30 Minutes of Alfred Hitchcock's First Film Discovered in New Zealand

30 Minutes of Alfred Hitchcock's First Film Discovered in New Zealand

Aug 03, 2011

It’s the kind of discovery movie geeks dream about – combing through a film vault and finding a lost work by a master of cinema – and it just happened in New Zealand. The National Film Preservation Foundation and the New Zealand Film Archive will announce today that they’ve found the first 30 minutes of a 1923 British film entitled The White Shadow – a title considered to be the earliest feature that a young filmmaker named Alfred Hitchcock worked on.

The master of suspense served multiple roles on the melodrama – assistant director, writer, production designer, and editor – and was a mere 24 years old when the film was made. The silent feature, which starred Betty Compson as twin sisters, will have it’s re-premiere on September 22nd at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’ Samuel Goldwyn theater. To say this is a monumental event for film buffs seems to be an understatement.

Academics are calling the discovery of the first 30 minutes of the film a “missing link” in the evolution of Hitchcock as a filmmaker. Film scholars are hopeful that viewing The White Shadow will demonstrate how Hitchcock’s style was evolving as he made the transition from writing to directing. It should be a fascinating look into the mind of a young director starting to develop his style.

The film was discovered in a collection of nitrate prints that hadn’t been identified, but had been carefully preserved in New Zealand since 1989. Unfortunately, the New Zealanders only had funding to restore their national cinema – but they took great care of the films and snippets from other countries. Last year, the National Film Preservation Board received a grant to send an archivist to pore over the American films in the collection – which led to the discovery of John Ford’s film Upstream.

This year, the organization received more funding for another trip – and while the remaining films in the vault are mostly fragments and snippets, a fragment of something like The White Shadow is better than nothing at all.

Film expert Leslie Lewis found the footage while poring through countless unmarked reels of film. She knew this particular material was something special because the “tinted images were striking.” She began to research the movie, and eventually discovered it was the work of Hitchcock and director Graham Cutts. Initially, they only found two reels from the film – but while searching through more unmarked materials, additional footage was uncovered and confirmed to be part of the title.

After the film’s re-premiere next month, The White Shadow will be added to the Academy’s Hitchcock Collection, where it will sit beside other Hitchcock memorabilia -- including the director’s papers. Hopefully, this footage will be made available for viewing by the public at large – finding early unseen Hitchcock is clearly a big deal for anyone who loves film.

[via The LA Times

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