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Silent Hitchcock thriller comes to Chorlton

Andy Murray is praying for fog as Chorlton Film Institute screen <i>The Lodger</i> with a live musical score

Published on December 15th 2009.

Silent Hitchcock thriller comes to Chorlton

There’s something about Christmas that suits a bit of warm and fuzzy nostalgia. Who here, then, gets misty-eyed about the glory days of the Majestic, the Pavilion, the Rivoli and the Palais de Luxe? If the names ring no bells, they were amongst the vast array of cinemas that populated Chorlton-cum-Hardy back in the halcyon age of matinee idols, ascending organists and refreshments from the usherette. These venerable picture houses themselves may be long gone, but for one night only on Thursday 17 December, Chorlton Film Institute will present the opportunity to hark back to the heyday of silent British cinema, from within their picturesque regular venue of St Clement’s Church.

Hitchcock later went on record saying that The Lodger, the third film he ever made, could more rightly be considered his first in terms of lasting merit. Many of the tubby auteur’s favourite themes – paranoia, hunted men, doomed blondes – are present and correct.

The Lodger may not be Hitchcock’s best known film, but when it was made back in 1926, he was still carving a name for himself. Adapted from the popular novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes, essentially it’s a highly fictionalized version of the Jack the Ripper story, with a homicidal maniac dubbed The Avenger stalking the foggy streets of London. With public suspicion running high, a mysterious young loner takes a room in a lodging house. Surely he couldn’t be…?

Hitchcock later went on record saying that The Lodger, the third film he ever made, could more rightly be considered his first in terms of lasting merit. Many of the tubby auteur’s favourite themes – paranoia, hunted men, doomed blondes – are present and correct. It even boasts the earliest of his legendary on-screen cameos. A box office hit at the time, it’s an overlooked Expressionist masterpiece.

It’s also silent, and screening a silent film necessitates a soundtrack. To this end, Chorlton Film Institute have engaged local musician Otto Smart. With his own act The Otto Show and as a member of The Montgolfier Brothers, Smart has long been a mainstay on the local music scene. An avowed fan of classic soundtrack composers, from Nino Rota and Michel Legrand to Ennio Morricone, he was delighted to get involved with this event. “This is the first time I’ve been asked to do a live soundtrack for a film. I’ve always wanted to do it, but the opportunity’s never arisen. It’s a bit of a challenge, and I’m always up for a challenge.”

Smart approached the project with real vigour. Steering well clear of any existing scores for the film, he’s written an entirely new soundtrack, complete with recurring musical themes for key characters, settings and sub plots. “All those themes run through it like a patchwork. I was also quite determined not to have too many gaps. And if there were gaps they were quite deliberate gaps. At the time of silent films the pianist or organist would just keep going through the whole thing, and improvise, more or less. So I wanted to keep that feel of having a constant music commentary going on.”

Playing as The Otto Show for the occasion will be Chris Payne (on soprano saxophone), Sophia Lockwood (on cello) and Otto himself on guitar. The end result should be true to the spirit of the music of the age. “That wasn’t conscious, but it’s sort of worked out that way, partly because of the instrumentation. There are no modern instruments in there, so it does lend itself to that silent feel. I had Duke Ellington and Gershwin in mind.”

It may not be the standard pre-Christmas knees-up, but this could well turn out to be something special – a slice of bygone cinema with an evocative new soundtrack in the atmospheric environs of a rather beautiful church. Just keep your fingers crossed for fog on the night…

St Clement's Church, High Line, Chorlton. Thursday 17 December. Doors open at 8pm. Screening begins at 8.30pm. The venue has its own parking facilities and refreshments will be available on the night. Tickets are £5 on the door.

Click here for Chorlton Film Institute website or click here for Otto Show website.

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