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Notes on Hitchcock’s Home Movies by Dwight Swanson. All images courtesy of the Hitchcock family and the Academy Film Archive. Special thanks to Lynne Kirste and May Haduong.
In 2006, as I began working on the production of Amateur Night, a 35mm compilation film of home movies and amateur films from American film archives, high on my list of films to include was something from Alfred Hitchcock’s home movies from the Academy Film Archive. Hitchcock’s home movies have not been widely seen, but they are far from unknown, since they have been shown at the Academy, most notably at their “Hollywood Home Movies” screenings, as well as used in occasional documentaries, such as Hitchcock: Alfred the Great.
The collection, which was donated to the Academy by the Hitchcock family, contains a mixture of 8mm and 16mm reels in black and white and color, shot both of and by Alfred Hitchcock. There is footage of him on the set of Blackmail and Frenzy, but most of it is pretty typical home movie fare of the family on vacation and at their country home in Sussex. Depending upon one’s perspective, it is either a disappointment or a relief to discover that home movies of one of the most iconic directors in film history are more or less the same as those shot by your uncle. Judging by how often he appears in the films, the camera remained constantly in motion between his hands and his wife and collaborator Alma’s, and surprisingly, it is when Hitchcock is in front of the camera that the films really come alive. Hitchcock, it turns out, was more than a little playful when in his natural element, and there are numerous charming scenes of him eating a banana backwards, posing proudly in his long underwear, awkwardly riding a bicycle, and generally mugging for the camera at every opportunity.
The segment I chose to include was among the most cinematic of all of his home movies. Beginning with a brief comic vignette, Alma, dressed in a riding outfit reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin, catches Hitchcock romancing another woman and grabs him, hauls him to his feet, shakes him and tries to kick him in the pants. Filmed in 1930 or 1931 at the family’s summer home Shamley Cottage, thirty miles southwest of London, the rest of the reel depicts games of tennis and other leisurely activities with their guests, including actors Edna Best and Herbert Marshall.
Working from the camera original reversal film, Cineric Inc. blew it up to 35mm for the new print, but because the film (like most home movies) was shot silent, I arranged with May Haduong and Lynne Kirste of the Academy Film Archive to record a new commentary with Patricia Hitchcock O’Connell (Hitchcock’s daughter, who appears prominently in the home movies) at her home west of Los Angeles. Because Mrs. O’Connell was a mere toddler at the time of the filming her memories were understandably indistinct, and were of the setting rather than the actual events. Her two daughters joined in as she watched the video monitor, making the commentary a true family affair—appropriate for home movies, of course. “My father loved doing the home movies,” remembered Mrs. O’Connell, “and, well that’s what these were all about, were the home movies of playing tennis and various things like that.”
This special Home & Amateur post is in support of the Film Preservation Blogathon. Please donate! Funds raised in this year’s blogathon will go to the National Film Preservation Foundation for a new score and online access for the 1923 melodrama The White Shadow, the first film Alfred Hitchcock had a major role in creating (assistant director, screenwriter, film editor, production designer, art director, set decorator).
The House of Alijn, in Ghent, Belgium, according to its website, ”tells a timeless story about the culture of everyday life, a magnificent tale about all things great and small.” One element of their exhibits is a series of commissioned films incorporating home movies. They can be found on their Vimeo page with the prefix FFF (for Focus on Found Footage).
Nathalie Teirlinck’s contribution, the haunting Deconstruction of Memory (reconstruction of a dream) is shown below.