Rescued, Hitchcock's Silent Films Flicker Anew Alfred Hitchcock is best known for suspense films like Psycho and Vertigo, but the British director actually began his filmmaking career during the silent era. The Hitchcock 9 is a collection of his silent films, and the only way to see them is the old way — going to the theater.

Rescued, Hitchcock's Silent Films Flicker Anew

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Whew. Let's stick with British film for a moment and news about the biggest single restoration project in the history of the British Film Institute. Nine films by Alfred Hitchcock are now touring the U.S., but these are not his well-known thrillers like "Vertigo" and "Psycho." These are his earliest silent films. Pat Dowell has more.

PAT DOWELL, BYLINE: Alfred Hitchcock loved silent films. Here's what he told French director Francois Truffaut and his translator in a famous 1962 interview for his book on Hitchcock.


DOWELL: Silent films set the tone for Hitchcock's whole career, says the British Film Institute's curator for silent film Bryony Dixon.

BRYONY DIXON: He thought it gave you more scope as a filmmaker. It was a more elegant way of making films. And it obliged you to tell your story in pictures, which is what the cinema is all about, rather than falling back on dialogue. And he continued to make films, even in the sound era, that had that quality. He could tell stories with pictures incredibly well.

DOWELL: The BFI's restoration of "The Hitchcock 9" has Queen Elizabeth's jubilee to thank. Dixon says all of the big cultural institutions trying to do something to celebrate.

DIXON: We chose, of course, our big icon, you know? Drama has Shakespeare. Literature has Dickens. We have Hitchcock.

DOWELL: Like so many silent films, Hitchcock's needed restoration desperately. The BFI scoured the world, finding copies forgotten in archives, adding and rearranging bits and pieces. One film remains lost, but restorers discovered a whopping 20 minutes to add to the director's first film, "The Pleasure Garden." Like several of the silent Hitchcock films, it's not a thriller. It's a steamy showgirl melodrama.

The BFI decided to commission new scores for some of the films, including the tragic romance set on the Isle of Man "The Manxman."


DOWELL: The score's composer, Stephen Horne, who play his music live at many showings of "The Hitchcock 9" in this country, is a veteran of silent film performances. He wasn't intimidated by following in the footsteps of Hitchcock's famous musical collaborator on "Psycho" and "Vertigo," Bernard Herrmann, because they were doing different things.

STEPHEN HORNE: There have been cases where sound film composers have scored silent films and it hasn't been effective, and vice versa, because the technique is as not as transferable as you might think.

DOWELL: Horne says in talkies, music can serve as counterpoint to dialogue and sound effects. For Hitchcock's boxing drama "The Ring," the BFI commissioned British rapper Soweto Kinch to punctuate a scene in which a woman betrays her lover.


DOWELL: The Colorado-based Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra took a different approach to the same scene.


DOWELL: The group is engaged in its own kind of restoration project. It finds and plays only the music that was available to movie accompanists in the silent era. But the group's Rodney Sauer couldn't find any record of what might have been played in picture palaces and in small neighborhood theaters for the films of Alfred Hitchcock.

RODNEY SAUER: He thought music was extremely important. He always wanted the perfect pieces to be played to his films. You know, in the silent era, he was creating these films and sending them out, and God knows what would be played to them. You know, it might be nothing. To be honest, I think Hitchcock would have hated it.

DOWELL: So Sauer and the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra picked what they thought seemed appropriate for the time and the films.


DOWELL: If you want to see and hear "The Hitchcock 9," you'll have to do it in a theater. There are no plans and no financing for a DVD set.

For NPR News, this is Pat Dowell.

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