Vintage Sundays at Edinburgh’s Cameo Cinema

Vintage Sundays: Alfred Hitchcock

Vintage Sundays: Alfred Hitchcock

Edinburgh’s Cameo Cinema is attempting once again to appeal to a wide variety of cinema-goers with its programming, with a new strand of Vintage Sundays currently boasting a season of Alfred Hitchcock films through January and February.

The season began with Vertigo (1958) and continues this weekend with The Lady Vanishes (1938) before continuing with Rebecca (1940), The Birds (1963), Rear Window (1954) and Psycho (1960).

The only downside is that the films are being screened in the smaller Screen 2 rather than the grander Screen 1, but if you want to see these films away from your TV then it’s worth heading over to the Cameo website for full details.

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Book Review: All About Bond

For James Bond fans still reeling from last week’s release of the 22-film, extras-laden 50th anniversary Blu-ray collection, stuffed with rare footage, images and nuggets of information, it’s hard to believe that there’s still more to be discovered about Her Majesty’s favourite employee.

That’s exactly what we get with ‘All About Bond’, a sumptuous new addition to the ever-growing library of titles dedicated to 007 which earns its place with the same effortless grace Dame Diana Rigg displays on page 91.

You see, while the closest most Bond fans ever got to their hero was the front row of the local cinema, photographer Terry O’Neill was on location with Connery, Moore, Lazenby et al, effectively the man with the golden lens. O’Neill captured the boredom and the thrill of being on a Bond set, snapping Connery taking a nap on a shag pile carpet during the filming of Diamonds are Forever or Lazenby lounging by the pool with girlfriend Jill St John (Tiffany Case), post-On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (I didn’t know Lazenby and St John had even met before seeing these photos).

Across 192 pages we’re taken on a trip through the films and the decades, with some famous shots, such as Connery playing golf on the set of Diamonds, presented at a slightly different angle alongside some never before seen images of the actor pulling faces between takes. We also see Connery playing the slot machines in Vegas and meeting some rather scantily clad dancers behind the scenes of the casinos.

The many faces of Sean Connery

The many faces of Sean Connery

The Bond girls also get a look in, with new photos of Britt Ekland, Maud Adams and Joanna Lumley some of the most striking. Some of the actresses also contribute their memories of working on the films in short essays, Lumley recalling that her work on OHMSS lasted longer than the other actresses as she did some dubbing back in England.

Names such as Maryam d’Abo and Honor Blackman join Lumley in reminiscing about their time in the spotlight alongside 007, while names perhaps less known to fans, such as GQ editor Dylan Jones and journalist Godfrey Smith, muse on Bond’s fashion sense and who the real Ian Fleming was. Sadly, the quality slips slightly in these text sections, with one page offering two spellings of the name ‘Blofeld’, both of them wrong.

Honor Blackman on the beach

Honor Blackman on the beach

Unsurprisingly, the photos are the real stars here, the large format of the hefty tome offering insights into a world that the rest of us can only dream of entering. It may be a cliché to suggest that ‘All About Bond’ would sit perfectly on any coffee table, but the Bond films are so rife with their own clichés that I can perhaps get away with it this once.

All About Bond is out now in hardback from Evans Mitchell Books

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DVD Reviews: The Lost Weekend, Double Indemnity and Giorgio Moroder’s Metropolis

Powerful! Terrifying! Unforgettable! Superb! Brilliant! No, I’m not describing the quality of the upcoming reviews but quoting from the trailer for Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend (1945), recently unleashed onto Blu-ray by Masters of Cinema here in the UK.

Ray Milland stars as Don Birnam, a New York author whose life is ruled by the bottle. We’re introduced to Don as he and his brother, Wick (Phillip Terry), are packing for a weekend away following weeks of sobriety for the former. Don’s girlfriend, Helen (Jane Wyman), is convinced he’s turned a corner in his alcoholism and is rooting for him to come back the man she wants him to be.

Don’s inability to avoid alcohol for a day leads to his brother abandoning him and his life spiralling into the gutter, his world becoming a kind of hell.

If all that sounds a bit heavy for an evening’s entertainment, well, it is. From the opening moments, as we see a bottle of whisky hanging out of Don’s bedroom window, it’s clear that our “hero” is a troubled and very ill man surrounded by people who don’t seem to know how to handle him.

Wick’s attempts to make Don go cold turkey are laudable, as is Helen’s determination to love him no matter what, but they all seem to be doing him more harm than good, something that becomes apparent when he winds up in an institution, cared for by the less-than-tactful Bim (Frank Faylen).

Wilder’s direction ensures Don’s world is suitably shadow-filled and claustrophobic, his tiny apartment hardly the kind of place likely to inspire recuperation. The script, co-written by Wilder with Charles Brackett, manages to make Don a sympathetic character, mainly becuase it is so clear that his alcoholism can’t be cured by talking or wishful thinking.

Milland manages the character’s descent well as he’s called on to portray various states of anguish and guilt. Wyman gets the raw deal here, Helen’s inability to grasp the severity of the situation making her appear more stupid than saintly.

Still packing a punch today, The Lost Weekend will hopefully find a new audience on Blu-ray, particularly for those who want to see another side to Billy Wilder.

Some exemplary extras on this release include a three-part Arena special from 1992, featuring a three-hour interview with Wilder in which he discusses his lengthy life and career, a radio adaptation of the film and an introduction from director Alex Cox.

Joining The Lost Weekend on Blu-ray from Masters of Cinema’s is Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944), the archetypal film noir starring Fred MacMurray as insurance salesman Walter Neff, who finds himself caught in a web of deceit when he meets the beautiful Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck).

Determined that her husband should die so that she can claim his inheritance, Dietrichson convinces Neff to collude with her and to ensure a plan is formed that will mean the new insurance policy is paid out to her.

Although the plan seems to be foolproof, the pair don’t reckon of Neff’s boss’ interference, Keyes (Edward G Robinson), who finds the death suspicious.

Told in flashback by an injured Neff, Double Indemnity is an ingenious tale of deception, lust and greed that has more twists than the roads above Los Angeles. MacMurray’s switch from upstanding citizen to lowly murderer is believable thanks to the chemistry between the two leads. Stanwyck sets the tone from her first appearance, adding a touch of glamorous sleaze that the film never loses.

Wilder again shows his skill at keeping the main narrative moving forward while dropping in interesting camera angles and drawing fine performances from his cast, including Robinson who seems to be a template for Lieutenant Columbo some 30 years later.

Extras include the trademark Masters of Cinema booklet, a commentary from film historian Nick Redman and screenwriter Lem Dobbs, a 2006 documentary on the making of the film and more.

Any subtlety or class evident in the above films is long forgotten in Giorgio Moroder’s 1984 take on Fritz Lang’s 1927 classic, Metropolis, out now on DVD.

Lang’s story of a dystopian future ruled by the nasty piece of work that is Joh Frederson (Alfred Abel) and a love story between his son, Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), and a poor factory worker, Maria (Brigitte Helm), is given a novel twist with the addition of a tinted film stock and a rock score.

Moroder’s controversial decision to impose his own vision upon Lang’s work has been both criticised and praised over the years, the naysayers arguing that Queen, Adam Ant and Bonnie Tyler aren’t exactly sympathetic to the film’s style (for more on the debate, head over to the Movie Morlocks site for David Kalat’s view).

What hampers Moroder’s Metropolis more than the jarring soundtrack is that the version he had to work with wasn’t the complete one we can enjoy elsewhere in the Masters of Cinema library. The recently restored 150 minute version we can now access was only 83 minutes long in 1984, meaning we have the bare bones of the story but none of the meat.

We’re left with a kind of ‘beginner’s guide’ to Metropolis that could either intrigue new viewers and send them off in search of the newer edition or put them off for life. In fairness to Moroder, the music isn’t as offensive as some claim and he should be applauded for bringing the film to the attention of 1980s audiences who had perhaps forgotten Lang’s legacy.

Today the film is a diverting curio that can’t be said to be essential viewing, particularly for those who perhaps can’t afford to buy both versions of the film, but it’s still nice to finally have it looking and sounding so good.

The solitary extra on this DVD is a documentary from 1984 following Moroder’s mission to restore Metropolis.

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Hitchcock leads a killer August line-up at Filmhouse

One of the joys of living in Edinburgh is the huge amount of films I can choose to watch on any given day of the week.

From the latest blockbusters in our multiplexes to smaller independent and international titles that are regularly shown at the Cameo and Filmhouse, not forgetting the Edinburgh Film Guild and numerous special monthly film groups and events, the city is a movie buff’s paradise.

Then there are the classic film screenings which inspired this very blog.

Helping to justify the blog’s existence for another month is Filmhouse, Scotland’s finest independent cinema which presents a more varied programme than any other in the country and which has just published its August line-up.

Read it and weep. I almost did.

The new programme is spearheaded by a season of Alfred Hitchcock films, The Genius of Hitchcock, ported over from London’s BFI, which will run over an impressive three month period. Starting with the newly restored version of 1926’s The Lodger on 10 August, we’ll be served up a total of 16 slices of murder and mystery before another batch are offered up in September and into October.

Elsewhere, there’s a full week’s worth of Marilyn Monroe films, including Some Like it Hot (1959), The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and All About Eve (1950), to mark the 50th anniversary of her death.

Gregory Peck pops up in both the Hitchcock season’s The Paradine Case (1947) and in 1962’s To Kill a Mockingbird, the latter given a spit and polish and restored to its original glory.

J Lee Thompson’s 1957 melodrama, Woman in a Dressing Gown, arrives from 31 August until 6 September and stars Anthony Quayle and Yvonne Mitchell in a story that tells of the “impact of adultery on the psyche of three desperate characters” – I’m quoting from the website as I’ve not seen this one but will add it to the list.

In association with the Edinburgh International Book Festival there’s a screening of 1979’s Stalker on 7 and 8 of August, the Tarkovsky drama set in a totalitarian society.

Apologies if I’ve missed any more golden oldies, I only have so many hours of the day that I can spend perusing the programme.

Finally, I recommend booking a place at The Lost Art of the Film Explainer, a special event that takes place on Sunday 19 August in Screen One. I’ll once again quote from the Filmhouse website as it sums the event up better than I could:

“During the silent era, the live musician was an essential part of the cinema experience, but some audiences were also treated to the finely honed craft of the Film Explainer. Part narrator and part actor, the Film Explainer stood next to the screen enriching the movies with an entertaining combination of background information, unique interpretation and theatrical storytelling. Often more celebrated than the screen stars for whom they spoke, the art of the Film Explainer has since been largely forgotten.”

I managed to miss the first staging of this event at this year’s Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema so I’m glad to see it in the programme. Andy Cannon, Wendy Weatherby and Frank McLaughlin will present this and I’d urge every reader of this blog who can make it along to please do so.

What will you be going to see?

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La Cava set to sparkle at Edinburgh International Film Festival

Please note: This post was originally published on The Cinementals classic film blog on Friday 8 June, a few weeks before the site sadly ceased to exist. I’ve republished it here with their agreement.

Carole Lombard and William Powell in MY MAN GODFREY

Carole Lombard and William Powell in MY MAN GODFREY

It may be 60 years since Hollywood director Gregory La Cava passed away but it seems the time is finally right for him to make a comeback.

A director who straddled the silent era and the talkies, working with actors such as WC Fields, Claudette Colbert, Carole Lombard and William Powell, leading eight of them to receive Academy Award nominations, La Cava remains something of an enigma to modern audiences, certainly those in the UK starved of a decent fix of TCM.

This could soon change thanks to the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF), the world’s oldest continually running film festival which runs from 20 June – 1 July. On browing the newly launched 2012 programme, six titles stood out for this film fan, all part of a Gregory La Cava retrospective starting on Tuesday 26 June: UNFINISHED BUSINESS (1941), FEEL MY PULSE (1928), GABRIEL OVER THE WHITE HOUSE (1933), SHE MARRIED HER BOSS (1935), MY MAN GODFREY (1936) and PRIVATE WORLDS (1935).

The season then hands over the cinematic-baton to Scotland’s leading independent cinema, Filmhouse, on Saturday 7 July as they screen a further six La Cava titles: THE AGE OF CONSENT (1932), BED OF ROSES (1933), FIFTH AVENUE GIRL (1939), THE HALF NAKED TRUTH (1932), PRIMROSE PATH (1940) and STAGE DOOR (1937).

If reading the above has exhausted you, just think what it’s going to do to me as I head along to see (almost) every one of them as God intended, on the the big screen.

Intrigued to discover how the season came about, I spoke to the EIFF’s new Artistic Director, the film writer and journalist Chris Fujiwara, about his decision to programme 12 La Cava films and the practicalities of bringing those prints to Edinburgh this June and July.

Jonathan Melville: This is your first year as Artistic Director of the EIFF. Did you set yourself any challenges or goals before you began selecting films?

Chris Fujiwara: The main goal I set myself was to build the kind of programme that I would find interesting if I were a visitor to the festival.

How important was it for you to have a retrospective as part of your programme?

Retrospectives are essential to film festivals. It’s part of the core mission of festivals to delve into the unexplored riches of the past and draw connections between the past and the present.

How did you come to choose Gregory La Cava as the focus for a retrospective? Why those 12 films?

La Cava has fascinated me for a long time, among other reasons because of the scope he gave to improvisation in making his films. I’ve felt for a long time that he has been severely neglected. He’s probably the most underrated director of 1930s Hollywood. The twelve films in our retrospective are twelve of his best and most personal films.

La Cava successfully moved from the silent era to sound, how did his style change from one to the other?

For someone with such a powerful visual imagination, which was formed in the discipline of newspaper cartoons and silent animation, La Cava adapted to sound remarkably successfully. He was excited by the possibilities of film dialogue, and in his best films there is an amazing abundance of really great dialogue. In films such as PRIVATE WORLDS and STAGE DOOR, he also experimented with the soundtrack, approaching it with the same creativity he brought to the image.

What was the process involved in securing the rights to screen the films and locate the prints? Do they all reside in the UK?

James Rice, our Programme Manager, made a monumental effort of tracking down the prints for these films, some of which are very rare. Some come from the UK, some from elsewhere in Europe, and some from the United States, and they come from both archives and private collectors.

Do you have any particular stance on the “film vs digital” debate?

We’ll be showing all but one of the La Cava films in film prints, and that’s out of necessity: high-quality digital copies of these films do not exist, with a handful of exceptions. In general, archives do not have the resources to make digital copies of their film prints, and rights holders do not have a compelling financial motive to digitise most of their older films. With the disappearance of cinemas capable of projecting film, it’s inevitable that we’ll see further erosion of the infrastructure needed to manufacture, maintain and operate film projection equipment. There is a real danger that there will be fewer and fewer opportunities to see films from the past under ideal conditions: in good copies well projected on a big screen. This danger needs to be taken into account in the film-vs-digital debate.

Joel McCrea and Ginger Rogers in PRIMROSE PATH

Joel McCrea and Ginger Rogers in PRIMROSE PATH

Unusually for a film festival, half of the season will be shown at the EIFF and half at Edinburgh’s Filmhouse cinema post-EIFF. Why did you choose to split the films like that?

Rod White [Filmhouse programmer] and I both felt it was a good chance to link the festival with the regular Filmhouse programme. Also it allows local cinephiles to see some of the La Cava films during a time when there’s not as much competition for their attention as during the festival.

For anyone who can perhaps only make it along to one or two La Cava films, which would you say are unmissable?

If you’ve never seen MY MAN GODFREY or STAGE DOOR, which are his two most famous films, or even if you’ve seen them but only on DVD, you shouldn’t miss them. Among the lesser known La Cavas we’re screening, I’d especially recommend his risqué pre-Code films THE AGE OF CONSENT, BED OF ROSES, and THE HALF-NAKED TRUTH, and his late masterpieces PRIMROSE PATH and UNFINISHED BUSINESS, which hint at the kind of work he might have done had he lived to make films during the more liberal period of the late 1950s.

You’ve written books on Otto Preminger and Jacques Tourneur, two figures from the Golden Age of Hollywood. What is it about this period of cinema history that interests you so much?

I see the Golden Age of Hollywood as a structure that made possible the making of some very personal films that broke the rules of that structure. Preminger and Tourneur, like La Cava, and also like Jerry Lewis, whom I also wrote a book about, worked with success within the Hollywood studio system but pushed the limits (stylistic and thematic) of what that system could comfortably tolerate, and sometimes crossed those limits. Put simply, they were innovators who anticipated the transition from the studio system to a system of independent auteur filmmakers.

Are there any directors you’d like to see celebrated with a retrospective on the big screen, either here in Edinburgh or elsewhere?

It would be an extremely long list. Among classic-Hollywood directors, some names that came to mind are Raoul Walsh, Ida Lupino, Robert Parrish, Robert Aldrich, and Richard Fleischer, but that would be just for starters.

Thanks to Chris Fujiwara.

Full details of the Gregory La Cava season can be found on the Filmhouse website.

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William Friedkin’s Edinburgh connection

Fans of 1971’s classic cop thriller, The French Connection, can enjoy a Q&A with director William Friedkin at Edinburgh’s Filmhouse cinema on Tuesday 19 June.

Friedkin will be a guest at the 2012 Edinburgh International Film Festival where he’ll promote his latest film, Killer Joe, on 20 June. Filmhouse, one of the UK’s leading independent cinemas, has managed to secure Friedkin for an extended Q&A following a screening of The French Connection, where he’ll be discussing his career and films.

The French Connection stars Gene Hackman as New York narcotics detective James “Popeye” Doyle, the cop charged with investigating an international drug smuggling ring. Hackman won an Academy Award for Best Actor and Friedkin won the Best Director Award.

Tickets are now on sale from the Filmhouse website and are bound to sell fast.

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DVD Round-up: Lifeboat, Island of Lost Souls and Ruggles of Red Gap

Alfred Hitchcock was always one for challenges. Whether he was attempting a series of long takes to suggest a single shot, as in 1948’s Rope, or making 1960’s Psycho with the crew of his TV show on a modest budget, Hitch wasn’t one for taking the easy option.

Lifeboat (1943) finds a cast of assorted characters, led by Connie Porter (Tallulah Bankhead) and Gus Smith (William Bendix), all at sea as their ship is sunk by a German U-boat in the North Atlantic and they’re left to drift towards an uncertain fate in the titular craft.

As the tiny vessel quickly fills with its motley crew, they drag on board a German sailor, Willy (Walter Slezak), who could be either be an innocent U-boat sailor or the captain whose decision it was to sink the ship.

The script, ostensibly by John Steinbeck’s but with input from various figures including Hitchcock’s wife Alma Reville, may be lean and its dialogue punchy but it’s the director’s inspired shooting technique that has drawn the most plaudits over the years.

Confined to the small boat that could be cut in half and moved to various positions, Hitchcock is forced to be creative with his angles. Constantly moving around the boat and into the cast’s faces, the tension mounts as the days pass and the doubts about who is responsible for what increase.

Bankhead is a force of nature as Porter, more interested in her camera than those around her, but it’s Slezak who steals the film from her. The audience is as much in the dark as the survivors for much of the picture, sympathies moving from one person to the next as their stories emerge.

This may be a lesser known Hitchcock, at least compared to the usual suspects which fill up the box sets, but it’s still as taught and compelling as his later work and a welcome arrival on Blu-ray.

This new DVD and Blu-ray from Masters of Cinema also comes with two short films made by Hitchcock in France during the Second World War, Bon Voyage (1944) Adventure Malgache (1944), along with a featurette on the making of the film and a clip of the famous Hitchcock/Truffaut interview.

The first of two new Charles Laughton releases from Masters of Cinema in May, 1932’s Island of Lost Souls is Universal’s take on HG Wells’ The Island of Dr Moreau, a film that was banned by the British Board of Film Classification on its release for being “against nature”. Gulp.

Souls finds us somewhere in the hot and steamy South Seas, where Edward Parker (Richard Arlen) is left in the capable hands of Dr Moreau (Laughton), a scientist with a penchant for vivisecting animals and trying to change them into humans.

Also on the island is the Panther Woman (Kathleen Burke), a poor creature who has spent some time under Moreau’s knife and ended up a glamorous half-woman who wants to get her teeth in Parker, so to speak.

This is a heady concoction that may not appear as nasty to modern audiences as it did back in the 1930s but which still causes the occasional flinch. Moreau’s experiments litter the island, men turned into strange abominations that cower in the bushes as Bela Lugosi’s “Sayer of the Law” tries to keep them in order.

Laughton is mesmerising as Moreau, his scientific curiosity now as mutated as his creatures as he plays God with anyone he comes into contact with. Combined with the atmospheric set design that works perfectly in black and white and you have a horror that stands up to repeated viewing along with its other classic Universal stablemates.

Looking stunning on Blu-ray, this dual format release includes new interviews with Laughton biographer Simon Callow and an informative video essay from critic Jonathan Rigsby, along with a fascinating booklet containing various essays. There’s also a smart limited edition steelbook edition of the set that is crying out for a place on your shelf.

The second Laughton escapade is thankfully on the lighter side, as he heads from the safety of Paris to the Wild West in Leon McCarey’s 1935 comedy, Ruggles of Red Gap.

When his employer, Lord Burnstead (Roland Young), gambles away his butler, Ruggles (Laughton), to a newly monied American couple, Egbert and Effie Floud (Charlie Ruggles and Mary Boland), the bemused manservant must adjust to a very different life.

While Egbert is happy for Ruggles to be one of the guys, Ruggles is disgusted at the concept, and through various unfortunate escapades he attracts Effie’s scorn as her husband is returned to her in states of inebriation.

Although the centred on the unfortunate Ruggles, who we follow as he adjusts to his new world, rolling his eyes as he goes, there’s still plenty of room for Boland’s Effie to make herself heard at every opportunity. Boland and Laughton make for a fine double act, as do Charlie Ruggles and Laughton, particularly towards the end as the butler decides his fate.

Watched in tandem with Island of Lost Souls, Ruggles of Red Gap is a welcome change of pace and an opportunity to appreciate the many sides of Charles Laughton. It’s also another welcome addition to the growing library of Leo McCarey titles making it to DVD and Blu-ray, a director with a major influence on the Golden Age of Hollywood.

This new dual format release looks good for its age, restored from the original negative. The set also includes radio plays featuring Ruggles and Laughton, a recording of Laughton’s Gettysburg Address from the film and an informative booklet.

Lifeboat is out now. Island of Lost Souls and Ruggles of Red Gap will be released on 28 May, 2012.

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The First Born at Edinburgh Filmhouse

Premiered at the BFI London Film Festival in 2011, Miles Mander’s 1928 silent melodrama The First Born finally arrived in Edinburgh tonight at the Filmhouse.

Introduced and accompanied by composer Stephen Horne, whose new score debuted with this newly restored version of the film back in October, The First Born tells of the sex lives of the rich and famous, with philandering MPs and their wives getting up to mischief behind closed doors. Nothing’s changed there then.

Written by Mrs Alfred Hitchcock, Alma Reville, Horne explained that the BFI Bryony Dixon stumbled upon the film a decade ago while researching Reville’s work, only to discover a forgotten classic.

Now spruced up and returned to the big screen, the film sees Mander, who also stars as the caddish Hugo Boycott, wringing every ounce of drama from the script. The stunning Madeleine Carroll co-stars as Boycott’s equally scheming wife.

It’s relatively fast-paced and there’s some terrific direction from Mander, who gets up close with the camera and tries out some innovative angles throughout, including an impressive point of view shot that was partly the reason Dixon went ahead with the restoration.

Although the event seemed to go somewhat unheralded by the Filmhouse’s PR team – the screening was moved from the large Screen One into the smaller Screen Three – it was nevertheless a success with the near-capacity audience and I’d recommend seeing The First Born if it comes to a cinema near you.

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Alfred Hitchcock at the BFI

Exciting things are happening at the BFI as their Rescue the Hitchcock 9 project, which aims to fully restore the director’s nine surviving silent films, comes to fruition.

The BFI will be celebrating Hitch throughout the summer of 2012 with a series of gala premieres, namely 1921’s Blackmail, 1927’s The Ring, 1926’s The Lodger, 1925’s The Pleasure Garden. Full details can be found on the Genius of Hitchcock section of the BFI website.

As I’m in Edinburgh it’s unlikely I’ll make it down to many of these but I’m confident our Filmhouse will screen them at some point.

In the meantime, a new trailer has been released to promote the Hitchcock project and it’s rather lovely:

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Back to the Future III – the silent version

Here’s a fun little clip I spotted on Twitter today, a silent version of the train sequence from Back to the Future III, created by someone using Adobe Premiere edit suite for the first time.

Could this start a trend for full movies being “silenced”?