Remember last spring, when the Hitchcock “For the Love of Film” Blog-A-Thon was raising money? All our funds went into the preservation of the film The White Shadow, one of the earliest films on which Alfred Hitchcock worked before becoming a director. The work has been completed, a beautiful soundtrack created, and the whole thing — that is, the extant 48 minutes discovered rotting in a New Zealand shed last year — can be viewed at the National Film Preservation Foundation site.

It’s just gorgeous, this preservation work. I particularly love those shots of the risqué Nancy (above), just smoking her cigarette, as the beautiful clouds of smoke swirl around her. In the lead role, Betty Compson is  terrifically unknowable — elusive, eminently watchable.

At the time of the Blog-A-Thon I watched early Hitchcock films featuring Anny Ondra, Hitch’s first blonde, that delightful actor who spanned the gulf between light humor and melodrama so nicely. But Compson is another thing entirely — rich with inner depths. She also made a now-lost film with Hitchcock called Woman to Woman (1924) and starred in a Hitchcock-written, British-produced film called Dangerous Virtue (1924).

Now, on to more important things: what are our long weekend movie-watching plans? I’ll you one thing: there’s going to have to be one film at the theater (but which one?) and one period drama (I’m thinking that recent Great Expectations with Gillian Anderson). Just as important: here’s hoping that my attempt to reproduce my mother’s stuffing succeeds, and that we have enough butter in the house. More soon, friends.

 

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Film historians often estimate that 83% of all silent film has been lost, but that’s just a guess-stimate. No wonder we all cheer when we hear good news for a change. Back in August 2011, the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) announced that it had discovered the first three reels of The White Shadow (1923), a film long assumed to have been lost. Even better that this was the first film Alfred Hitchcock played a major role in creating — as assistant director, screenwriter, film editor, production designer, art director, and set decorator, all under director Graham Cutts.

Thanks to the NFPF, the film was restored and given a new score by composer Michael Mortilla. But unless you were lucky enough to see the premier of the restored film in Los Angeles in September, the film might as well be lost all over again. And you know how I rant about access.

That’s where the Film Preservation Blog-A-Thon comes in. Classic film bloggers FerdyOnFilm, the Self-Styled Siren, and This Island Rod are urging all of us to contribute posts on Hitchcock during a May Blog-A-Thon to raise awareness as well as the approximately $15,000 to stream The White Shadow for four months, thus making it available to anyone with access to a computer and high-speed internet. Our combined posts on Hitchcock’s films will further help raise awareness of the fragility of film and the need to make rare films available to all.

Plus, what a great excuse to dive into Alfred Hitchcock’s back catalogue and think about his talents for one intense week.

Want to know how The White Shadow was rediscovered? There’s often a great tale involved when presumed-lost films are found. In 1989 a man named Jack Murtagh discovered a pile of classic film moldering in his garden shed in Hastings, New Zealand and donated them to the New Zealand Film Archive. These three reels were misidentified until recently.

That’s not the only bizarre instance of rediscovery. In 1978, a bulldozer uncovered buried reels of nitrate film during excavation of a landfill in a small town in the Yukon, Canada. This town, Dawson City, sat at the very end of the distribution line for film during the silent era, so when the films completed their runs at the local theater, the reels were shifted to the local library — at least until 1929, when worries about the flammable nitrate film led to their being used as landfill. Stored for 50 years under the permafrost of the Yukon proved to be an extremely effective means of (accidentally) preserving classic film.

How about the time the full-length copy of Metropolis was discovered in Argentina?

Want to participate? Join the Blog-A-Thon by signing up at the three aforementioned blog sites; you can donate at any time by clicking on the DONATE button. In the meantime, happy Hitchcocking!

I’m going to enjoy watching those few, rare, Hitchcock silent films and thinking about their portrayals of women, gender, and sexuality — you’ll be seeing more of this in May, friends.