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A spoilt rich girl leads a life of luxury on the profits from her father's champagne business. To bring her back down to earth he tells her that all the money has been lost so she goes to seek her fortune. Written by
Col Needham <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"I've always understood that simplicity was the keynote of good taste"
Champagne was among the last of Hitchcock's silents, and made at a period when Hollywood was already turning fast towards the talkies. Perhaps because of this, the young and naive Hitchcock appears to be cramming in as much visual technique as possible.
Right from his first picture, Hitchcock had loved the point-of-view shot. Champagne makes heavy use of what I call "extreme" point-of-view shots that is, ones which really draw your attention to the fact that we are seeing a character's-eye-view, for example where we see the actor's hands in front of us, or the camera moves as the character walks. To this end Hitchcock even had giant props built to wave in front of the lens. There are also copious other techniques which aim to literalise the experience of the characters for example shaking the camera around when the ship is rocking. Although the later Hitchcock would sometimes use such tricks (far more subtly) to draw the audience into the character's world, here and now it's just a bit of overt stylisation that in no way enhances the film.
Trickery for trickery's sake is often worse than useless. When Betty Balfour is told her father has lost his fortune, there is a superimposition of a room spinning. If Balfour is good enough, she could convey what is going on inside her character's head. I think I speak for most audience members when I say I would rather look at a good acting performance than a post-production special effect.
It's a pity Hitch felt he needed to dress up his shots so much, because even at this early stage he had good timing for basic point-of-view and reaction shots, allowing him to smoothly reveal intentions and opinions. His basic film grammar is good enough to keep down the number of intertitles. By the way, the difference between a picture like this and those made around the same time in the US (which tend to be very wordy) is not that the Hollywood directors were bad at visual storytelling, it's that their pictures were often full of unnecessary title cards, whereas in Europe the goal was generally to keep them to a minimum.
It's a mercy too that the acting in Champagne tends to be fairly naturalistic, the only touches of theatricality being for the sake of comedy. None of them is exceptional, but none of them is really bad either. I'm not quite convinced though by Gordon Harker as a millionaire, but perhaps this is because I'm so used to seeing him playing earthy working class types.
All else I have to say about Champagne is that it is just a bit dull a comedy drama that is not enough of one thing or the other. A reasonable plot, a handful of good gags, but ultimately lifeless. At this point Hitchcock was really just saying, through his camera, "Look at me! I'm the director! Look what I can do!" when he should have been turning all those audience-involving techniques into gripping entertainment - as he later would.
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