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Hitchcock Silents

After beginning his career in London as an art director and screenwriter, cinematic master Alfred Hitchcock (1899–1980) was given the opportunity to direct his first feature-length film (The Pleasure Garden) in 1925. But it was his 1927 feature, The Lodger, that he considered his “first true film.”

Observing “silent pictures are the purest form of cinema,” Hitchcock’s silent films featured early explorations of themes that would preoccupy him through his long career, including deception and romantic obsession. He also began experimenting with visual effects and sly devices such as his own cameo appearances in his films.

Houston film lovers will recall that the MFAH presented the North American premiere of the British Film Institute’s tour of early Hitchcock sound films in 1993. This time around, an international collaboration with the BFI facilitated the groundbreaking restoration of the silent films from the beginning of his career, all made when he was still living in England. The MFAH has selected four highlights from this landmark restoration project for screening this spring.

Each film features a live piano performance by Steve Sterner, the popular, New York City-based silent film accompanist who was dubbed “The Piano Man of the Silent Screen” by The New York Times. Steve Sterner has written music for and accompanied over 300 silent films. In addition to his 25-year association with the Film Forum in New York, he has performed at The Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, the Bruno Walter Auditorium at Lincoln Center, the Brooklyn Art Museum’s Rose Cinema, and the legendary Thalia Theatre in New York.

Most recently, Sterner has written music for The Donovan Affair, a 1929 film that was Frank Capra's first all-talking film. The sound discs have been missing for over 60 years. Bruce Goldstein of the Film Forum hired a group of actors and a sound effects expert and the soundtrack was recreated live at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood for the Turner Classic Movie Film Festival in April of 2013.

"The Hitchcock 9" is a joint venture of the BFI, Rialto Pictures/STUDIOCANAL, and Park Circus/ITV.

Special ticket prices apply for these silent-film concerts. General admission is $15. MFAH members, students with ID, and senior adults receive a $3 discount.

Past Films in This Series

 

The Ring

1927
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
A love triangle melodrama set in the world of boxing, The Ring was Alfred Hitchcock’s only original screenplay. Considered one of his finest silents, it is exhilaratingly bold filmmaking. The story follows boxer Bob Corby, who hires Jack Sander as a sparring partner and soon becomes smitten with Mabel, Jack’s beautiful wife. The conflict between the two men gives rise to an inventive series of expressionist flourishes evoking the characters’ states of mind. A Rialto Pictures Release. Restoration by the BFI ... more info
 

The Manxman

1929
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Set in a remote Isle of Man fishing community (but shot in Cornwall), Alfred Hitchcock’s penultimate silent feature is one of the best and most mature works of his early career. The Manxman follows two boyhood friends who take markedly different paths in adulthood: one becomes a fisherman, the other a lawyer, but both fall in love with the same woman—a complex, sensual performance from Anny Ondra, part vulnerable waif, part flirtatious femme fatale—and clearly the reason Hitch cast her ... more info
 

Blackmail

1929
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Celebrate the Hitchcock Silents series with a champagne toast in the Museum galleries between this evening's two features: Blackmail and Champagne. Alfred Hitchcock’s silent Blackmail is one of the best British films of the late 1920s. Czech actress Anny Ondra stars as Alice White, a young woman whose brief flirtation with an artist turns suddenly and terribly sour. Hitchcock’s masterly thriller boasts great London locations including the British Museum, Whitehall, and the Lyons Tea House at Piccadilly Circus. Made in 1929, during the transition to ... more info
 

Champagne

1928
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Celebrate the Hitchcock Silents series with a champagne toast in the Museum galleries between the two features this evening: Blackmail and Champagne. A combination of romantic comedy and melodrama, Champagne revolves around a millionaire’s decision to feign bankruptcy in order to teach his frivolous “flapper” daughter (played by the great Betty Balfour) a lesson. Built around Balfour’s effervescent energy, this early example of Alfred Hitchcock’s long-term fascination with the foibles of the filthy rich features some great experimental touches, including an opening shot ... more info

Hitchcock Silents are generously underwritten by Salle and James Vaughn, on behalf of The Vaughn Foundation.