Sunday, 12 March 2017


24. “Now I’d like to see you lick that bloke who knocked you out at the fair… and get my two quid back!”


Something that runs through my mind every so often is how, with the advances in sound technology in film production and in cinemas, the technology of making a “silent” film has been lost. True, silent films were never silent, usually having a musical accompaniment, but once actors were able to speak, there was no reason to get them to shut up again. Making a film that works only on its visual imagery has since been restricted to people that are more comedic, like Charlie Chaplin, Jacques Tati or Rowan Atkinson, or films deliberately made to be “silent,” like 2011’s “The Artist.”

However, Alfred Hitchcock, studied as much as Shakespeare because he is the nearest film has to its own Shakespeare, thought silent films were only missing, “the sound of people talking and the noises… But this slight imperfection did not warrant the major changes that sound brought in.” To Hitchcock, the purest form of cinema was the silent kind, and in all his films, any dialogue you do hear supports the visuals – turn down the sound on “Rear Window” (1954), “Vertigo” (1958), “Psycho” (1960), and the story will still be there.

Having said that, while Hitchcock had an uncredited role in shaping all the stories he filmed, there is only one film where he has sole credit for the script, including the original story. “The Ring” is the story of a fairground boxer, “One Round Jack” that is beaten by Bob Corby, a professional boxer in disguise, but is given the opportunity to become the professional’s sparring partner. As Jack works his way up the championship rankings, an affair develops between his girlfriend Mabel, later his wife, and Bob. Inevitably, Jack and Bob settle their differences in the ring, Jack winning after Mabel declares she wants to remain with him.

Hitchcock uses rings as a motif on which to hang his story – the boxing ring, the wedding ring, and the ring formed by Jack, Bob and Mabel. There are only about seventy intertitles in a ninety-minute film, which is below average for the silent era, but I feel that could have been cut further, as jokes like, “This is to toast my success – and happiness…” followed by, “…but we won’t drink until the wife comes in,” weren’t really needed – I wonder if Hitchcock was obliged to keep some humour like this in for the benefit of his audience, but he was still only twenty-eight years old when he made “The Ring,” so he still had plenty of time to iron out his technique, in addition to playing with mirrors to make a match look like it was shot at the Royal Albert Hall.

When Hitchcock did make a film sound, with 1929’s “Blackmail,” he chose to use the sound as a tool, spreading it throughout the film, rather than only in the last twenty minutes, as he was originally asked to do. What delighted him was being able to hear the scraping of the blackmailer’s knife… as he ate breakfast. For some people, it really is the small things that count.

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