Friday, 15 March 2013

The Hunchback of Notre Dame at Cottage Road Cinema

Partnership event with Far Headingley Village Society and Cottage Road Cinema

It was originally known as The Headingley Picture House
 Sheila Chapman writes:
We came in from the street muffled up to the eyeballs to escape the freezing cold and occasional snow of this March evening. We entered the panelled foyer of this 100 year old cinema complete with its ticket booth and ‘authentic’ tickets to be greeted by the welcoming warmth of its staff who were resplendent in evening attire. What a great start to an evening full of the atmosphere which you can only find in a cinema of this vintage!
We had come to watch The Hunchback of Notre Dame, chosen by the cinema (together with its partners, Far Headingley Village Society and Headingley LitFest), to reflect the Headingley LitFest’s 2013 theme – Lives and Loves.

But before the film we were treated to the adverts. Normally cinema adverts could hardly be described as a treat but these were vintage and so were tinged with nostalgia and, from this distance, were very amusing.

This version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, based on the novel by Victor Hugo, is a testament to Charles Laughton’s portrayal of Quasimodo. Laughton’s performance, though often caricatured, drives the film by engaging us with the desperate and abused character who is the hunchback.  The film tells the story of Esmeralda, a gypsy girl in fifteenth century Paris, who becomes entangled in the machinations of the evil judge Frollo who both desires and hates her. She in turn loves Phoebus, a philandering soldier, while Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bell ringer of Notre Dame, loves her because of her kindness to him (she gave him water)  after he had been publicly flogged and left in the stocks.  Quasimodo demonstrates his love by saving Esmeralda from hanging. The greatest tragedy in the film is that of Quasimodo. He is mocked and brutalised because of his appearance and denied love despite the greatness of his heart and his courage.

The film’s plot differs considerably from that of the original novel – including a happy ending for Esmeralda. In addition, much of the social commentary in the novel has also been ‘Hollywoodised’ but sufficient remains to portray, in a fifteenth century setting, the social ills of poverty and exploitation and the corrupt use of power.

Quasimodo’s physical relationship with Notre Dame and its bells is a constant presence in the film. He clambers in and around the cathedral with ungainly dexterity. He plays the bells (which have deafened him) by lying on his back and pushing them with his feet and in one scene he actually jumps onto a bell and rides it. This physical portrayal of Quasimodo by Charles Laughton together with his evocation of the hunchback’s bewilderment and humanity is the lasting impression of the film.

As one member of the audience said ‘I can now appreciate why this film is a classic’.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), RKO pictures – directed by William Dieterle 

1 comment:

  1. This film is indeed a classic. I can remember the first time I watched it at the age of fifteen- quite a bit of the time peeping from behind my hands as a violent thunderstorm, appropriately, raged outside!
    Reading your report brought back many feelings- from the arousing of a feeling of great sympathy when Quasimodo is whipped and Esmeralda is tortured and sentenced to death- a feeling of apprehension when the misshapen and distorted figure first appears- to the wonder of the innocence and gullibility of the beautiful gypsy girl.
    What a good choice of film, I think, for your festival's theme of 'Lives and Loves', as the eponymous hunchback shows his love for the bells which deafened him and his love for Esmeralda shines through his eyes and his gestures.This all conveys the deep feelings within him.