Thursday 12 March 2009

Hitch 1 - The Pleasure Garden

The mighty and terrifyingly knowledgeable David Cairns, over at the magnificent film blog, Shadowplay, has been watching a Hitchcock film a week, starting back at the beginning of the year - 50 films over 52 weeks I believe - to kind of mark the anniversary of his blog (I think). And I said I'd try to join in, being a Hitchcock fan and wanting to know more about the man and his early films.

Well, me being me, this has not really come to pass. I wanted to keep up week for week but a combination of my usual sloth, unavoidable circumstances and the non-availability of some of the films led to my desire to join in falling by the wayside (as a schoolboy, I was usually content not to join in popular activities. Usually).

But! I have decided to renew my attempts to keep up. I managed to track down a DVD of Hitchcock's first film, The Pleasure Garden, a while back and gave it a spin. And so I going to catch up as best I can and keep up; Read-a-long-a-Hitch, as David put it.

There are those who'd argue that The Pleasure Garden was not Hitchcock's first film and they might cite Number Thirteen as his first. But that wasn't finished and I'm not sure if it still exists (someone can correct me or back me up on that), so I consider that argument a pile of old wank. There were a number of films after that which Hitchcock either co-directed or is listed as doing "Scenario" for. But The Pleasure Garden seems to be the one which he himself listed as his first feature film. And so there I have begun.

The cover of the DVD was a bit misleading, summarising the story as a scandal laden tale where a successful dancer falls to wealth and vice, endangering her life! This isn't quite the case with the film. It does involve a dancing girl, Patsy, who finds fame and forgets those who love her but the story seems to change tack halfway through, focusing more on Jill, who helped her get her break and the subsequent love triangle centre around Jill, her unfaithful and slothful husband and Patsy's fiance. I found it to be a bit of a morality tale, albeit possibly titillating for its time. Patsy doesn't seem to learn any lessons and seems to be forgotten by the end of the film. A bit like a modern Simpsons episode, where you build up one storyline only to veer off in another direction.

The opening sequence, establishing Jill and the other dancers, was interesting to me for a couple of reasons. Older men, in dickie bows, sit leering at the dancers from the stalls. Hitchcock focuses on one in particular, who takes a real shine to Jill and meets her backstage.

He leers at her through his opera glasses, mugging it up pre-Sid James, eyes bulging, lusty smile. Hitchcock cuts to his POV through the glasses and I immediately thought that this was Hitch putting his early stamp on the film, as his use of the male gaze and general voyeurism would reappear many times in his future films where he would have much more creative control. The Blond preoccupation could be seen to be appearing early on here as well, with the old chap expressing his delight at her golden locks, only to have his lust smote when she pulls a lock of ringlets out and offers it to the old chap, proving it's only a wig. The blond lock does seem a bit worm-like and his revulsion is amusing.

The other part about this which caught my attention was how much this old letch reminded me of a Ronnie Barker comedy character. Not one in particular, but The Two Ronnies would often feature period and silent sketches and Barker, all eyeliner and comedy grimaces, would stop me every time. I can't watch the opening of this film now without smiling a little more than I might have before.

Next up should be The Mountain Eagle, but I don't think any copies of that are known to exist. So it's on to YouTube for a squint at The Lodger.

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