Hitchcock, Bergman and festival of famous films

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Newly restored “Notorious”… the spy-thriller starring Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains set against a background of post-war fascist intrigue in Brazil.

Hitchcock, Bergman and another thoughtful start to the Canberra International Film Festival from Andrew Pike. 

ANDREW Pike is a man on a mission to get Canberrans viewing the art of cinema in its best light.

With this in mind, the Canberra International Film Festival, which he chairs, is staging a retrospective “prelude to a festival” focusing on the famous collaboration between director Alfred Hitchcock and actress Ingrid Bergman from 1945 to 1949.

Forget about virtual reality, animation and heightened special effects, to this festival it is the craft of filmmaking that matters – camera angles, the length of shoots, lighting and, yes, the screenplay and acting.

Over an abbreviated season of three nights, the festival will screen a new restoration from the British Film Institute of “Notorious” (1946), the spy-thriller starring Bergman and Cary Grant set against a background of post-war fascist intrigue in Brazil.

That will be followed by “Spellbound” (1945), where Gregory Peck plays patient to Ingrid Bergman’s psychiatrist.

Hitchcock’s “Australian film”… “Under Capricorn”, set in convict-era Sydney. From left, Cecil Parker, Michael Wilding and Ingrid Bergman.

The final night features Hitchcock’s “Australian film”, “Under Capricorn” (1949) set in of all places, convict-era Sydney and based on a novel by Australian author, Helen Simpson. 

It’s a rare costume drama by Hitchcock, mostly reviled in its time but loved by the French critics and described by British critic David Thomson as “a Hitchcock masterpiece”.

So why the short season?

“Because of funding concerns we are having to rebuild our financial base and that’s taking longer than we thought,” Pike says.

The International Film Festival, which began in 1996, very nearly collapsed several years ago, until it was picked up by a bunch of dedicated film buffs, moved to the Arc Cinema at the National Film and Sound Archive and transformed into a focused event. 

It has looked at genres, behind-the-screen craft and specific artists such as NZ animator Len Lye and French director Jacques Tourneur, and brought in overseas experts for panel discussions.

“Several years ago the festival found audiences drifting away because of the proliferation of national film festivals in commercial cinemas,” Pike says.

“There was also a dramatic reduction in ACT government funding for film festivals generally, so we had to find a different concept to justify it. Now I’m interested in pushing the boundaries and trying to get some rethinking going.

“Spellbound”, where Gregory Peck plays patient to Ingrid Bergman’s psychiatrist.

“This year we wanted to just give a taste of the things we will be doing… we want to come up with things that people haven’t been aware of.” 

Such as “Under Capricorn”, which most people will be unaware of.

Pike says Hitchcock himself dismissed “Under Capricorn” for technical reasons, and a costume melodrama was a real departure for him.

“The thing for us is that it’s set in Sydney although filmed in the UK and there are some lovely wide shots of old Sydney town,” says Pike. 

In it, Hitchcock was experimenting with 10-minute takes. As well, the film has a complex screenplay, giving scope to the actors.

“At its centre is a magnificent eight-and-a-half-minute monologue for Ingrid Bergman, of which she complained at the time, but later admitted in her biography, ‘he was right’,” says Pike. 

The other films will be more familiar. “Spellbound” is the prototype for Hitchcock‘s foray into Freudian psychology, with everything including a dream sequence designed by Salvador Dali and the weird sound of the Theremin to represent mental disturbance, while “Notorious” represents Hollywood at its most classy, Pike says.

“I love the fact that ‘Notorious’ is a spy film but it’s a love story, too, there’s no overacting and there’s no shooting and no car bombing,” he says.

In it, Hitchcock used giant close-ups, with the slightest movement of Bergman’s face muscles showing enormous depth of feeling – “nuanced and wonderful,” says Pike. He also praises its strong characters, the previously lightweight Cary Grant cast as a manipulative operator who uses emotional blackmail to get what he wants and the famous Austrian actress Leopoldine Konstantin cast as the evil mother of Claude Rains.

It’s also very sexy, with a lot of implicit eroticism in her exchanges with Cary Grant over a roast chicken.

Pike says Hitchcock had a reputation for treating actresses badly, but certainly not Bergman.

“He may have wanted to exploit and control her, but she wasn’t up for that, she was always very much in control of her career, very ambitious and very serious about the craft… Hitchcock was her stepping stone to fame,” he says.

As for Hitchcock, Pike says: “He liked to work with stars. He loved her beauty and he admired her acting skills.”

“Bergman-Hitchcock” season, Arc Cinema, October 25-27. Book at ciff.com.au




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