Friday, November 09, 2012

Image of the Day and Some Notes on Hitchcock Studies

You might recognize the above shot from Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest, as Cary Grant suavely walks through the window in order to escape, and catches the eye of this lovely young woman. What you probably don’t recognize is that such woman is Patricia Cutts, a TV and film actor from the era, who also happened to be the daughter of Graham Cutts.

You might have heard Cutts’s name thrown around over the last year as the director of The White Shadow, the restored “Alfred Hitchcock” movie that was found and will be available thanks to the work of the Film Preservation Bloagathon and Fandor very soon.

I’ve collected some notes based on a small private lecture given by Charles Barr last night about the state of Hitchcock studies, of which he is pretty much the father. The most important point is that there’s a ton of research to be done in early Hitchcock studies, and if you know of any archives relating to the names or films I mention, you should definitely get in contact with me and I'll pass on the information.

The area of research that is most in need is the three periods before Hitchcock directed The Pleasure Garden in 1926. They are:

-The 11 films he worked in as title designer and insert creator while at Famous-Laskeys Players.
-The 5 films he was a staff member for as Islington (including two directed by him, including Number 13, as well as two collaborations under Cutts).*
-The 5 films he worked on as photographer and art director under Cutts

The major problem with the first area, which includes films like The Man From Home, is that we no longer have the English or American prints of them, so the title designs are no longer  in their original language and most likely not designed by Hitchcock. However, there is an insert in the film which has some suspiciously similar shaping to Hitchcock’s later portrait of himself.

Another important issue is how we should approach these films. The point isn’t just to search for Hitchcock. In fact, those who had seen the restored White Shadow had remarked that it wasn’t particularly good, and much of that is the incomprehensible narrative, which was (gasp!) written by Hitchcock. The point is Cutts was a worthy director worth studying, and there is a scene in Paddy the Next Best Thing that mimics Marnie. The point isn’t that Hitchcock is responsible, but perhaps since these were his formative years, that helped shaped his idea of cinema (Hitchcock after all was a sponge of talent, soaking it and orchestrating it as he evolved). The best Cutts film, which is sadly not on DVD, is The Passionate Adventure. Kickstarter?

There’s also two important collaborators who do not get written about enough. The first is Elliot Stannard, who wrote the scenario to Paddy the Next Best Thing, and went onto write The Pleasure Garden and The Mountain Eagle.** But more interestingly, in the 1910s, Stannard wrote a number of early film theory articles in trade papers (the ones Hitchcock admits to reading as a young artist), many of which suggest early ideas of not only Eizenstinian film theory, but really mimic the ideas that later show up in the Truffaut interviews.

The other important collaborator would be Charles Bennett, who wrote the play of Blackmail (As great as Robin Wood’s essay on the film is, many of the ideas he credits to Hitchcock come from Bennet’s original drama). Bennet would go on to write a slew of the British Hitchcock films – The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps, Secret Agent, Foreign Correspondent – and yet his name is more or less anonymous to most students of Hitchcock (including my own till last night, I’ll admit).

The point is, there is a future of Hitchcock studies, and it’s not just another reassessment of Psycho or Vertigo (though Barr updated his BFI monogram, which does have some notes on The White Shadow’s similarity and an awesome new cover). Much of the research to be done is what we call “Shakespeare’s Laundry List,” finding the small bits and pieces of these numerous lost films in the archive and finding the formative Hitchcock, learning how to become a great filmmaker (instead of just being the controlling genius). Auteur theory is always under attack, but as I think Barr noted, as long as we continue to study Hitchcock not as a singular individual but as a master who learned from the system and then taught the system himself, then he remains perhaps the great artist of the first half of cinema’s history.

*There is a note from a correspondence noting the unfinished 4,300 ft. from Number 13 being moved to a place called the Wayne Archive. Anyone even know where that went?

**The Mountain Eagle remains a lost film, but as Barr noted, when digging through these archives, chances are the film might be labeled American instead of British, and even more likely has a different name. Don’t trust your labels, boys and girls.

Thank you Brent Morrow for getting me the shot from North by Northwest.

No comments: