ABSTRACT

The British Film Institute’s (BFI) website ‘Film Forever’ lists ten ‘great museum movies’. Unsurprisingly Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) tops the list, with his earlier film Blackmail (1929) also making an appearance.2 Blackmail was Hitchcock’s first talkie and includes a pursuit through London streets of a man falsely suspected by Scotland Yard of murder. The suspect attempts to hide in the British Museum3 where the chase continues through the galleries and across the roof of the Reading Room, an action that culminates with him falling to his death through the glass dome. Prior to the fatal fall, he clambers down a chain in the Egypt gallery to evade capture. Clinging to the rope and in a classic Hitchcockian affect-image, displayed beside him is the imposing death mask of an Egyptian Pharaoh. The ancient object has a startling affect with the Pharaoh’s power no longer relegated to an historical past but a powerful presence in the moment.