Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose #1: Spiralling into View: The Pleasure Garden (1925)

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Hi Hitchcock50 students!

 

We jump right into our analysis of 50 Years of Hitchcock by looking at the opening scene from Alfred Hitchcock's first feature film, The Pleasure Garden (1925). You can watch the clip over in the Canvas course under the Monday June 26 module: "Beginnings, Part 1: Hitch's Early Life & Career." 

 

If you are not already a student in 50 Years of Hitchcock, please join our free course at hitchcock50.tcm.com

 

This Daily Dose has three reflection questions:

1. Do you see the beginnings of the "Hitchcock touch" in this sequence? Please provide specific examples. 

2. Do you agree or disagree with Strauss, Yacowar, and Spoto assessments that this sequence contains elements, themes, or approaches that we will see throughout Hitchcock's 50-year career? 

3. Since this is a silent film, do you feel there were any limitations on these opening scenes due to the lack of synchronous spoken dialogue?

Feel free to respond to those 3 questions, or feel free to add your own reflections. 

Thanks, Rich Edwards (Instructor, 50 Years of Hitchcock)

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1. Yes, the beginnings of the Hitchcock touch are forming. Viewing the dancing ladies with the eyepieces emphasizes the director wants to tightly control what the audience sees and experiences. He is already commanding only and exactly what he wants us to see. Also, I laughed out loud when the woman pulled the curl out of her hair and handed it to the guy. That seemed to come out of nowhere, and surprises from nowhere are definitely a Hitchcock signature.

2. Agree.

3. No, I think it's pretty clear what is going on.

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1. Love the Hitchcock sass of this scene; the Freudian discomfort of the row of male patrons and the tired sexiness of the chorine, the bad attitude of the rich guy puffing away in front of the no smoking sign... and then the loss of control when the ingénue finds she's been robbed - his characters are always trapped by their own psychology, and victims of circumstance and forces larger than themselves, and he exerts so much control over them visually. 

2. Totally agree, those themes are eternal and he was completely confident that they wouldn't age. They really haven't. Human nature. His films still resonate because they're so curated and exact and uncluttered. The brutal humor saves them from seeming overly theatrical. There's a scale or distance from which he approaches story and characters that's precise and unflinching.     

3. I think the titles are where he gets his superpowers - to me it connects as well as it would if the voices could be heard speaking, it plays as totally present since it's happening at that well-crafted level, there's no uncertainty.

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1) the angle and concentration on the spiral staircase, which is both suggestive (phallic) and suggestive (of the winding, indirect path of the film content). Note also the lighting of and perspective on the spiral staircase, which is slightly unconventional but not overdone, intriguing but not distracting.
2) absolutely. Stairs, for instance. Droll humor. The implacable aspect of circumstance (mentioned by other posters).
3) not much. In fact, careless dialogue could easily be a distraction. At first I kept expecting dialogue cards.
On realizing that these were to be strictly metered out, I was able to relax and absorb the actions and scenes. Note that I watch silent films and was surprised at both the clip's sparsity of the dialogue cards and how little they were missed. In fact, I turned off the sound in order to better appreciate the clip. I found that I was no longer attempting to translate the lip movement to dialogue because the lyricism of the film was already carrying me along. 
 

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1. Do you see the beginnings of the "Hitchcock touch" in this sequence? Please provide specific examples. 

 

I largely see "Hitchcock's touch" in this opening sequence. His use of POV to strictly control what the viewer sees and feels is used here. We will later see a lot of POV used in Rear Window.

 

2. Do you agree or disagree with Strauss, Yacowar, and Spoto assessments that this sequence contains elements, themes, or approaches that we will see throughout Hitchcock's 50-year career? 

 

AGREE!

 

3. Since this is a silent film, do you feel there were any limitations on these opening scenes due to the lack of synchronous spoken dialogue?

 

There were barely any limitations due to the lack os synchronous spoken dialogue. Hitchcock was a master of using visuals to communicate all of his ideas, and it was done greatly here. 

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1. This sequence suggests the beginning of Hitchcock's ability to effectively use humor and levity in his storytelling (see below). This "touch" developed into the trademark macabre, dry/droll and dark humor associated with Hitchcock the man and the writer/director.

 

2. The element of unexpected levity showed up when the dancer pulled the curl from her head for the man - she literally gave him what he wanted/asked for which was a surprise. In later films Hitchcock would brilliantly balance heavy drama, tension and suspense with unpredictable moments of light or subtle humor.

 

3. Lack of spoken dialogue did not limit [this] viewer's ability to interpret the on-screen action. The contextual details and developing story were made visible through the acting, and captured in the camera staging.

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1. Yes, the "Hitchcock Touch" was establishing in the film's beginning. In the opening scene, girls came down from a spiral stair, representing the unpredictability and the instability that the character will face later on in the film. Hitchcock also uses a subjective perspective which  strictly controls what the audience is going to see and provides more emphasis on emotions (Example: The scene where a guy is looking at the girl's legs dancing- shows  great sexual desire and lust)

We can also see different perspective from different characters, depicting different point of views and the psychology behind their thinking and perspective

 

2. Agree! Hitchcock's is full of wit in applying some slapstick comedy (In this film, where the guy take off the girl fake hair) and his movies also explore the strong theme of the corruption of human nature and the darkness of humanity (crime, sinful acts)

 

3. Nope, There were barely any limitations, Hitchcock's profoundly use visuals to communicate all his ideas. The titles also communicates to the audience well, to connect us to the characters as if we are in the scenario.

 

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1. Love the Hitchcock sass of this scene; the Freudian discomfort of the row of male patrons and the tired sexiness of the chorine, the bad attitude of the rich guy puffing away in front of the no smoking sign... and then the loss of control when the ingénue finds she's been robbed - his characters are always trapped by their own psychology, and victims of circumstance and forces larger than themselves, and he exerts so much control over them visually. 

2. Totally agree, those themes are eternal and he was completely confident that they wouldn't age. They really haven't. Human nature. His films still resonate because they're so curated and exact and uncluttered. The brutal humor saves them from seeming overly theatrical. There's a scale or distance from which he approaches story and characters that's precise and unflinching.     

3. I think the titles are where he gets his superpowers - to me it connects as well as it would if the voices could be heard speaking, it plays as totally present since it's happening at that well-crafted level, there's no uncertainty.

 

 

1. That gave me a chuckle, annestone! Totally agree that the man casually smoking in front of the "SMOKING PROHIBITED" sign was pure signature Hitchcock dry wit/ironic humor!

 

2. It also struck me immediately that he was simultaneously mocking and addressing the British upper class, particularly the wealthy older males. No doubt, he'd be looking for backers in the future in that set! Now that's what I call a career long approach! :) I do recall Peter Bogdanovich talking about Hitchcock's fascination with the upper classes, particularly their sins and secrets, so to speak, in the DVD extras of "Dial M for Murder." Definitely recommend, worth checking out! :) 

 

3. I didn't perceive any limitations, save the challenge of modern audience members like myself not being used to "reading" dialogue.

 

Fabulous start! Thank you, Dr. Edwards and TCM!  

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1. I imagine the Hitchcock Touch refers to a stylistic tendency rather than a particularly thematic one? If so, I see Hitchcock's early command of a variety of angles to be telling. It seemed to me that the cutting of the sequence was rather quick, something that I associate with most of Hitchcock (though, of course, there are exceptions). His unconventional camera angles also contribute to this; I especially noted the move from outside the office when the girl realizes she's lost her money, to right inside, low and more in line with the perspective of the office clerk. Although, truly, I see this still has Hitchcock undeveloped: it is a largely conventional late silent film era scene, at least in grammar (although, obviously, for a debut film, quite accomplished). I also question the previously cited shock value of the fake hair, and wonder to what degree the older Hitchcock would have set up the scene earlier by letting the audience know it was fake, providing irony to the scene as the older man comments on the hair (unless, of course, we, as the audience, are meant to be compared with the desirous older men, which would certainly gel with the Jimmy Stewart Hitch-heroes from the 50s). 

 

2. I would agree with the Strauss, Yacowar, and Spoto, although that's not saying much due to the big picture comments they were making. I actually find the most interesting thematic/elemental consistency between this scene and his later ones is the focus on false appearances/fakery. It's most centered on the fake hair, which most have mentioned for its humor and shock value, but which points towards what would probably be called a late Hitchcock preoccupation with the obsession over the constructedness of identity, specifically female identity, as in Notorious, and obviously and especially Vertigo. It's also exhibited on a metatextual level with the concept of the Hitchcock blonde. In some ways, one could argue, Hitchcock is already deconstructing his later fascination with fake-blondes (although, to bring it that far is just fun scholarly stretching, I think).

 

3. I think that the only limitation that the lack of synchronous sound places on the scene is the simplified layers; had Hitchcock had sound, he probably could've placed other layers on the film, such as a juxtaposition between the music hall and the outside (further dramatizing the distinction between the upper class indoors, and the petty thieves outside). 

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As I posted on the bulletin board, I am a Hitchcock newbie so I have no idea at this point of his "signature scenes, I did enjoy the opening scene and I want to see it all.

I am able to answer #3 by saying I had not trouble at all with the lack of synchronous dialogue; I really enjoyed it.

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1. Yes I do, I feel the way the camera focuses on certain parts and angles some of them giving off what can be described as a bit sinister, the leering of the men, the look on the one womens face as the one guy looks at her.


 


2. I agree


 


3. I do not feel there were any limitations at all, I feel that it was very well put without to many words what was going on, and what was being said just in the faces and postures alone. I very much enjoy that to be honest, I so think that with film a lot can be said with very little words.


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1. Well, to me, it is all about "the pleasure of gaze" and the visual sensation stimulated by shape, color contrast, and speed. Hitchcock's first film does echo his later films, such as Vertigo and Rear Window, in terms of the way of seeing-- spying and peeking.

 

2. Certainly, but with hindsight. I think from the beginning the director himself was not so aware of what he could achieve, or envisioned himself as one of the greatest filmmaker of the 20th century. That being said, I do think he got the essence of cinema at this early stage of his career. The relation between the watcher (the camera) and the watched (the object), the relation between the spectacle and the spectator, and the staged nature of acting/performance are fundamental issues about cinema as a form of art (though during that time whether cinema is an ART was debated).

 

3. I'm pretty ok with no synchronous sounds, but I find those inserted subtitles distracting and dictating. They cut the flow of the acting and plot, and they "teach" audience how to interpret the scenes.

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Do you see the beginnings of the "Hitchcock touch" in this sequence?

Yes: we see what Hitchcock wants us to see (the focus on the staircase by having the sides completely black, the point of view shots, the lighting emphasis on the bag of the girl outside the theater as being looked at by the pick-pocketing thieves): all things we will see again in later films like Rear Window, Vertigo, etc.

Also note that Hitchcock is already using the mechanical possibilities of the camera to establish mood: the initially out of focus p.o.v. shot to zoomed in in focus shot on the blonde suggests the leering of the viewer. In Vertigo we have the famous dolly zoom shot (camera dollies is while zoom lens is zooming out) suggesting the mind-altering realization the character is undergoing.

 

Do you agree or disagree with Strauss, Yacowar, and Spoto assessments that this sequence contains elements, themes, or approaches that we will see throughout Hitchcock's 50-year career?

Well, yes: the creative use of the camera itself, we have the blonde (although fake), we have a character undergoing difficulties because of circumstances outside her/his control (the girl whose letter of introduction is stolen), there is the staircase, etc.

 

Since this is a silent film, do you feel there were any limitations on these opening scenes due to the lack of synchronous spoken dialogue?

No, not at all: Hitchcock's visual story telling is already strong in this first film's opening shot: it is quite clear what most characters think without having it explicitly stated in spoken dialogue. The chosen score is hideous, though... :)

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1. Do you see the beginnings of the "Hitchcock touch" in this sequence? Please provide specific examples.


 


Yes there are a few 'tricks' that Hitchcock used in later films, which were mainly developed due to the nature of silent film meaning that visuals carried the entire weight of telling a story, (save for the few dialogue cards which are not really required to convey the gist of the storyline), and also to keep the viewer engaged with the action happening on screen as the lack of sound could cause viewers to lose interest as only visuals with no sound is far removed from 'real life'.


 


Like opera, the use of broad performances, almost overacting, conveys a characters motivations/intentions/mood clearly, and coupled with the optical tricks, later used in his other early films such as the glass floor in The Lodger, the champagne glass in Champagne or the putting on of glasses in Easy Virtue, means the action places the viewer in the position of the character and also creates something visually clever and interesting to hold attention.


 


2. Do you agree or disagree with Strauss, Yacowar, and Spoto assessments that this sequence contains elements, themes, or approaches that we will see throughout Hitchcock's 50-year career?


 


There are several themes that re-emerge, such as the 'blonde', the dry humour such as smoking in front of the sign or the comedic 'hot under the collar' gentlemen and the overt voyeurism, all to be seen later right through Hitchcock's output from silent films to Hollywood.


 


Vertigo, Rear Window, North By Northwest, Frenzy being very obvious examples.


 


3. Since this is a silent film, do you feel there were any limitations on these opening scenes due to the lack of synchronous spoken dialogue?


 


The lack of dialogue didn't make an iota of difference and most likely ultimately made Hitchcock a more accomplished director in the long term as it meant he had a solid foundation of curating the visual aspects of film, meaning he could convey all the story and nuances utilising just one sense, and not relying on dialogue or leaden exposition to push a story along, a trait which is evident in later films, such as the aftermath of the shower scene in Psycho, or potato truck scene in Frenzy, with whole scenes devoid of dialogue but no less vital and effective in pushing the story forward.


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1. ​I certainly see some of the touches of Hitchcock in his first film that will hang around in the decades to come.  The revealing of characters possible motives or intentions as the camera passes by the blokes looking, gazing and pondering upon the beauty that is before them ending with the comic touch of the bored, sleeping lady. The mysteries hidden in the deep recesses of man are revealed in one pass. 
2. ​Yes absolutely.  

3. A good silent film is one where words are not entirely missed, and this clip is no exception.  Much is revealed and much is said without a word being uttered.  The images, ideas and expressions convey a deeper story that builds intrigue and curiosity then there are the small comic touches which add to it.  

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His first film's title is so fitting, as his entire body of work has been a garden of pleasure to cinephiles.

 

The sideways tracking shots of the audience look so ahead of their time for 1925.

 

The ambiance is so British, it feels like a London very close to Dickens and the Music Halls that Chaplin grew up in.  My favorite is Frenzy, also shot in England, but toward the end of his career.  I had not any films from this early period.  I look forward to discovering them.

 

 

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1. I've seen some Hitchcock's films (not all of them yet), and I certainly see some "Hitchcock touch" in this sequence. For example, at the beginning, we see the scene from a high-angle shot, an angle that we will see in lots of his later movies. Moreover, we can also see the contrast between light and shadow that is present in his black and white films.


2. Yes, I agree.


3. I don't feel like there were any limitations on this scene. In fact, the actor's expresions  and actions are enough to understand what the scene is about. 


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1. Do you see the beginnings of the "Hitchcock touch" in this sequence?

 

Yes. First, there is the use of camera/film techniques that visually (and sometimes humorously) aid in the storytelling. Such as the shot of the man using binoculars to stare more closely at the girls' legs. The out of focus shot which changes to a close up is an effect to illustrate this, but it is also a point-of-view shot, which is a Hitch trademark.

 

The moving camera - the use of a camera to tell the story through visual means, which is necessary in silent films but is carried on throughout Hitch's career.

 

His use of humor is a signature touch.. the man smoking in front of a no smoking sign is humor, but it also is storytelling, as it demonstrates that this is a man in power, who is above the rules of everyone else. The humor of the girl handing the man a clump of her hair when he compliments it is Hitchcock humor. Very black.

 

2. Do you agree or disagree with Strauss, Yacowar, and Spoto assessments that this sequence contains elements, themes, or approaches that we will see throughout Hitchcock's 50-year career?

 

Yes! Right off the bat we get the first Hitchcock blonde. She is the first girl in close up, and the gentleman's obsession with her parallels Hitch's own 'obsession' with blonds, though I am told he downplayed this in interviews. I also find it amusing the segment about her curls, when i think of Hitch's first great film 'The Lodger' which had the slogan 'Golden Curls' and the killer who targeted blondes.

 

Also we get the cinematic approach Hitch uses most throughout his career: Showing an observer, followed by a point-of-view of what the observer sees. The gentlemen shown watching the chorus line, then their view of the girls - the gentleman shown using binoculars, then the view of the girl as he sees her; this cinematic approach Hitch uses right through to his final film.

 

3. Since this is a silent film, do you feel there were any limitations on these opening scenes due to the lack of synchronous spoken dialogue?

 

Yes, and no. From silent film Hitch learned and mastered the technique he would so often use of telling a story visually. Yet at the same time, people need to remember Hitch used sound to great effect. Even in an early film (Blackmail 1929) a woman is focusing on a knife before her. The conversation to which she is not really paying attention slowly drowns out, except for whenever the word 'knife' is spoken, which becomes louder and more frequent. So I am sure there could have been sound techniques used in 'The Pleasure Garden' which may have further enhanced the scene.

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guess i'm a novice hoping to learn more

 

No worries! Don't feel like you have to post until you are ready. This is just a great place to visit and read what others are saying about the film clip. There is a ton to learn by reading these posts.

 

Best, Prof. Edwards 

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1. Do you see the beginnings of the "Hitchcock touch" in this sequence? Please provide specific examples.

The leg shot, to me, by far is Hitchcock's touch. Not only because it involves the allure of sex, but also because of the round shot alluding to the man's monocle. Further, this POV shot which includes the blurred vision showing the man's "focusing", reminds me that I have seen that before in other feature films of Hitchcock. Also, the sass of the chorus line dancer with the - what my father would call "a dirty old man"- reminds me how women in his films don't usual accept the norms of the day nor are they "the nice girl next door".

2. Yes. See above.

3. Watching silent films require a different way of viewing film. You can't look away in case you miss dialogue. Your imagination also has to have some baseline knowledge of human behavior. Experience with life may be necessary. Therefore, this silent movie communicates well if you understand how men are motivated by sex and greed.

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1. I will have to say that I have not seen many Hitchcock films so I am still learning what the "Hitchcock Touch" is. So, I would have to say from my limited viewing experience that I do not see early signs of the "Hitchock Touch".

 

2. Again, I would have to say I don't see elemetes of his themes just yet.

 

3. From the movies that I have seen by him I really pay attnetion to his dialoug. So, not being able to have that really did make it a Hitchock film for me.

 

What I would love to do after the end of the course is to come back and watch this scene again and see if I see the elements that I didn't see before!

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Yes. I definitely see some of Hitchcock's touches in the beginning sequence. First off, he has a strong "obsession" to women, particularly blonde women. That's something that flows through his movies (Grace Kelly especially and Tippi Hendren). He uses a spiral staircase giving that effect we see in Veritgo. The leering of the gentleman the dancer like James Stewart in Rear Window that represents the spectator intruding on someone's space. All these examples does have me agree with Strauss, Yacowar and Spoto assessments on this scene. I don't think their were any limitations on the scene since it was a silent film. Hitchcock completes uses his other senses to tell the story without any words, which makes it more interesting. More interesting, in a sense where he uses the music and his surroundings to help tell this story. Body movement and facial expressions definitely helps a lot. By this one clip, I wanted to see more because he perfectly captures our attention in a different type of sense. 

 

 

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1. Do you see the beginnings of the "Hitchcock touch" in this sequence? Please provide specific examples.

 

Yes. From the first frame of the sequence, we are already drawn in to the spiral staircase and the first use of the Hitchcock blonde which will remain central to the director's themes and motifs of his career. Other examples are the early use of the camera movement that glides from one end of the row to the other, his use of POV shots, and his takes of the English male and sexuality as part of the director's motifs.

 

2. Do you agree or disagree with Strauss, Yacower, and Spoto assessments that this sequence contains elements, themes or approaches that we will see throughout Hitchcock's 50-year career?

 

Yes. I do see the use of juxtaposition in this sequence that uses elements, themes and different viewpoints that will be at the forefront of Hitchcock's 50-year career in the filmmaking industry as he becomes one of the forefathers of not only British cinema, but also American cinema as well.

 

3. Since this is a silent film, do you feel there were any limitations on these opening scenes due to the lack of synchronous spoken dialogue?

 

Not at all. The scene speaks for itself, based on the setup of what is going on in the sequence from the music hall to the pickpocket stealing her money. the use of close-ups, facial expressions, and different camera angles makes it all worthwhile. 

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I agree with Maurice Yacowar (1977) that this opening sequence shows the beginnings of the "Hitchcock touch." I particularly noted the use of the camera "observing the observer" in the first few minutes of the scene. For example, the man observing the dancing women is placed in the foreground so that we see them from his perspective. The camera also moves quickly as it tracks across the row of observing men in the audience. I also noticed the "rapid cuts" Yacowar mentions when we see the man with the binoculars, then his view of the dancers' legs, moving up to her face, then quickly back, to him, and then again to her.

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