ENG 381 Studies in Literary Genres
Hitchcock Style & Literature
Spring 2014
Professor William Thomas McBride
-Wednesday 5:30-8:20p STV 101
Office Hours-Wednesday 2-4p STV 336

When we awake with a vivid dream fresh in our memory, or are regaled by someone else’s dream narrative, we often launch head on into an analysis of the latent meaning of the dream’s manifest content. Without hesitation, and usually without trained expertise, we apply common principles of psychology and insights about gender, myth and popular culture, and make claims relating to biographical knowledge of the dreamer as well. The spectacularity of dreams is often attributable to both the uncannily realistic nature of them and their cinematic quality. Early on in its development, Hollywood (and Hitchcock) fell in love with Freud, and given cinema’s dreamlike status, it is rather easy to see why. Hitchcock’s psychoanalytic bent is evident in many of his titles: Psycho, Vertigo, Frenzy, Stage Fright, Shadow of a Doubt. His 1945 film Spellbound took the extraordinary steps of hiring as co-writer and psychiatric advisor, May E. Romm M.D. and, as dream sequence designer, surrealist painter Salvador Dali. Freud characterizes dream form as Darstellbarkeit whose plastic representation exhibits the visual and auditory modes we associate with film over and against a novel or epic poem. Just as we translate Freud’s monumental publication, Die Traumdeutung (1900) as The Interpretation of Dreams, so this seminar centers directly on the art of interpretation (hermeneutics). This scholarly search for meaning in texts originates as Biblical exegesis and Midrash, soon branching out to legal, philosophical and aesthetic hermeneutics, all marked by a concern with the relation between interpretive subject, text, and argument. As we will discover, the metaphors film style employs, like the ones populating our dreams, are simple and commonplace—often to the point of being clichéd. Of all of the films that most consistently and fluently speak the stylized language of cinema, it is those directed by Alfred Hitchcock. And it should come as no surprise that Alfred Hitchcock began his film career as an Art Director and composer of storyboards—hand-drawn images composed prior to shooting that depict and direct what each shot in the film should look like—a practice he continued throughout his life in film. This course promises to deliver fun along with the language and interpretive "skill set" necessary to read films and other narrative texts via their formal elements. Éric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol conclude their little 1957 Hitchcock book this way:

Hitchcock is one of the greatest inventors of form in the entire history of cinema. Perhaps only Murnau and Eisenstein can sustain comparison with him when it comes to form.

While Hitchcock's oeuvre certainly invites our formal analysis of its cinematic language and a feminist, masculinist, queer problematizing of its psychosexuality, we will not limit our investigations there—grindhouse theory (Psycho, Strangers on a Train), ecocriticism (The Birds), critical race theory (Young and Innocent), music theory (Vertigo, Psychø), marxist and trauma studies (most films)—are all fruitful approaches and welcome.


1/15The Last Laugh [Der letzte Mann]Murnau, 1924

1/22 The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog 1927
1/29 Blackmail 1929
2/5 The Thirty-Nine Steps 1935
2/12 Sabotage 1936
2/19 Foreign Correspondent 1940

2/26 Shadow of a Doubt 1943

3/5 Notorious 1946

3/19 Rope 1948
3/26 Strangers on a Train 1951
4/2 Rear Window 1954
4/9 Vertigo 1958
4/16 North By Northwest 1959
4/23 Psycho 1960
4/30 The Birds 1963


We will screen films via the large projection unit in STV 101.

Students will:

* post weekly responses to films & texts via ReggieNet--Students may not choose which assignments (regardless of the point value) they wish to complete.

* read Stylized Moments. Turning Film Style Into Meaning (free download), apply skills to reading the work of Hitchcock.

* deliver a 20-minute presentation on one of the literary sources (novel, play, or short story) of a Hitchcock film reflecting on the ontological differences between the genres and the choices employed by Hitchcock, his cameras, his screenwriters, etc. from the following list:

Joseph Conrad. The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale 1907. [Sabotage]
Marie Adelaide Belloc Lowndes. The Lodger 1913. gutenberg
John Buchan. The Thirty-Nine Steps 1915.
Patricia Highsmith. Strangers on a Train 1950.
Pierre Boileau & Thomas Narcejac. D'Entre Les Morts 1954. trans. The Living and the Dead, Geoffrey Sainsbury 1956. [Vertigo] In ReggieNet "Resources & Materials"
Robert Bloch. Psycho 1959.

John Taintor Foote. "The Song of the Dragon" serialized in The Saturday Evening Post November 1921. [Notorious] "Dragon" in My Folder
Cornell Woolrich. "It Had To Be Murder [1942]," Rear Window and Other Stories 1950. pdf
Daphne du Maurier "The Birds," The Apple Tree 1952.

Charles Bennett. Blackmail 1929.

* write a final project engaging one or more of the following texts or alternatives in discussion with me:

Éric Rohmer & Claude C
habrol. Hitchcock. (Éditions Universitaires, 1957), trans. as Hitchcock: The First Forty-Four Films by Stanley Hochman. (Frederick Ungar, 1979).

Francois Truffaut. Hitchcock. Simon & Schuster, 1967
Donald Spoto. The Dark Side of Genius. DaCapo, 1983.
William Rothman. Hitchcock: The Murderous Gaze, Harvard, 1982
Theodore Price. Superbitch! Alfred Hitchcock's 50 Year Obsession with Jack the Ripper, and the Eternal Prostitute. A Psychoanalytic Interpretation. New Discoveries, 1992, 2011.
Tania Modleski. The Woman Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Theory, Routledge.1988, 2005 Notorious & Vertigo Chapters in ReggieNet

Robert Samuels. Hitchcock's Bi-Textuality: Lacan, Feminisms, and Queer Theory SUNY, 1997

Slavoj Zizek (ed). Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lacan (But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock) (1992, 2010)