Alfred Hitchcock Retrospective

May 19, 2012

Raleigh News & Observer

It’s been more than 50 years since Alfred Hitchcock made his most famous movie, “Psycho,” in 1960. Since then, an entire generation of movie lovers has come of age admiring the great director from a distance, via home video, late-night TV broadcasts or – heaven help us – dubious Hollywood remakes.

But starting this weekend, film geeks and casual fans alike can experience Hitchcock films the way they were meant to be seen. Beginning with Friday’s 7 p.m. screening of “Psycho,” the Carolina Theatre in Durham kicks off two weeks of screenings with “An Alfred Hitchcock Retrospective,” featuring a curated assortment of his classic films on the big screen.

Of the 15 films being screened, 11 will be presented in the original 35-mm format, with the remaining four projected digitally in high definition. Carolina Theatre senior director Jim Carl, who curated the program, said several of the 35-mm prints in the retrospective are rare archival reels – some of them the sole remaining print of a particular film in the United States.

Tracking down the surviving prints can be an adventure in sleuthing. “There’s a supposition that there is this catalog where everything is listed alphabetically,” Carl said.

“Not so. It’s a very time-consuming, laborious process. It’s rarely cut and dried, and sometimes it’s a real maze.”

Carl began the process of chasing down the films about six months ago. He first had to determine who held the rights to each film, as deals and acquisitions over the years had scattered the rights among various distributors.

“And even if someone has the rights, they might not have a 35-mm print,” Carl said. “Then, even if they do have a print, it might not be available at the right time. We’re competing with other film programmers across the U.S. who might have their own Hitchcock series.”

Carl said he had initially planned the retrospective to be a one-week series focusing on lesser-known Hitchcock titles. But as the practical rights and availability issues played out, he decided to expand the series to two weeks and include some of Hitchcock’s more famous films.

“I’d spoken with other programmers around the U.S., and they had an interesting perspective I hadn’t thought of,” he said. “They said when they tried to put together a retrospective of unknown Hitchcock films, the audiences in the area complained – they wanted to see ‘Psycho’ and ‘Rear Window.’ ”

Carl decided to balance the series between Hitchccock’s popular films and some of his more obscure works. “Many of these films haven’t been screened in the Triangle for decades,” he said.

Carl also tried to track down classic episodes of the “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” television series, but could not secure the rights to exhibit them theatrically. “I’m sure there are theaters out there who have done it, but if they have, they’ve done it illegally,” Carl said.

Some of the screenings may have brief introductions, Carl said, but he deliberately avoided adding additional events. “I’m a purist when it comes to film festivals,” he said. “I try to avoid convention settings with vendors or other events or sponsors. I want to focus on the films themselves.”

+ + +

The Carolina Theatre’s Hitchcock retrospective is a rare opportunity to see some of the director’s lesser-known films on the big screen. Some recommendations:

“The Paradine Case” (1947, 115 min, 35mm)
9:30 p.m. Friday
7:00 p.m. Monday

Starring Gregory Peck and Italian actress Alida Valli, this courtroom drama follows a British barrister who falls in love with his murder-suspect client. The film features familiar Hitchcockian themes – adultery, murder and the femme fatale – and the director’s first experiments with multiple camera techniques.

“The Trouble With Harry” (1955, 99 min, HD)
1 p.m. May 26
9:30 p.m. May 29

One of the director’s few comedies, “The Trouble With Harry” is nevertheless squarely in Hitchcock territory. Harry, you see, is dead – and the trouble concerns what to do with the corpse. The film also marks the director’s first collaboration with composer Bernard Herrmann.

“The 39 Steps” (1935, 86 min, 35mm)
3:00 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday
9:30 pm May 24

A huge hit in the U.K., “The 39 Steps” is an early example of the “MacGuffin” plot device, in which pursuit of a valuable but ambiguous object drives the story. Robert Donat stars as a tourist caught in a deadly game of European espionage, and the film is a marvel of watertight structure and plotting. The 35-mm print used in this screening is the only one in circulation in the U.S.

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