English 173

The Language and Literature of Films: Hidden Hitchcock

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2016 Miller, D.A.
MW 11-12:30 + film screenings Thursdays 7-10 P.M. 300 Wheeler

Book List

Spoto, Donald: The Art of Alfred Hitchcock; Truffaut, François: Hitchcock

Other Readings and Media

Films will be available at the media center; the course reader will be put on B-courses.


Few film styles have more successfully courted mass-audience understanding and approval than Hitchcock’s.  In the overstated lucidity of his narrative communication, nothing deserves our attention that his camera doesn’t go out of its way to point out.  But as anyone who has seen a Hitchcock film knows, the director primes us to be considerably more alert than this spoon-feeding requires.  In addition to our instrumental attention, we find ourselves possessed of a surplus watchfulness that has no object or use.  Even when Hitchcock is not enjoining us to “pay attention,” we remain poised behind a pane of vigilance, as if expecting to see something besides his unmissable danger signals and loud significance alerts.  We can’t help sensing that there is more to meet the eye in Hitchcock than, in his viewer-friendly manner, he arranges to greet the eye.  To watch a Hitchcock film is thus always to come under the spell of a hidden Hitchcock, and to want, somehow, to focus our surplus attention on this imaginary thing or being.  That esoteric dimension of his cinema will be the subject of this course.    In contradistinction to the games that Hitchcock is known to play with his Pavlovianly trained mass audience, I postulate a game he would be playing with that absurdly, pointlessly watchful spectator who dwells within us all, but whom, as members of a mass audience, or as critics in loyal alignment with it, we mostly put on lockdown; and whom I call the Too-Close Viewer. In this game, and for this viewer alone, Hitchcock would cultivate, alongside his manifest style with its hyperlegible images, a secret style that sows these images with radical duplicity.  

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