Starburst Memories: The Projection Room – Hitch Intros

Previously, Dirk got dewy eyed about The Projection Room, Bolton School Film Society, which was the original source of this website back in 1999, when anything seemed possible, as long as it featured a cat with a glowing collar.

During the famous Hitchcock season, we were determined to make sure that the select audience that appeared every other Monday, would have an active engagement with the material. There was an introduction to the film so that people watching had something to chew on while they were watching. Dirk’s contributions were often unscripted, streams of consciousness that some times contained nuggets of information, but more often than not, floundered under the heavy weight of attempting to provide a cultural context to the burgeoning interest in cinema that was present during the era.

Unusually, I actually wrote down the introduction to THE BIRDS, the first film in the season. The introduction was concerned with the painful process of writing the film which was originally conceived as a mash-up of screwball comedy and horror :

 “Federico Fellini described it as an ‘apocalyptic poem and on its release it was well received by European directors who hailed Hitch as an auteur, but others were not so kind; they were sneering about his choice of leading lady (Hedren, a model, was famously cast for the part after Hitch and his wife Alma had seen her on a diet drink commercial), they also disliked the confusion and lack of certainties. In a letter to the screen writer Evan Hunter, Hitchcock said: “I’m sure that we are going to be asked again and again, especially by the morons, “why are they doing it?””

By ‘the morons’ I assume he meant the critics who he held in thinly veiled contempt. THE BIRDS followed his commercially successful PSYCHO which was slated by the press for its lurid subject matter …

Once shooting began, the concept of the film started to change shape and Hitchcock started to work in a way that was completely alien to his previous working practices. He prided himself on having the film shot in his head prior to commencing work with the actors: for him, film-making was a case of putting the actors through the motions. However, when he began shooting THE BIRDS, he became aware of what he considered ‘deficiencies’ in the script so began rewriting scenes himself mid-way through the shoot …

Despite the difficult circumstances of the shoot, it was the script that gave him most of the problems. He wanted respectability and the fusion of goofy comedy with horror was not going to deliver the fully realised characters he demanded so he added scenes and dialogue while on set. There are remnants of the original conception, particularly in the early scene in the pet shop where Hedren and Taylor engage in a flirtatious charade…(by the) end of the film, it becomes something else entirely, with multi-layered shots that discards a dramatic conclusion …

Hitch took a b-movie and ensured that it would play in the Ivy League as well as the drive-in.”

Dom would do his usual meticulously detailed and well researched introductions in his sloping, upper-case handwriting. For THE 39 STEPS he concentrated on how Hitch was feeling at ease with the thriller genre and deploying some of the stylistic devices that he learnt in Germany:

“In 1925 Hitchcock was sent to work on a German co-Production at the UFA studios – the largest in the world – here while watching Lang and Murnau at work, he learnt the power of the director and the influence of German Expressionism. This is apparent in the opening scenes of  THE 39 STEPS which is shot at a low level is almost straight out of M, METROPOLIS or NOSFERATU. The strange camera angles from above and below, are straight from German Cinema, years before CITIZEN KANE.

Russian cinema was also having an impact on him, particularly their use of montage such as in STRIKE by Sergeii Eisenstein. In 39 STEPS the influence is most notable in the shot with the murdered woman’s body is discovered by a cleaner, her scream fades into the train whistle of the Flying Scotsman. He continued the use of montage throughout his career…”

Dave ‘Grey-Dad’ had a similar approach to his introductions. He provided a well researched context to the production coupled with the odd anecdote. For his piece on the typically un-typical THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY he told an interesting story behind the making of the film:

“As a brief footnote to the film’s completion, Hitchcock’s 4th in 17 months, he took his wife Alma to St Moritz for a well-deserved break. A scheduled interview with  a reporter had to be rearranged when the reporter concerned fell into an icy pond. The drenched young man was Francois Truffaut, whose reverence towards Hitchcock grew as his own career developed as a leading director in the New Wave Cinema of France, and who went on to write Hitchcock, an account of a length interview with his idol.”

I’m still trying to locate the introduction to THE CAT FROM OUTER SPACE …

3 responses to “Starburst Memories: The Projection Room – Hitch Intros

  1. > I’m still trying to locate the introduction to THE CAT FROM OUTER SPACE …

    I only hope this was shown in a double-bill with ‘Digby, The Biggest Dog In The World’

  2. Alas Jon Pertwee’s brother wouldn’t give us the negative, so it never happened, not is this universe anyway!

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