Brain Pickings

Opening Up the Hitchcock and Lang Archives

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What silent film has to do with sci-fi classics and the democratization of media.

The film careers of Fritz Lang and Alfred Hitchcock moved down parallel paths. As the British Film Institute rightly points out, the two directors started working in film around the same time and “thrived in silent film, but easily adjusted to sound. Both also moved from Europe to America and recreated their genius in a new culture.” By the 1950s, the Cahiers du cinéma placed Hitchcock and Lang in their pantheon of cinematic greats, and now you can watch a good selection of their films online — for free.

Vintage films keep slipping into the public domain, and they’re gradually finding their way onto the Internet Archive, Brewster Kahle’s non-profit website dedicated to preserving cultural artifacts in digital form. The Archive’s feature films collection houses movies by Howard Hawks, Frank Capra, Elia Kazan, John Ford, and, to be sure, Hitchcock and Lang too. From the silent era, you will find Lang’s German expressionist sci-fi classic Metropolis (1927) sitting alongside Hitchcock’s first critically and commercially successful film, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1926). Then come their 1930 “talking” films: Lang ultimately considered his first sound movie – M (1931) – his finest work overall. And many rank The 39 Steps (1935) as Hitchcock’s best early film. Plus you can watch his very first sound movie, Blackmail, from 1929.

All together, the Internet Archive houses at least 15 Hitchcock films, and 4 Lang films from the 1920s and 1930s, and you can find them listed in Open Culture’s collection of Free Movies. But things start to thin out once we hit the 1940s, when Hitchcock and Lang launched their Hollywood careers. Copyright law helps explain the dearth of available films. But, don’t despair, the Archive still offers up some worthwhile movies: on the one hand, Scarlet Street, Lang’s contribution to the film noir canon; and on the other hand, Hitchcock’s Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache, two French language propaganda films that he directed to support the Allied forces during World War II. Open Culture has previously surveyed the contributions made by other great directors during war time, and today we’ll point you to a free online archive of Andrei Tarkovsky’s films.

Dan Colman edits Open Culture, which brings you the best free educational media available on the web — free online courses, audio books, movies and more. By day, he directs the Continuing Studies Program at Stanford University, and you can also find him on Twitter.

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