Stitching with Ivor Novello or How to Quilt a Silent Film

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Quilting inspiration comes from all sorts of sources – the design or colour of a particular fabric; the natural or urban landscape; a traditional block made either in the traditional way or reimagined for a modern quilt.

I’m particularly keen on lettering incorporated into quilting designs and am always on the hunt for words and phrases that will lend themselves to stitch.  Folk songs, sea shanties, phrases from novels and chapter titles from Dickens have all found their way into my quilting.

Recently, I identified a whole new source for quilt designs – silent film intertitles. Some are simply designed with plain lettering, and others are enhanced with beautiful borders and illustrations in keeping with the film’s theme – for example the nautical ropes and flags that enhance the intertitles of Maurice Elvey’s 1918 biographical film about Nelson. My all-time favourite intertitle comes from the 1927 version of Hindle Wakes, also  directed by Maurice Elvey: I’m a Lancashire Lass and so long as there are spinning mills in Lancashire I can earn enough to keep myself respectable.

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog

The Lodger Quilt

My first quilt inspired by intertitles is based on Alfred Hitchock’s 1926 film, The Lodger starring Ivor Novello (1893-1951). To-night: Golden Curls isn’t strictly an intertitle, but is a sign for a nightclub that appears on screen and sets the tone for the film. Is Ivor Novello the murderer, known as The Avenger, who is murdering blondes in the foggy streets of London?

To-night Golden Curls

One of Novello’s earliest biographers, Peter Noble was greatly impressed by The Lodger. He wrote in Ivor Novello: Man of the Theatre : “The tension was admirably sustained, the tempo was fast, the photography was excellent, and Novello’s sensitive performance marked him out as one of the truly important screen personalities in our studios.” In 1950, when Noble was writing this biography, the British Film Institute was about to include The Lodger in its 1950 Season of Great Films, which also included Griffith’s Hearts of the World, Asquith’s Shooting Stars, and Dovzhenkno’s Earth. Hitchcock’s Lodger was last revived in 2012, with a sparkling restored print and new score by Nitin Sawhney.

Novello starred in a sound remake of The Lodger in 1932, directed by Maurice Elvey. And now I  must declare an interest: I have been researching Elvey’s early career for some years now and take a particularly close interest in his films. Elvey’s Lodger is certainly not one of his best: although Noble calls it “a very creditable thriller” and praises Novello as having “taken the sound medium, with its stress on underplaying, in his stride,” it isn’t terribly good – the suspense has gone and the camera work is constrained by the needs of the recording equipment. The best things about it are the piano playing and singing of Novello. These are a poor fit with the overall theme of the film, but were perhaps included to make the most of the sound technology and Novello’s popularity as a composer. Although it did well at the box office at the time, Elvey’s Lodger will always be a curiosity piece, which suffers in comparison to the Hitchcock silent.

The difference in tone between the Hitchcock and Elvey versions can be summed up by the two magazine covers featuring the film. On this Picture Show cover from March 12 1927, Novello is looking sinister and mysterious…..

The Lodger 1926

…. but by December 17 1932, Novello looks as though is he about to embark on a duet with his costar, Elizabeth Allan.

The Lodger 1932

Coming Attractions at the Cinema

One of these days, I might take a whole set of intertitles from a single film and stitch the whole lot. The most likely contender is Hindle Wakes but I’m keeping my eyes open for other ideas – and am open to suggestions! Watch this space…..

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