Studies in Film: Hitchcock: Film, Theory, Murder
Prereq: 21L.011, one subject in Literature or Comparative Media Studies; or permission of instructor
There are many things one can do with Alfred Hitchcock. The first English-language director to turn his name into a brand, marking each film with a cameo and his famous silhouette, Hitchcock insisted on the recognition of the director as auteur or author. At the same time, he was a notoriously untrustworthy author who loved to taunt the public with contradictory statements about himself and his films—(one of his most famous adages was “torture the audience”). He made immensely popular films in the 1950s and 1960s, which brought him fame and box office success, but he was also known for a small-budget, quirky television series; his films are taught in every introductory film course in the world as examples of artistic virtuosity in the medium, but he also made horror films and screwball comedies. His films are examples of cruel, methodical directorial control, but they are also often very funny; they weave through meditations on compulsion, obsession, aggression, paranoia, guilt, and desire, but they are also durably entertaining. One might read the director’s films as allegories in relation to politics, nationalism, ethics, and the social versus the individual, or turn him into a critic of the ideology of marriage and heterosexuality. In this seminar, we will do all of these things with Alfred Hitchcock and more, examining a broad range of paradoxical films from this most complex director. We will closely study over 15 of Hitchcock’s films, from his early silent pictures of the 1920s to his studio productions of the 1960s to his dark, violent later work. Readings from film theory will help us understand Hitchcock through psychoanalytic, feminist and formalist lenses, and will present major concepts analytically useful for many of his works (suspense, guilt, disguise, desire, the wrong man, the MacGuffin, the blonde, and the blot or stain). At least one previous course in film analysis is required. Required work will involve a mix of theoretical readings and film screenings (on plex), asynchronous listening and writing, and one weekly synchronous meeting. Scholarly output will include a long essay engaging theory and films, and a portfolio mixed-media project.