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Hitchcock and Theory: The French Connection

Lecturer: Mairead Phillips

Originally Taught: Summer School 2013

This subject introduces the groundbreaking work of French film theorists and critics in bringing to light a recognition of and an appreciation for the films of Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock was considered in Britain, the country of this birth, and in the United States, his adopted country from 1940 onwards, a commercial director of light romantic comedies and spy thrillers. The French critics of the Cahiers du Cinema forged a new brand of criticism that looked to the director as an auteur, a filmmaker who produced more than a commercial product, something akin to art. This subject looks at the methods and techniques by which the French, from the 1950s to the 1980s, approached Hitchcock’s films, employing clips from the films to illustrate their theses where relevant.

Course Schedule

Lecture 1. Hitchcock an the New Wave
The French film journal, Cahiers du Cinema, founded in 1951, pioneered criticism that developed a sensitivity to certain directors’ vision and style. Alfred Hitchcock was one of the directors they championed. Rohmer and Chabrol occupy a unique position in Hitchcock scholarship having published the first book length study of Hitchcock’s oeuvre in 1957. This lecture will examine their main claims and themes and their expository style.

Lecture 2. Hitchcock and the Critics
Unlike the young critics and filmmakers at Cahiers du Cinema, Andre Bazin, the journal’s co-founder, was dismissive at first of Hitchcock’s style and technique. A champion of the deep-focus and long-take of directors like Welles, Wyler and Renoir, Bazin was critical of Hitchcock’s use of montage, and montage in general. This lecture will look at the change of heart Bazin had towards Hitchcock’s work when he interviewed him in on the set of To Catch a Thief (1955).

Lecture 3. Hitchcock and the Structuralists
The 70s and 80s saw a major shift in approaches to film analysis and critique. Over the next two weeks, the works of Christian Metz and Raymond Bellour will be considered in light of the major French thinkers that influenced their approach to reading cinematic images, chiefly, structural linguist Ferdinand Saussure, literary theorist Roland Barthes and psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan.

Lecture 4. Hitchcock and Psychoanalysis
Hitchcock’s work has been the subject of many psychoanalytic readings, which include feminist and queer interpretations. This week’s lecture will look at some of the seminal psychoanalytic readings, which ran alongside many structuralist revisions, but also how their readings have dominated Hitchcock studies for the last thirty years.

Lecture 5. Hitchcock and Philosophy
This lecture series will conclude by looking at how Hitchcock was again taken up by the French in the 80s, this time by philosopher Gilles Deleuze. This lecture will focus on how Deleuze’s reading of Hitchcock links up with or differs from some of the French readings discussed in the course.

Recommended Reading:
  • Rohmer, Eric. & Chabrol, Claude. Hitchcock: the First Forty-Four Films. Trns. S. Hochman. New York: Ungar Publishing Co., 1979.
  • Bazin, André. The Cinema of Cruelty: from Buñuel to Hitchcock. Ed. and with an introduction by F. Truffaut. Trans. S. d' Estrée. New York: Seaver Books, 1982.
  • Truffaut, François. Hitchcock / Truffaut. London: Granada, 1978.
  • Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 1: the movement-image. Trns. H. Tomlinson & B. Habberjam. London: Athlone, 1986.
  • Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 2: the time image. Trns. H. Tomlinson & R. Galeta. London: Athlone; Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 1989.

Level of difficulty:
An introductory course that deals with the material at a graduate level.