The Guardian (03/Sep/1927) - THE WEEK ON SCREEN
(c) The Guardian (03/Sep/1927)
- keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, Downhill (1927), Easy Virtue (1928), Noel Coward, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)
THE WEEK ON SCREEN
I have been very much interested this week in comparing the work; of two young men, Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Land, who are, in their different ways and according to the trend of their different nationalities, followers of the same modern school of kinematography. Hitchcock is an Englishman, Land a German. Both men belong to the realist group of young directors—they concern themselves with human figures, not, as in the case of the modern French directors, with abstract form; their interest is less in designing for the screen than in expressing through the screen the design of their own ideas. They have turned their attention to moving pictures in a day which has outgrown mere story value and come to a dim understanding of the camera, as an artist's tool. Neither Hitchcock nor Land is trammelled with tradition. Neither has had to drag into his work the conventions of the war-time and pre-war-time kinema, nor to free himself, in picture-planning, of the influence of the Griffith, or Ince, or De Mille, or the operatic Italian school. Coming into the kinema at a time of unusual flux and flexibility, when the old and the new are hooked side by side in the same bill and nations are borrowing ideas from nations in a hungry search for something which shall fix the kinema permanently among the entertainments, if not among the arts, these two directors have been able to start clean, without bias, and, lacking experience, with nothing to unlearn. They have been able, from their first pictures, to be themselves. No definite method has been prescribed for or expected of them. Where they have differed has been in the character, and not the measure, of their freedom, and since they are both men of quality their work has been at least comparably, and honourably, unlike.
Alfred Hitchcock hag just followed up his pictures "The Lodger" and "Downhill" with a film version of Noel Coward's "Easy Virtue." It is an extremely clever piece of work, and confirms all one's earlier suspicions that in Hitchcock England has found her first really brilliant technical director. But "Easy Virtue," for all its cleverness, is not a good film. It misses contact with the audience, just as, and because, it missed contact with the people whose lives are the picture's professed concern. Hitchcock had an artificial story and an artificial society to deal with here, but his treatment of them is not that of a director who matches artificiality of substance with artificiality of form, but of a man who has in himself so little reaction to flesh-and-blood truth that, he is almost incapable of knowing the living from the dead. Hitchcock's blindness to the things that people do in expression of their real emotions is not a mannerism but a fact. In his work he thinks, and cannot feel. No director in England, and very few in America, can tell a screen story as cleverly as he—can narrate so subtly and simply to the eye, without a word written, using all the tricks of the camera and all the loquacity of silent things to carry his audience from point to point in perfect understanding and ease. But he will have to learn to know men as well as he knows the camera or, not knowing men, to turn his talents from the intimate to the impersonal kinema before he can become one of the great directors of the screen.
Robert Land, on the other hand, will be a good director, and possibly a great director, when he learns to think kinema as well as to feel. His film "The Garden of Youth," which is the first piece of his work to my knowledge to be shown in this country, is the most startling mixture of crudity and fine emotion. In this story, his own story, of post-war student life in Germany, Land pours out his passionate regard for peace and freedom and toleration in a photographic idiom that has neither grammar nor rule. He stirs us because we feel the intensity of his speech, but he does not win us because of the disorder in it. He seems to rage against the limitations of the camera, thrusting his motions into words and still drawings and pages of essays, never realising that the screen's limitations are the boundaries of his power, and that the camera, fully used, can shape as much of truth and beauty as any other tool in an artist's hand.
It will be interesting to watch the development of Hitchcock and Land in their future productions, to see how they escape from, or conform to, their limitations, and to discover whether the quality that is in each of them is of an enduring enough nature to survive the long and tedious apprenticeship to fame.