mind of perhaps the greatest director of them all.

-PD

Champagne [1928)

Music changes everything.  How do we start?  Mahler.  I doubted myself.  Barber.  But I was right.  It is that one dissonance which should have convinced me.  The notes rubbing against one another.

And then I slipped.  Like Betty Balfour.  Dvorak?  Berlioz?  No, it’s Sibelius.

A music scholar doesn’t need Shazam.  But I’m a shabby music scholar.  Rags to rags.

Betty Balfour gets to mingle with the ragpickers for awhile, but for her it is riches to riches.

This is a silent film.  Which is to say, it is not silent.

That is the history of cinema.  A misconception.

And music changes everything.  If it’s Giorgio Moroder providing the soundtrack for Fritz Lang…that makes a big difference.

I really lost my way at some point.  I thought I was hearing Mozart…

We thought he wrote a requiem for his pet starling.  Perhaps not.

Yes, at some point we became very lost.  Flying over the Atlantic.  Like the Mary Celeste.  Bermuda Triangle.

It wasn’t the Flying Dutchman.  I think we would have recognized Don Giovanni.  Maybe not.

Betty doesn’t know when to stop.  Lots of seasickness in these early Hitchcock films.

There’s no missing Bolero.  Ravel’s worst piece.  Worlds ahead of most music ever written.

But nothing beats the Piano Concerto in G.

When Betty is weightless…remembering the good times…champagne.  And now she is merely a wage slave.  Trading places.

No talking.  Some intertitles.  And prominently (most prominently) that music!  A choice…by someone.  It makes a difference.

Put a murder to the tendresse of Beethoven.  A birth to Schoenberg.

The orchestra makes a difference.  That flat, unwieldy oboe line…

Yes, I know it’s polytonal, but the intonation is rubbish.  Like the Salvation Army rendition of “Abide with Me” at the beginning of Fist of Fury.  Makes Monk and Coltrane sound absolutely polished.

No, I can’t stand it.  Gordon Harker is great…just as he was in The Farmer’s Wife.  Without italics that sounds positively lascivious.  Thank god for capitalization.

Did Hitchcock predict the stock market crash of ’29?  A case could be made.  Yet here it is charade.

Betty falls prey to Bresson’s predecessor…pickpocket filmed from the waist down.  Rage Over a Lost Penny.  Op. 129.  I’m just venting.

Gordon Harker parenting.  Like Gregg Popovich.  Pride in the name of love.

Nothing’s going very well for Betty.  Taken literally, this is a nihilist coup.  But just ask Bert Williams:  nothing don’t put food on the table.  Nobody.

More like “nothing to see here”…  Hitchcock would lament to Truffaut.  Nevertheless, the particular transfer I have (and the Romantic soundtrack) made this an interesting journey.  Most of all we learn that the auteur theorists were right:  geniuses never make bad films.

-PD

The Farmer’s Wife [1928)

This is a painful cinematic experience.  It takes a certain amount of masochism for all but the most rabid of Hitchcock fans to sit through this 129-minute snoozer.  But old Alfred was the auteur of auteurs and he manages to make even this vapid storyline come to life…occasionally.

Samuel Sweetland

might just be

the most inept

womanizer

in the history

of cinema.

The good farmer

would really be

out of luck

in today’s world.

His heavy-handed,

condescending ways

didn’t even fly

in 1928!  Yet,

there is the

good, sweet Lillian Hall-Davis

who sees something

in her boss.

Hall-Davis,

who plays the

housekeeper Minta,

is charming throughout

this sleeper

(and I mean sleeper).

Mercifully,

the comic relief

of Gordon Harker

makes the whole thing

bearable.

Harker plays

the handyman

Churdles Ash.

With his bent,

crushed hat

perched perilously

atop his head,

Harker is the tired,

nihilistic voice

of humor

throughout

(like a slapstick Louis-Ferdinand Céline).

Of particular note is the burgeoning style of Hitchcock and his archetypal use of images.  The two cocker spaniels at the beginning of the film are a cute example of a director truly using pictures to tell a story.  Likewise notable is the relative scarcity of intertitles.

Truly, one must have the intestinal fortitude of a François Truffaut to wade through this unending, Chaucerian version of motion pictures.  Not recommended unless you typically watch a silent film every. single. day.  Murnau and Dreyer were light years beyond this kind of film making.

-PD