Left - Evan Kennea, Conductor/Director of Ensemble Vertigo
Alfred Hitchcock's 1927 silent film classic The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog might just have been unwatchable for me on Sunday night at Luna Leederville without the affecting music score of Joby Talbot (composed in 1999) and the wonderful live performance of it by Ensemble Vertigo. This event was the winter concert of the Musica Viva Ménage program, whose aim is to take chamber music out of the concert hall and into informal inner-city venues using local talent, and this sold-event event did just that. (It’s also kind of cool that the group shares a name with one of Hitchcock’s films, don’t you think?)
Before Hitchcock fans seek me out and lynch me for my ‘unwatchable’ comment, let me defend myself. Yes, The Lodger has been described as uncompromisingly arty for a British film of that time, and obviously is essential viewing for Hitchcock fans. But its drawn out telling of a simple story means that, without the aid of dialogue, the film tends to drag. (Hitchcock himself admitted that he needed to hone his editing skills a bit.) Furthermore, I had to forcibly remind the feminist in me to keep it all in historical perspective, particularly during the shot of the landlady on her hands and knees scrubbing the floor as her husband reclines in an armchair next to her, reading the paper as he blows the smoke from his pipe into her face.
So, the film is certainly not without its flaws - Hitchcock was still young and inexperienced when he directed it - but of note to film buffs is the fact that it’s the first time Hitchcock dealt with the subject of murder. The film is based on a book of the same name, which was the first to offer a solution to the mystery of the Jack The Ripper killings. Fans also appreciate that The Lodger is Hitchcock’s earliest film that now survives in its entirety, that Hitchcock considered it his first true film, and that in it he makes his first cameo appearance, something that became a famous trademark of his work.
Despite the flaws (and me being no film expert), even I can see the progressiveness of this film. Hitchcock was clearly experimenting with cinematic technique, particularly double exposures, and there are some wonderful point of view shots and great use of graphics and titles. Apparently Hitchcock, along with the star of the film, was unhappy with the forced happy ending, and if you look closely at the end you can see Hitchcock’s repudiation of this. Clearly Talbot looked closely too, because the score at the end would no doubt make Hitchcock proud: it rises to a dramatic crescendo that drips with suggested malevolence and suspense.
This partnership of Musica Viva Ménage and Luna Cinemas was a fabulous idea. It was certainly a privilege to watch a film with the talented Perth musicians of Ensemble Vertigo, ably conducted by Evan Kennea, providing the atmosphere. Talbot’s score is by no means simple, and the musicians performed it extremely well. The music is full of uneven pauses, multitudes of trills, and even a segment that requires the whole ensemble to play a series of glissandos (sliding scales – downwards in this case) when the lodger meets the heroine, Daisy. Kennea did a remarkable job of conducting to a click track, and there were many moments of perfect synchronisation with the images.
There was a wonderful exchange between the piano and violin during the press room scene (where Hitchcock cameos) and it’s hard to imagine the scene working without it. There are several recurring melodic themes in the score, including a wonderful theme for Daisy, which also appeared to represent femininity in general in the film: it’s pretty and sweeping, but not without a slightly sinister undertone. Interestingly, the murders of the women are silent; the images of their open-mouthed screaming left to speak for themselves.
This long and complex score would be hard work for only eight musicians, who between them generated a remarkable variety of sounds. To sit back with a complimentary glass of wine and watch a cinema classic with a live soundtrack is a damn fine way to spend a Sunday evening, if you ask me.
Alfred Hitchcock's The Lodger
Accompanied by Ensemble Vertigo
Venue: Luna Cinemas 155 Oxford St, Leederville
Date/Time: 6:30pm Sunday 24 August