Blackmail | Film reviews, news & interviews
The British Museum plays host to an intoxicating screening of Hitchcock's silent masterpiece
The premiere of the newly restored version of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1929 silent classic Blackmail, outdoors at the British Museum, will go down as one of the defining moments of the London 2012 cultural extravaganza. This was a thrilling, beguiling, resonant celebration of the city and its greatest film-maker.
Of the four screenings of restored Hitchcock silents in marquee venues this summer, this will be the most singular, due to Blackmail’s climactic sequence – the director’s first major set piece – taking place at the museum itself. As the glowing building loomed over the forecourt screen, the pristine new print shimmering under a kindly sky, the frisson was palpable.
The event had a dual significance: the film is one of the Hitchcock 9, the largest restoration project ever undertaken by the British Film Institute (and on-going: funding is still being sought for four remaining films), and these special screenings the prologue for the summer-long Genius of Hitchcock retrospective.
Hitchcock directed Blackmail in 1929, aged just 29 but already the UK’s most famous film-maker. More exactly, he directed two films, simultaneously making a sound version that became the country’s first talkie – inadvertently casting the silent into the shadows. Tonight it emerged triumphant, clean as a whistle and quite beautiful, accompanied by a new score by composer Neil Brand and performed by the Thames Sinfonia.
The themes and visual flourishes that we associate with the mature director are already at play
Adapted from Charles Bennett’s play, it’s a dark and racy piece, starting with a fabulous police procedural sequence – as we follow a Flying Squad team in its pursuit, arrest and process of a villain – before moving on to the main story. This involves attempted rape, murder and blackmail, at the heart of which a policeman and his girlfriend are embroiled in the sort of moral quagmire that was Hitchcock’s bread and butter.
The themes and visual flourishes that we associate with the mature director are already at play: the interest in male cruelty towards women and in the presentation of psychological distress, the potent employment of off-camera violence, the interplay between drama and comedy – often within the same shot – and the telling use of location and spectacular set piece.
theartsdesk is changing
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. In September we reached our fourth birthday and feel that the time is now right, in line with other media outlets, to start asking our regular readers for a contribution to help us develop the site further. Theartsdesk has therefore moved to a partial subscription model. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 7,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
Take an annual subscription now simply click here.
Giuseppe Tornatore's homage to cinema is more sweet than bitter 25 years on
Disturbing account of Indonesia’s normalisation of the aberrant, corrupt and depraved
The Great Beauty and the great Deneuve win, but Europe's showpiece film awards fizzle meekly
Dismal Danish gross-out road-trip comedy pushes familiar buttons
Tarantino-approved Israeli crime-comedy combines ultra-violence with home truths
Welles' weirdest film is a fascinating failure
Allen Ginsberg stars in Harry Potter and the Frotting Frats
theartsdesk recommends the half-dozen top movies out now
A superb retrospective of New Hollywood cinema strikes a chord with today's disenchanted youth
Alexander Payne strikes gold with a story about a man who doesn't
Cockle-warming animation blends traditional Disney songs and sentiment with cheeky wit
Felix Van Groeningen's fourth film is a wonderfully idiosyncratic love story