BLACKMAIL is often touted as the first British “talkie”, as Director Alfred Hitchcock got permission during filming to make parts of it with sound, and ended up recording sound for most of the film. It was actually the third or fourth film released with sound; two versions came out in June 1929, to allow for the many cinemas not yet equipped with sound, and the silent version proved more popular.
In recent years, classic silent films have enjoyed a surge in popularity, with composers such as Carl Davis and Neil Brand providing original and/or compiled soundtracks for live accompaniment. Abel Gance’s five-hour epic Napoleon has sold out the Barbican Hall, with full orchestra, and classic horrors The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame have both been accompanied by David Briggs on the organ in Gillingham Methodist Church.
As part of the Arts by the Sea Festival, Kokoro, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s new music group, conducted by Mark Forkgen, performed Jonathan Lloyd’s score, commissioned by the British Film Institute in 2006 to accompany their digitally restored print of the film.
Evocative scenes of London in 1929 include a pre-pedestrianised Trafalgar Square, Lyons Coffee House, and an almost empty British Museum, including a scene on the roof of the reading room, 70 years before Norman Foster covered it with glass for the Millennium.
Lloyd’s score is based mainly on variations of Brahms’ Lullaby for the security of home and heart, and Tea For Two for society scenes, originating in Lyons Coffee House, with differing speeds and keys signifying action and emotion. The tension of the film, a classic thriller, with a “will she, won’t she?” ending, is highlighted by the score, and the percussionist was kept particularly busy with key bells and whistles, whilst the deepest of deep notes from double bass, bass clarinet and contrabassoon quite literally provided both sinister and humorous undertones.
The strong acting seemed almost caricature, as in many silent films, with the villain especially shifty, and plenty of asides, looking straight at camera, and Hitchcock’s trademark cameo, this time as a passenger in a train, was longer than most, giving time for a knowing sigh to spread through the Pier Theatre, itself almost part of the show, as a traditional venue for seaside entertainment since 1960.
This beautifully restored classic film with a thoughtful score performed with accuracy and feeling by the nine-piece band provided a magical evening away from the real world.
Saturday 5 October 2013