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BFI (2012) - Restoring Hitchcock 4: the trouble with Champagne




Restoring Hitchcock #4: the trouble with Champagne

Bryony Dixon, Monday, 24 September 2012

In the fourth in our series on the silent Hitchcock restoration project, curator Bryony Dixon recalls the obstacles presented by Champagne and explains how this 1928 comedy got its sparkle back.

Of all the surviving Hitchcock silents, it was the restoration of Champagne (1928) that caused us the most anxiety from a curatorial perspective. Although the restoration team were able to work from an original negative, which meant we were able to get very good image quality, this was a mixed blessing.

At the beginning of the restoration process we were concerned that for a Hitchcock film there were some clumsily juxtaposed shots and framing errors, as well as the occasional shot exhibiting substandard acting or shots that were held uncomfortably long.

Further examination revealed an instruction scratched into a leader (blank film attached to the start of a reel to enable threading into the projector) saying ‘2nd neg’. From this we deduced that this negative was assembled from second-best shots, kept as a backup in case of damage to the original or for making additional prints for export. This was studio practice at the time, which we can prove from two prints of The Ring (1927) – the British and the French versions. These were edited together from different takes that you can clearly see were taken at the same shoot, but were not taken simultaneously with a second camera. As this negative is the only original element in existence we will never know exactly what the film looked like as it was originally released.

The evidence of editor’s marks on the negative of Champagne confirmed our suspicions. An extensive international search of archives and fil...