Friday, 15 June 2012

The BFI: Not Just Pints Of Sausage Rolls

With an hour to kill on London's occasionally bearable South Bank yesterday, I did the only decent thing and popped in to the BFI to cast an itchy eye (fucking plane trees) over their brand new Hitchcock exhibition, two words which steadfastly refuse to be easily conflated into anything better than "Hitchibition".

If you fancy a look yourself, by all means do - it's on until September 2nd - but be warned, it won't take you all day.
The exhibition, such as it is, is located on the BFI's Mezzanine, which is Italian for "disappointingly small exhibition space". I spent a pleasant twenty minutes there (and I took my time) looking at a few cases of fascinating titbits from The Master's career, and at the end I felt like I'd had a delicious starter and was bang-up ready for a main course which never arrived.

Still, what's there is great: there's a letter written in Hitch's own handwriting; original scripts from Rebecca and The Man Who Knew Too Much (the '55 vintage, when it was still called Into Thin Air); a fascinating handwritten "Statement of Production Costs" from 1926's The Lodger which shows the wardrobe person as pretty much the lowest-paid on the film; a 1929 tie-in novelisation from Blackmail and a call sheet from Frenzy which gleefully reveals that Jon Finch's stunt double was called Mike Hunt. Hitchcock probably hired him just so he could order a lowly female production runner to ask everyone on set if they'd seen him.

As I gathered up my mild disappointment and straightened my spine after reading the insanely-placed information sheets (three feet off the ground, BFI? Really?), I noticed the new library on the ground floor. That, I thought, is worth a look. And, as usual, I was right.
The library, which only opened on Tuesday, is an incredible collection of material spanning the entire history of cinema. I thought what I saw in there was amazing but it turns out that's just a third of it: the rest is as closed to the public as Sandra Hebron's boots. But, like Sandra Hebron's boots, if you ask nicely someone will let you see what's inside. I literally don't know what I mean by that.

Anyway if you want to have a look at some articles from 1896 editions of the New York Times Encyclopaedia of Film discussing the evils of the moving picture and whether or not this bonkers new craze will ever take the place of the play, or see what was rocking Sight & Sound's plus fours in 1932, or catch up on almost any film periodical from Cahiers du Cinéma to Fangoria, then this is the place for you, my friends. To sate my appetite for Hitchcock I buried myself in 'Hitchcock/Truffaut', which I shamefully don't own, but I had a choice of around two hundred books on the chubby genius to pick from.

So if you're near the South Bank and you're not all that into looking at silver-painted men standing still for long periods of time, I can heartily recommend a visit to movie Mecca, especially now it's got two more amazing things going on in it. Or you could even watch a film, they have them too.

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