Hitchcock’s ‘Blackmail’ with Live Orchestra

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Hitchcock’s silent classic is brought to life by a thunderous – if somewhat inconsistent – score performed by the BBC SSO.

Image of Hitchcock’s ‘Blackmail’ with Live Orchestra
[Rating:4/5] Hitchcock's silent classic is brought to life by a thunderous - if somewhat inconsistent - score performed by the BBC SSO.

Showing @ City Halls, Glasgow, Sat 25 July 2015

Alfred Hitchcock’s Blackmail is a film with an interesting history; released at the dawn of “talkies” the film exists in two versions, one with sound and one without. Tonight we’re experiencing the latter, brought gloriously to life by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, who have paired the film with music composed by Neil Brand in 2008. Should it really work? On occasions it doesn’t, but overall it’s an experience which is… well, cinematic.

Before we start, conductor Timothy Brock points out that Brand’s score has been influenced by the “Hitchcock sound”, a subtle way of telling us to “prepare to hear music you’ve kinda heard before”. It is this familiarity which causes the most troubling issues. Pieces which evoke Vertigo are the easiest to spot, but they are also the most distracting as you remember just how much better a film you could be watching. Sure, Blackmail’s enjoyable, but it’s clear that Hitch still had a lot to learn.

That is not to say however that the show doesn’t go well – when things click, things REALLY click. The build up to the murder scene is seamless in its transition from light to dark, from playful flirting to life-threatening jeopardy, and so in-tune is the music with the plot that the musicians might as well be playing the piece which originally accompanied the film. We feel Alice’s torment, we experience her fear at the clown painting, and since our emotions are at the mercy of a conductor and his band of merry men and women, we feel these things all the more.

To refer to such an experience as “silent cinema” is a bit of a misnomer, with so much of it owing its fortunes to the continuous accompaniment. Brand’s score occasionally tips over into Hitchcockian cliché, and Blackmail as a film isn’t up there with the director’s most ground-breaking work, but together they do seem to work. They are like an odd couple – one too knowing, the other too naïve – that spring to life when a balance is found between them.