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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Hindle Wakes
Hindle Wakes
Image // Unrated // April 12, 2005
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted April 13, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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The Movie:

The people at Milestone are continuing their tradition of releasing high quality silent movies.  They've released some big name films like Phantom of the Opera, It, and the works of Windsor McKay and Mary Pickford, but they also release some excellent lesser known silent gems.  One film that fits into that category is their newest release, Maurice Elvey's Hindle Wakes.

Fanny Hawthorne works in the large cotton mill in Hindle, like her father and most of the town.  Once a year the factory closes for a week (the 'Wake' of the title) and the employees all head off to some vacation spot to blow off some steam.  This year Fanny and her friend Mary go off to Blackpoole, the English equivalent of Coney Island.

There the girls meet a couple of guys, and Fanny ends up spending the day with Allan Jeffcote, the son of the mill owner.  At the end of the evening, Mary fends off the advances of her fella, but Fanny doesn't come back to their hotel.  The next morning she shows up and tells Mary that she and Allan are going to go off by themselves for the rest of the week.

Unfortunately, Mary suffers a fatal accident while Fanny is gone, and this leads her parents to discover that she hasn't been in Blackpool all week.  When it is revealed that Fanny was with the rich mill owner's son her mother's eyes light up envisioning the riches they'll have if they can brow-beat Allan into marrying Fanny.  The mill owner, Allan, and Fanny's parents all put their heads together to decide what Fanny's fate is going to be and who she will marry.  They didn't think that Fanny would have an opinion on the matter, but it turns out that she does.

When I first heard about this film, soon before Milestone released it, I thought it sounded like a typical silent melodrama.  British films from this era don't have a very good reputation, and most of them are plodding, dull affairs.  Of course there are some exceptions, Hitchcock's silent films spring to mind, but as a whole they pale in comparison to American and German films made at the same time.  So I approached this film with some fairly low expectations.  I was very surprised.  Not only was this a good movie, it was immensely enjoyable on several levels.

Taken just at face value, Hindle Wakes is a well made and interesting film.  The movie doesn't try to pull at your heart strings or act melodramatic, though it would be very easy to do so.  The opening scenes in the factory show that the people there work hard, but it isn't portrayed as a horrible sweat-shop.  The scenes where Fanny's parents confront her are also realistic and not overblown.  The mother doesn't put the back of her hand to her head and faint, she yells at her daughter.

The movie also has some very interesting social commentary.  Allan isn't disgraced because he had an affair.  It is looked upon as an inconvenient problem by most people.  Even his father dismisses his actions by saying that Allan is just a decedent from Adam.  Fanny, on the other hand, is a fallen woman, someone who has to get married or live in disgrace.  This double standard is examined, and the film has some surprising things to say about it considering it was made in 1927.  It is also interesting to note that the girl who is virtuous, Mary, ends dying.

The acting is very good, and doesn't have the over-dramatic style that many silent dramas had.  When Allan's fiancee, Beatrice, was told of his affair, the camera focuses in on her face as she slowly breaks down.  She doesn't rend her clothes or swoon, her face just crumples as she starts to cry.

One of the reasons I enjoy silent film is because it gives you a window to the past.  I really like street scenes where you can see how people dressed and how they behaved.  A fair portion of this film takes place at Blackpool, and there is a lot of footage of the rides and attractions.  It was interesting to see what an amusement park in the year years of the 20th century looked like.  The director even mounted the camera in the front car of a roller coaster and some of the other rides to give you a bird's eye view of what the ride was like.  There are also several scenes inside an actual cotton mill, showing people shoveling coal into hungry furnaces and operating the huge machines that turn the cotton into thread.  This gives the film the feel of a documentary which really adds to the realism of the picture.

I was very impressed with director Maurice Elvey's style.  This movie was based on a stage play, but the film isn't locked down to a handful of sets the way plays often are.  His on location filming and a lot to the quality of the movie, but the way he told the story was very effective too.  Elvey used few intertitles, with most of the action being self explanatory.  It was interesting to note though that some of the language used in the intertitles is archaic, and I expect that it was for the time too.  "...yon's a gradely lass." isn't something that you hear often nowadays.

The DVD:


Audio:

This DVD has two audio tracks.  The first is an arrangement by the group "In the Nursery" and the second is a solo piano score composed and preformed by Philip Carli.  I viewed the movie with both tracks, alternating between the two every 10-15 minutes or so.  I thought that both tracks had their strong points and their weaknesses and enjoyed them equally.

The soundtrack by In the Nursery is very good.  Though purist will decry the use of synthesizers, I quite enjoyed the full rich sound that was produced, similar to a full orchestra.  Their composition had a melancholy feel to most of it that fit the film well.  There were a few scenes where I didn't feel the music meshed with the film though.  The scene where Fanny's parents confront their daughter about spending the week with a man has a slow sad tone to it, where I thought energetic and angry music would have mimicked the emotions in the movie better.  Other scenes sounded suberb though.  The dance hall scene was accompanied by a dixie-land jazz type tune playing that really energized the scene.  This audio track also added some sound effects, factory whistles blowing and knocks at doors, that help bring the movie to life.

I'll admit that I have a preference for orchestral scores over a single piano, but Carli did a good job scoring this film.  The music wasn't as melancholy as the In the Nursery score and didn't have as full a sound either.  It did fit the movie well though, and piano score had a more traditional feel to it, more like something you could have heard back in 1927.

Both tracks were very clear and clean, with no audio defects.  Both tracks are very good and enhance the movie quite a bit.

Video:

The print used for this transfer was recently restored by the British Film Institute and looks wonderful.  The contrast is excellent, and the detail superb.  You could make out the peoples reflections in the highly polished table at the Jeffcote's house and the texture of the bricks that make up Fanny's small apartment.  The print isn't perfect, there are light scratches, some spots on the print and a rare missing frame or two, but it still looks much better than I was expecting it to. Milestone does another excellent job with this disc.

Extras:

This disc also includes three still galleries.  There is one of production photos from the film, the original press kit from 1927, and a series of photos from a 1912 production of the play.  In addition to these, there are two DVD-Rom features that can be accessed from a computer: The Milestone Press Kit and an article about the play by anarchist Emma Goldman, who praised the film upon its release.

Final Thoughts:

Normally, I wouldn't have bought this DVD.  Though I really like silent film, melodramas don't do a lot for me and this one sounded pretty sappy.  I was terribly mistaken though.  This surprising film never becomes melodramatic and has some very interesting location shots.  The story itself is very good too, and held my attention throughout the movie's two hour length.  Hindle Wakes is a little know silent gem that is well worth picking up.  Highly Recommended.
 

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