Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Charles Barr and Alain Kerzoncuf’s "Hitchcock Lost and Found"

Charles Barr is Emeritus Professor of Film History at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, England. His previous books include Ealing Studios, English Hitchcock, and a study of Hitchcock’s 1958 film Vertigo. Barr applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Hitchcock Lost and Found: The Forgotten Films, co-authored with the Parisian scholar Alain Kerzoncuf, and reported the following:
Page 99 is filled by two very similar film images and a caption that identifies their source: the scene of the crime in Murder! and in Mary (both 1930; British International Pictures). Murder! is a very English crime thriller, Mary is a German version of it. Alfred Hitchcock shot the two films in parallel, keeping identical sets and camera angles for each, and most of the words, but changing the cast and the language shot by shot – the kind of twin production that was common in the early days of dialogue cinema. The page is typical of the book’s strategy of opening up unfamiliar areas of Hitchcock’s life and work, in contrast to the way the majority of the Hitchcock literature goes over ground that is by now well-trodden. Mary is not itself a new discovery, but the relation of the two films has never before been scrutinised in any detail. This section of the book juxtaposes five pairs of stills in all, in order sometimes to illustrate, sometimes to challenge, existing accounts. An example of the former is discussed on either side of page 99, starting with a quote from Hitchcock:
“Many touches that were quite funny in the English version were not at all amusing in the German one… I came to realize that I simply didn’t know enough about the German idiom.”

Some of these ‘touches’ were changed or dropped, others were retained, with awkward results. Immediately after the murder is discovered, Mrs Markham and the landlady bustle around making tea. Hitchcock shoots this in a single elaborate take running nearly two minutes, repeatedly moving right to left and back again as the two women move between kitchen and breakfast room, gossiping all the time. This restless staging wittily mimics, and enacts, the fussiness of the flutteringly anxious landlady, played to comic perfection by Marie Wright. But in Mary, she is replaced by Hermine Sterler, a genuinely great film actress but one who is very different in age, looks and style; she brings no comedy to the role, and the mannered staging of the scene thus seems anomalous, quite apart from the fact that the ritual of the nice cup of tea has less meaning in German culture than in English.
This scene is itself illustrated (page 101) by parallel images: the same kitchen and teapot, different actors. [image below right: click to enlarge]

Co-authorship was a new and productive experience. Alain Kerzoncuf had carried out, and published online, some great research on a range of Hitchcock’s unfamiliar wartime projects, including discovery of a lost short film (The Fighting Generation), and had located a very articulate surviving French actress, Janique Joelle, star of the Anglo-French propaganda short Bon Voyage. He was encouraged by the University of Kentucky Press to expand this work into a book, but felt he needed an anglophone collaborator. His WW2 research has a central place in Hitchcock Lost and Found, including a long interview with Joelle, and he continued to track down obscure films and data from his Paris base, which I was able to exploit and supplement by work in American and British archives.The result is a spread of new knowledge about all stages of Hitchcock’s long career, from his apprenticeship in silent cinema through to the 1960s. There is something apt and satisfying about this happy international collaboration between French and English authors and an American publisher: Hitchcock’s work belongs equally to England and America, and French critics were the first to approach it with full seriousness.
Learn more about Hitchcock Lost and Found: The Forgotten Films at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue