A restoration by the BFI National Archive in association with STUDIOCANAL
Principal restoration funding provided by The Hollywood Foreign Press Association and The Film Foundation.
Additional funding provided by Deluxe 142, Pia Getty, Col & Karen Needham, and the Dr Mortimer & Theresa Sackler Foundation.
The Restoration – Blackmail version muette
Fortunately the BFI National Archive holds the original negative of the silent version. However the negative had suffered extensively from ‘curling’ as a result of one side of the film stock having shrunk more than the other. This, in combination with very narrow joins between shots, meant careful digital scanning was required to prevent further damage and to make the film lie flat in the scanner’s gate. Without this, the sharpness of the images would have been severely compromised. Eventually, despite the curl of the film emulsion and the delicate splices, a sharp scan with excellent tonal range was achieved.
The film is one of the first features to be scanned on the BFI’s scanner and it has benefited from the use of a wet-gate for sections of the film. In this technology, the film is immersed in a fluid at the
Blackmail displays many of the stylistic elements and themes with which Hitchcock would come to be associated: particularly a fascination with male sexual aggression and female vulnerability. Like the later Sabotage (1936) it features a woman who is protected from the Law by her policeman lover. It is also one of a number of Hitchcock’s films to feature a heroine who enters a dazed or ‘fugue’ state in which she acts mechanically and apparently without control of her actions – other examples are Murder! (1930), Sabotage and, more ambiguously, Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960).
The young Michael Powell, A Matter of Life and Death (1946), then a stills photographer, claimed to have suggested that the script should lose the third act of the original play, in which it is revealed that no murder has been committed, and end instead with a chase over the dome of the British Museum Reading Room.
The Lodger and The Ring both have London locations, but this is undoubtedly the first of Hitchcock’s trademark set-piece finales point of scanning in order to greatly reduce or eliminate the many fine scratches on the surface.
After scanning, which was carried out at 4K resolution, the negative’s remaining damage and several multi-frame tears were removed by digital repair.
The intertitles were present at full-length – rather than the ‘flash-titles’ which often exist in other silent negatives – and have been preserved as part of the new master. The dissolves between shots are a crucial part of the film’s narration and, where possible, they have been reconstructed from the two separate shots.
In the end, the restoration has produced an exceptionally clean picture which retains the essence, texture and beauty of the original photography.
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