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Hitchcock's Style by Mark Duguid
Introduction Visual Storytelling Example: The Lodger Example: Blackmail 1 Example: Blackmail 2 The MacGuffin
The Look Women Suspense      
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Example: Blackmail: Silent and Sound: 1
Still from Blackmail (1929)

Blackmail (1929)

In 1929, Hitchcock directed the first full-length British 'talkie', Blackmail. The film was begun as a mostly silent film, for which the studio gave Hitchcock permission to shoot a few sound sequences. Ignoring this, he instead shot two versions of the film - one entirely silent (for the majority of cinemas not yet equipped for sound) and the other almost entirely with sound.

The two versions match one another scene for scene and often shot for shot (although no two shots are exactly identical, presumably since it was impossible to duplicate the film without loss of quality). Many scenes, however, differ quite markedly between the two versions. A close comparison of the two reveals the way in which Hitchcock modified his style of shooting and editing for the new medium.

Critic and historian Charles Barr, in his 1976 article "Blackmail: Silent and Sound", in which he closely compares the two versions, notes that the silent version shows Hitchcock striving to escape a 'theatrical' style in which the action is generally viewed face on, with the camera occupying the position of the 'fourth wall'. In a theatre, this represents the position of the proscenium arch, which marks the boundary between a conventional stage and the audience.

In the silent version, Hitchcock experimented with changing the position of the camera within a scene, and tried to avoid 'face-on' set-ups, that is, where the camera is placed at ninety degrees to the action. Because of the limitations of sound at this early stage - for example the need to position the microphone where it can pick up all of the actors in the scene but cannot be seen - Hitchcock was obliged to adopt a less experimental approach in the framing of the sound version.

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