THE biggest film restoration project ever undertaken by the British Film Institute has begun in its labs tucked away on the edge of Berkhamsted.
Experts are restoring nine of iconic director Alfred Hitchcock’s earliest movies – all made while he was living in Britain.
Head curator Robin Baker said: “We felt that not having these films available to be seen in fantastic condition on the big screen was a tragedy.
“Can you imagine if half of Dickens’ novels were not available or only in shortened versions? It would seem like a national outrage.
“That’s why we thought it was so important to get the Hitchcock films into the best possible state, so as many people as possible can get to see them.”
In Hitchcock’s third release, Downhill, a boys’ football match was filmed in Berkhamsted and scenes from a rugby match feature Ashridge as a backdrop.
It is due to be shown at BFI Southbank, London, on Thursday, September 20, in its most complete form since its original release in May 1927.
The Pleasure Garden, Hithcock’s first ever film, is one of four silent masterpieces to be screened, accompanied by new musical scores, during a special summer celebration.
Until the BFI’s search was finished, its archive copy of the March 1926 film was just 65 minutes long. The new restored version is 20 minutes longer.
After the search found and linked together five new copies from France, the Netherlands and the USA – each with different parts missing – the film now has a new ending too.
The Rescue The Hitchcock 9 project over the last three years has seen an international search for surviving copies of each of the films.
Movies were viewed as lowbrow and disposable in the 1920s, and many films vanished because there were no proper archiving procedures in place.
BFI archive and heritage manager Brian Robinson said: “People did not value films at all.
“It was considered as important as popcorn – an empty entertainment.
“Back then, people would have laughed and said: ‘Why do you want to keep this stuff?’”
As a result, all copies of Hitchcock’s film, The Mountain Eagle (released 1926), were lost forever – the BFI has launched an international search to try and find surviving copies.
It was not until the BFI was founded in 1933, followed by The Cinema Society in 1935, that people began to realise that films were a precious part of our culture and should be available for generations to come.
The BFI now stores up to 8,000 feature films in its Berkhamsted vault, kept at a constant cool temperature to prevent them from decaying as time goes by.
The store also has a special collections department, storing more than 600 items of film paraphernalia dating from the beginning of cinema.
These include two rare copies of The Lodger.
Nathalie Morris, senior curator for the special collections department, said: “There is very little paper documentation of Hitchcock’s early years in Britain – but our collections are rich.”
For dates and booking details of screenings of silent films The Pleasure Garden, The Lodger, The Ring and Blackmail, visit www.bfi.org.uk