Let’s all play in The Pleasure Garden
- Alfred Hitchcock’s nine surviving silent films have been digitally restored
- The Pleasure Garden was resurrected in particularly spectacular fashion
- This miraculous new version is currently almost completely unavailable
- Financing is being sought to record the soundtrack and secure its legacy
- The iconic director’s first 130,301 frames now look absolutely gorgeous
- Extra 30 minutes of footage has a transformative effect on the film’s rhythm
- The Pleasure Garden now really feels like Hitchcock’s first masterful work
In 2012, the British Film Institute’s digital restoration of all Hitchcock’s silent films was announced amid a welter of fanfare and news headlines. Ever since, they’ve been screened with new scores worldwide to great acclaim. But so far only a disappointing few are available on home video. The reasons for this are many and varied, but there are ongoing efforts behind the scenes to finally bring the rest to physical and streaming media. Let’s begin with the Master’s début; Daniel Patrick Cohen, composer of The Pleasure Garden’s new score, fills us in…
- “The restoration of The Pleasure Garden at Wilton’s Music Hall tonight. Astonishing. Rewrite the history books! #geniusofhitchcock” – Dr. Matthew Sweet, writer, journalist and BBC broadcaster, on Twitter
- “A sensational new score from Daniel Patrick Cohen. What impressed me the most was the seriousness and respect with which he treated the film…helping to make the final two reels feel more Hitchcockian than I could have imagined.” – Robin Baker, head curator at the BFI
- “I just wanted to let you know that even now… several years later… your score for The Pleasure Garden is still held as one of the finest we’ve ever heard. Any comment on the merits of any silent film score is followed by ‘was it as good as The Pleasure Garden?!!'” – Lisa Copson, digital film restoration specialist
- “Amazing score…my favourite of all the Hitchcock silents carried out by the BFI.” – Steve Bearman, partner at Silver Salt Restoration
- “One of the greatest experiences ever! Great music for a great film performed by great players.” – Christopher Austin, conductor and Tony award-winning orchestrator, on Twitter
- “Cohen’s score was perfectly judged – often amplifying what was on the screen, sometimes counterpointing it, never overwhelming the action.” – Darren Slade, Bournemouth Echo
Restoring all nine surviving Hitchcock silent films was the largest project of its kind ever carried out by The British Film Institute. Of these nine films, The Pleasure Garden underwent by far the biggest transformation, with the restoration team working on surviving prints from the Netherlands, the UK and the US to reconstruct Hitchcock’s vision exactly as he originally intended. Before the restoration, the film was a hazy relic, only of interest to die-hard Hitchcock fans. Now it is a taut melodrama and, more importantly, it is clearly a blueprint for the medium-defining masterpieces that followed.
The love interest
In Christmas 2004, I spotted in the RadioTimes (which has a cameo appearance in The Pleasure Garden) that three Hitchcock films were showing that day. They were The Lady Vanishes, The 39 Steps and North by Northwest. I said to my father that I’d never seen a Hitchcock film before, and he practically jumped out of his chair. “You’ve got so much to look forward to,” he said enigmatically. What an understatement that was. Right from the first establishing model shot in The Lady Vanishes (this shot was rubbished in reviews I read, I always thought it was captivating) to the outrageously silly train-into-a-tunnel visual pun at the end of North by Northwest, this was love at first sight. A year or so later, there was a specific moment: listening to Hermann’s title theme for the latter film on an MP3 player at Leicester Square underground station, that I decided that music, specifically film music, was my calling in life. And it was to that end that I began studying at the Royal Academy of Music in 2006.
Fast forward half a decade. I receive a text message from my former professor of Composition, Christopher Austin: which composers do I think would be worth approaching about writing scores for the British Film Institute’s Rescue the Hitchcock 9 project? I had to let the question sink in. Which composers do I think would be worth approaching? I, Daniel Patrick Cohen, lifelong Hitchcock obsessive and desperate-for-a-break young composer? Well, I responded, you should look for someone who is passionate about cinema and passionate about Hitchcock, who will really fall in love with the films. The conversation continued and after all sorts of names were mentioned, finally the message came that he was going to put my name forward.
After a lot of tense waiting, and having secured funding from PRS for Music, the commission went ahead, and I began the 90-minute contemporary score for chamber ensemble to accompany the restored film. It was my first commission for a work of this scale, and my first feature film score. As you may imagine, the opportunity to work with one of the masters of the medium, without any artistic limitation or intervention, was a rare and irresistible treat for a composer fascinated by cinema. The process of writing a contemporary soundtrack for a film that was of a different era was both a challenge and a delight.
The brief afforded a unique opportunity for exploring diegesis, I found that with a silent score there were a spectrum of possibilities in between sourcing the music in the film and having the music exist as a voice in a character’s head. I was keen to draw on a wealth of sources of musical inspiration from the years that intervened between film and soundtrack, and devised a line-up of duplicitous pairs of instruments which, I like to think, Hitchcock would have appreciated:
- Two clarinets
- Alto saxophone and bassoon
- Horn and bass trombone
- Piano and percussion
- Violin and viola
- Cello and double bass
All of these instruments had been invented at the time of The Pleasure Garden‘s release (if you are kind enough to permit the vibraphone, which was developed in 1927).
The lucky people who attended these performances are the only ones in the world to have seen Hitchcock’s first film in all its newly orchestrated glory:
- 28/6/12, 29/6/12 Wilton’s Music Hall, London, UK
- 13/9/12 NFT1, London, UK
- 4/10/12 Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
- 31/7/13 Palacio das Artes, Belo Horizonte, Brazil – a version for symphony orchestra was commissioned for this performance
- 28/9/13 Bournemouth, UK (two performances)
- 21/5/14 Almaty, Kazakhstan
- 26/5/18 Bonțida Bánffy Castle, Romania – a palpably cinephilic, 1,000-strong audience scored the film a deserved 4.49/5
- 14/11/18 Bogotá, Colombia
This has been, and continues to be, an extraordinary experience, but we are still seeking the holy grail. The new version of the film must, we feel, be made accessible to the general public. When we uploaded a lo-res trailer for the restoration to YouTube in advance of its first screening in 2012, there were immediately calls for a general release:
The most recent performance of the score at Transilvania International Film Festival was with Notes & Ties Orchestra under the baton of Christopher Austin, an internationally renowned conductor who has worked many times in Eastern Europe and has a list of film soundtrack recordings to his name.
Considering that these musicians have performed the score together already, I have utmost confidence that there is an absolute guarantee of the highest artistic standard for the recording. Their existing familiarity with the music also reduces the amount of studio time we will require and helps to keep the budget relatively low.
We intend to record the score in Radio Hall Cluj, a venue with a rich history of its own. It was actually constructed by the German tech giant Siemens, which is surprising considering that Romania was under Soviet control at the time. It holds the impressive record of being the first building specifically designed for radio broadcast in Europe, and is a perfect fit for this project.
A budget of €30k is sought to enable us to proceed. With the financing in place, we could start planning the recording sessions immediately. A detailed breakdown is available upon request.
There are some perks. Contributors to the budget will be:
- credited in all releases of the film and soundtrack, and in publicity for the project.
- owners of the soundtrack recording, and therefore be entitled to royalties. These would accrue through theatrical, television, home video and soundtrack sales.
- given pre-release, signed deluxe box sets with the Blu-ray or DVD, a booklet and other uncomfirmed goodies, such as a film poster, the soundtrack on CD and vinyl, etc.
- invited to meet the composer to discuss the project and Hitchcock’s legacy more generally.
- invited to attend the recording sessions in person and/or receive exclusive photo and video footage.
- invited to attend an exclusive screening of the finished film with its new soundtrack.
If you can help in any way with this funding proposal, please contact:
With the soundtrack recorded, the film will be released worldwide on Blu-ray, DVD and major digital platforms, by Network Distributing under license from ITV, and in cinemas with distribution partners Park Circus. A TV release may arise from the latter, and it is notable that some national stations have already expressed interest in broadcasting it.
Considering the effect that the Hitchcock-Herrmann partnership had on me aged 16, the decisive point leading me to pursue a career as a film composer, the debt I owe to Hitchcock is impossible to overstate. This quest is my effort to ensure that this superb early film, by a hungry young artist who went on to become one of cinema’s great auteurs, gets the reputation it deserves.
Any upcoming worldwide screenings, with an improvised piano accompaniment unless stated otherwise, are listed here. You can read much more about the background and tortuous home video history of the film here:
- Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: Setting the Scene
- Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: Miscellaneous British Films
- Free the Hitchcock 9! Releasing the BFI-Restored Silents on Home Video
- Bootlegs Galore: The Great Alfred Hitchcock Rip-off
- Alfred Hitchcock: Dial © for Copyright: British Law
- Hitchcock/Truffaut: The Men Who Knew So Much
- Alma Reville: The Power Behind Hitchcock’s Throne
- Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: The British Years in Print
- Alfred Hitchcock: The Dark Side or the Wrong Man?
- Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: Miscellaneous Releases
- Beware of Pirates! How to Avoid Bootleg Blu-rays and DVDs
- Charlie Chaplin Collectors’ Guide, Part 2: The Bad, the Ugly and the Good
For more detailed specifications of official releases mentioned, check out the ever-useful DVDCompare. This article is regularly updated, so please leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestions.