Tuesday, July 30, 2013

In which I go to Harvard University
to accompany Hitchcock without the bodies

Next up: a chance to do music for one of the Hitchcock silents recently restored by the British Film Institute. The film is 'Champagne' (1928), a rare Hitchcock attempt at comedy. I'll be at Harvard Film Institute's Yamaha baby grand for the screening (in 35mm) on Thursday, Aug. 1 at 7 p.m.

By "comedy," I don't mean kick-in-the-pants silent film slapstick. And I don't mean the kind of black comedy Hitchcock was later to do in movies such as 'The Trouble With Harry' (1955). Rather, 'Champagne' is a society comedy, and a light and fizzy concoction at that—very much like the beverage of the title. Unusual for Hitchcock, no bodies anywhere.

Looking back on the film many years later, Hitchcock was displeased, recalling that the film didn't really have a story to tell. Previewing it on YouTube, I can see what he meant. However, it's always a mistake to make judgments about a movie after watching it online in that format, so I encourage you to check it out as Hitchcock intended: on the big screen and in a theater. Me, I'm waiting until Thursday to see how an audience responds.

Whatever misgivings Hitchcock might have had, 'Champagne' is well worth drinking in because you can see how many of the hallmarks of Hitchcock's visual style are already coming together. The camerawork is quite creative in places, Hitchcock having absorbed the vocabulary of German expressionism and well along in the process of making it his own. You can see him developing and fashioning the cinematic language that would later come to full flower in his later masterpieces.

And yes, there are a few moments that promise laugh-out-loud hilarity. We'll see.

So I'm eager to help bring this picture to life at my Harvard debut, which itself contains an element of backstage comedy. The chief reason I'm appearing at the Harvard Film Archive as part of this prestigious series is because (drum roll please)...no one else was available! Yes, none of the theater's regular accompanists could be scheduled, and so yours truly got the call! Thus do I get an opportunity to crash the Ivy League!

Seriously, I'm grateful to the folks at the Harvard Film Archive for a chance to contribute live music to this important project. Let's just hope the comedy doesn't extend to audience members hurling anything at the pianist.

If you'd like to check out 'Champagne,' or any of the Harvard Film Archive's other Hitchcock screenings, more info can be found at http://hcl.harvard.edu/hfa/

And while we're talking Beantown (what the locals sometimes call Boston), let me put in a plug for our next silent film screening the next town over at the Somerville Theater in Somerville, Mass.

On Sunday, Aug. 4, we're screening a 35mm print of Buster Keaton's 'The General' (1926), the next installment of the "Silents Please" series. There's nothing quite like seeing one of the great silent comedies in a big theater with an audience and live music, so come one, come all. The show starts at 1 p.m. and tickets are $15 per person. For more info, visit the Somerville Theatre's Web site at www.somervilletheatreonline.com.

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