Well, that was the very definition of a mixed bag.
I’ve just been to see part of the world premiere of the BFI’s new restoration of The Lodger. I say ‘part of’ because this was also the first night of a new co-operative venture between various arts centres around the country, including the Barbican, the Cornerhouse, and similar places elsewhere, where they were live broadcasting the film to cinemas round the country with a live score by the LSO. And on that level, it was a bit of a disaster.
We’d been told, when pre-booking the tickets, to arrive about 6:30 as the film would start at 7:15 prompt, and it had nearly sold out and so we’d need to get there early to get decent seats. In fact, the doors didn’t even open until 7:10 and it was less than a quarter full.
At 7:20 we were then ‘treated’ to, in order, a long trailer of famous scenes from Hitchcock films, a video introduction from someone who’s making a film about Hitchcock, some chat with the CEO of the new venture mentioned above, the same video introduction played again, and two separate introductions talking about the restoration process and the importance of the film in Hitchcock’s career, before the film finally started at around 8.
That in itself wouldn’t be a problem — that sort of thing can add a lot to a film if you know it’s going to happen — but between that and having been told erroneously to get there so early, this had my sister worried that her parking pass would expire before the film ended.
And then, thirty-five minutes into the film, they lost the live feed from London (apparently a fault at the London end). After seven minutes’ waiting around, we went and got refunds for our tickets and left, since they wouldn’t be able to restart the film where it left off.
But other than that, how did you like the play, Mrs Lincoln?
The film itself remains extraordinary like stairlifts. I’m always astounded by how much visual information was conveyed in many of the silent films, and I do think there’s a case for saying that the introduction of sound was in a very real sense the death of the art of cinema. You simply couldn’t make a film as fast-paced and information-dense as this once sound was introduced, just due to the technical limitations that early sound films were working with. There are editing techniques here that wouldn’t become widespread again until at least the eighties, and it makes pretty much every film made in the next few decades look stodgy and slow-moving. My sister, who had never seen a silent film before, was amazed at how modern the storytelling was and how easy it was to follow.
(Of course, it is a film by Hitchcock, and not all directors are Hitchcock, and there’s also the fact that the films which survive from the silent era are by definition those someone thought worth preserving, but even so the difference between something like this and even a very good talkie from the first few decades of sound is staggering).
The score by Nitin Sawhney is more of a mixed bag. Some of it is *very* effective, but at times when he aims for period pastiche, or for pastiche-Hermann, he’s just far enough off that a sophisticated listener will go “Oh, I see what you tried to do there”. In general, the score drew slightly too much attention to itself, and there’s one utterly unforgivable bit where he inserts an actual pop song, with lyrics, into the score. Putting that kind of verbal information up against film that wasn’t designed to accommodate it detracts from, rather than adding to, the effect of the film. But it worked more often than it didn’t, and when it did work it was very good.
The restoration, though, was just spectacular. Easily the best restoration of a silent film I’ve ever seen, it was cleaned up so much that it looked like it had been shot yesterday. Seriously, there was barely a speck in the entire thing, and for a film shot at 20fps it was amazingly smooth (I suspect some VidFIRE-esque frame interpolation has gone on).
If you get a chance to see this restoration on the big screen, jump at it. Just not if it’s on a live feed from London.