THE MANXMAN

Hitchcock’s The Manxman was given a gala performance as part of 2012 London Film Festival at the Empire Leicester Square. Ruth performed Stephen Horne’s new score  on lever and wire harp, as part of a small ensemble to a rapt audience. Below is a review of the show by ithankyouarthur:

‘This was the final restoration premier for the Hitchcock Nine and the BFI series went out with a bang… a piano, fiddle, oboe and two harps! Presented as the London Film Festival‘s archive gala, the screening took place at the Empire Leicester Square, a former music hall where the Lumière brothers staged the first commercial projected film shows in 1896.

Now it’s one of the cinemas of choice for blockbusting premiers so, there could be no bigger or better venue for the culmination of the BFI Hitchcock project.

The Manxman was Hitchcock’s last purely silent film (Blackmail was made in both formats… although it’s better as a silent in my opinion) and as Robin Baker, the BFI’s Head Curator, said in his introduction, showed the director’s mastery of the form.

The restoration team had the benefit of the original negatives amongst others and their thousands of hours of labour showed in yet another crisp print projected into the Empire’s huge screen. The restoration process has been painstaking and as Baker said, it has taken longer to restore than films than Hitchcock took to make them.And, what can you say about the new score from Stephen Horne? Having blown us all away with his music for The First Born at last year’s archive gala, he repeated the trick this year… adding appropriately Celtic touches to reflect the dramatic landscapes of the Isle of Man.

Inventive, controlled and passionate the music was performed by Stephen with an expert ensemble made up of Jennifer Bennett (fiddle/viola), Joby Burgess (percussion), Janey Miller (Oboe and the aptly-named Oboe d’Amore) and Ruth Wall (Lever Harp/Wire Harp and a passing resemblance to Anny Ondra…)

This was the fifth of the nine restored Hitchcocks I have seen and whilst I have thoroughly enjoyed the new music placed against the other films, Horne’s score was the most sympathetic. This is very much Stephen’s “day job” and it really showed as his music offered gentle support to the story, anticipating mood changes and helping the viewer interpret the meaning and feeling. He’s spent decades dueting with the directors of silent film and so his mastery of collaboration-after-the-fact should come as no surprise.

Here his music played a major part in turning this event onto a memorable occasion, making the very best of a film of great visual flair but low-level dramatic impact.

The boys argue over who buys the next round…

The Manxman was based on a highly-successful 1894 novel from Manxman, Hall Caine and dealt with social norms of the Isle of Man a semi-autonomous island that even in the twenties was still mildly out of step with mainland Britain (even now…?). The social pressures on the main protagonists would have been a curiosity then and they certainly are now. The characters’ motivations therefore seem obscure and fathomless… which is where the music comes in helping to fill the cognitive gaps and anchor the heartbreak in terms we can better understand.

The story is a love triangle based in a small fishing port where a poor fisherman, Pete Quilliam (Carl Brisson) is best friends with a lawyer, Philip Christian (Malcolm Keen). The two men, from different ends of the social scale, are as close as brothers and pursue the same causes with Philip helping the fishermen fight for their rights.

But they also have other interest at heart. Pete is in love with Kate (Anny Ondra) the daughter of the local pub landlord and so, we soon discover, is Philip.  But when her father, Old Caesar (Randie Ayrton wearing two impressive earrings), rejects the fisherman as not being worthy he pledges to make his fortune overseas and return to marry Kate.

Dad watches Kate as she weighs up the options…

She pledges to wait for him and he asks Philip to watch over her. Pete leaves and via clever use of Kate’s diary, Hitchcock shows the developing feelings between her and Pete’s best mate… out of sight, out of mind.

Pete is reportedly killed and the two are free to pursue their affair but her returns unharmed and enriched, to claim his bride. Philip will not stand in his buddy’s way and, with his career on the rise, has other issues of standing to consider.

Pete marries Kate but they are doomed to unhappiness even after the birth of a baby… Will true love out or will society force them to persist in their sad compromise?

It’s a slow-paced film but Hitchcock puts as much emotional spin on things as he can but this sometimes means that the actors seem to be over-reaching. All three are very skilled but I struggled to view Malcolm Keen as genuine romantic competition to Carl Brisson (sorry mate!) – he is very expressive but hasn’t got leading man good looks. Besides, Anny Ondry can’t hide her earthy qualities and you instinctively feel that she’d be better off with the swarthy Dane.

Hitchcock’s camera spends a lot of time on Miss Ondry and you can understand why he chose her for Blackmail, she… radiates!

Can you spot Anny in this picture?

Also stunning is the north Cornwall scenery that stands in for the Isle of Man, you can see the director really enjoying himself with some shamelessly gratuitous shots of the cliff sides, forests and brooding  skies…usually with Anny skipping across them!

I shall really miss the Hitchcock premiers but these films will run and run. Robin Baker said that The Pleasure Garden had recently been shown to a crowd of 6,000 on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro… now there’s a great venue for silent film!

The Manxman is currently available as part of the Silent Hitchcock collection but, as I’ve said before, it’s worth waiting until the restored version is made available, hopefully complete with Mr Horne’s superlative score. The BFI are working on it…

There she is!’