Downhill
Downhill

9 August 2014, 22:00m, "Strelka" Insitute, 14, bldg. 5A, Bersenevskaya Embankment  (by invitations only)

Watch this film online HERE
Accreditation for press: Marina Chuykina, PR-manager, British Council Russia

UK 1927 105 mins @20fps

Donwhill will be the closing film of the Hitchcock 9 festival. Specially for that British Council Russia has invited Shlomo’s beatbox band to perform at the screening.

Shlomo said: "I'm really excited to be working on the music for this Hitchcock restoration. I hope my music will help to bring Downhill alive for a new contemporary audience. Hitchcock's powerful visuals demand a strong musical accompaniment and I am hugely enjoying the challenge of creating a rich and dynamic sound using nothing but five singers and beatboxers."

This film has also never been fully restored by the BFI National Archive and a tinted print from the EYE Film Institute, Amsterdam has proved a key supplementary reference for the restoration. 

Downhill is the first pure example of Hitchcock's muchrevisited 'wrong man' plot, although it lacks the element of pursuit that drives more familiar examples like 1935's The 39 Steps. Novello again, here performing his own stage play, plays (somewhat implausibly at 34) model school student Roddy, falsely accused of getting a young woman pregnant. 

Expelled and disgraced, Roddy goes into self-imposed exile, reduced to renting himself out as a companion to lonely, wealthy women before winding up destitute and ill in Marseilles.

About the film

After the critical and commercial success of The Lodger (1926), Gainsborough Pictures were keen to reunite director Alfred Hitchcock and star Ivor Novello. A convenient vehicle suggested itself in the stage play ‘Down Hill’, written by Novello with Constance Collier, under the combined alias David L’Estrange.

Downhill is one of the darkest of Hitchcock’s early films and follows the fall from grace of promising public-school head boy Roddy Berwick. It features a succession of predatory and manipulative female characters who torment Novello’s hapless young hero: the tuckshop girl who falsely accuses Roddy of fathering her child; the selfish and mercenary actress who marries him for his inheritance, then abandons him when the money runs out; the venal night club ‘Madame’ who exploits his penury by hiring him out to dance with her lonely, ageing clients. It’s not hard to imagine that the play reflects the experiences of Novello himself, a gay matinee idol oppressed by unwanted female attention. One might even include him in the lineage of Hitchcock blondes – imperilled and vulnerable and prey to the camera’s fetishistic gaze. We are used to seeing Hitchcock’s heroines in their underwear, but here we see Novello shirtless in an early scene. Later, in a gloriously Hitchcockian scene, we see him in a series of personas as the camera pulls back to reveal him firstly as a tuxedo-clad gentleman, then a waiter, then a petty thief, before we realise he is actually an extra in a west end musical, bobbing up and down with the rest of the cast in as humiliating a position as any chorus girl might have found herself. This is clearly the sensation that Hitchcock is trying to deliver: we are significantly more shocked at the maltreatment of a boy by scheming women than we are to a girl being similarly maltreated by men.

Hitchcock was characteristically disparaging about the film in later interviews, but Downhill is a deceptively rich and often elegant work and although he later found the descending escalator a clumsy symbol for Roddy’s downward trajectory, it works well in the context of the late silent movie of the 1920s and is echoed later in the film with his descent in a lift – the camera focusing on the ‘down’ button. Roddy hits rock bottom in a Marseilles dance hall being rented out to desperate middle-aged matrons for five francs a dance. At the end of the night, in which he appears at last to have found a sympathetic ear, the curtains are suddenly ripped open in a kind of reversal of the gloom of German expressionism, the ‘searching relentless sunlight’ exposing the sordid inhabitants. It is impressively unpleasant. Most striking is the nightmare scene in which the delirious Roddy, on a boat bound for home, sees hallucinations of his stentorian father as a policeman and his past tormentors gloating over the money they have made from him as if in some Dantean circle of hell. Inspired by his memory of stage lighting, Hitchcock had the sequence tinted a sickly green to express the character’s nausea and mental turmoil. Many years later, he would employ a similar device in Vertigo (1956).

The restoration

The original negative of Downhill does not survive so the restoration was based on two vintage nitrate prints – one from the BFI’s own collections and one on loan from the EYE Film Institute in the Netherlands. There was some compensation in working from original prints held as they had their original tinting and toning so that we have been able to restore the colour that Hitchcock used so expressively in his silent films.

Reproduction of the tones and tints found in three films, The Pleasure Garden, Downhill and The Lodger, has also constituted a major aspect of our restoration project. In the absence of scripts or other primary documentation, it appears that these are the only Hitchcock films which were released domestically in tinted and toned prints. Considerable pains were taken to determine the colour schemes of British release prints, and these have been followed in the restored print. As in the other Hitchcock restorations, a great deal of grading and digital clean up as well as the remaking of the intertitles, has had impressive results. New negatives of the restored film have been made for long term preservation and 35mm prints and DCPS made for exhibition.

The music

Internationally acclaimed beatboxer, director and composer, Shlomo gave up astrophysics to create his amazing vocal pyrotechnics. Since then he has won global acclaim and worked with some of the biggest names in music including Bjork, Damon Albarn, Jarvis Cocker, Martha Wainwright, Imogen Heap, The Specials and DJ Yoda. In the process he has consistently pushed the boundaries of beatboxing, bringing the art form to new and unexpected audiences through a range of diverse collaborations.

Currently artist-in-residence at Southbank Centre, Shlomo curates the concert series Music Through Unconventional Means and in 2010 premiered the world’s first Concerto for Beatboxer and Orchestra at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. 

In 2011 Shlomo represented the UK at the World Loopstation Championships in LA where he defeated finalists from 12 other countries. Returning to tour the UK, his one-man theatre show Mouthtronica featured an improvised collaboration with a different guest each night, including artists as diverse as legendary percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie and Cinematic Orchestra singer Heidi Vogel. 

Alongside his impressive CV as a performer, Shlomo is quickly building a reputation as a sought after composer, director and educator. His directorial debut, a theatrical piece called The Vocal Orchestra, features 7 beatboxers and singers and won critical acclaim at the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Credits

Production Company Gainsborough Pictures

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock 

Producer Michael Balcon 

Photography Claude McDonnell

UK 1927 105 mins @20fps