From Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint scrambling across Mt. Rushmore to Jimmy Stewart leaping into San Francisco Bay to Anthony Perkins welcoming Janet Leigh to the Bates Motel: Alfred Hitchcock has directed some of the most iconic and enjoyable films in cinema history. In a career that spanned more than fifty years and included over sixty films, Hitchcock created unforgettable moments of suspense, romance, and horror.
The length of his career and his ability to control the production of his films mean that many of his works display similar visual and narrative elements and explore recurring themes such as criminality, guilt and mistaken identity. The remarkable longevity and consistency of Alfred Hitchcock’s career have inspired critics, fans and film scholars to develop new approaches to analyzing his films, from the “auteur” theory advanced by French filmmakers in the 1960s to more recent frameworks that focus on voyeurism and sexuality.
In the third iteration of Learning Beyond the Classics, Dr. Susan Ohmer and Ricky Herbst lead the audience through Hitchcock films that are known and loved, such as Rebecca, Vertigo, Rear Window and North by Northwest, as well as films that have not screened publicly at the Center before, including The Wrong Man, The Lodger, and The Paradine Case.
“We’ve been really wowed by the community enthusiasm over the Learning Beyond the Classics,” Ricky Herbst said. “Although the project is a bit of a no-brainer. Movies are a natural point for discussion and collective education, and the Browning Cinema is a wonderful venue for students from Notre Dame, local colleges, and nearby high schools to take a class alongside those who have been out of school for a couple years or even decades.”
The Learning Beyond the Classics series is organized into four modules that cut across different time periods and production circumstances.
- The first module explores Crimes and Criminals in Hitchcock’s films in Hollywood and the UK, beginning with Psycho (1960) and moving to The Wrong Man (1956) and The Lodger (1927). As we consider the nature of the crime and the behavior of the accused, the boundaries between guilt and innocence begin to blur.
- The second module focuses on Women, Guilt, and the Law, opening with Rebecca (1940) and Marnie (1964), followed by The Paradine Case (1947) and Sabotage (1936). The screening of Marnie is timed to create a dialogue with the broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera’s new production, based on the same book that inspired Hitchcock’s film. The films in this group spur us to consider how love, guilt, crime, and the law become intertwined in Hitchcock’s films, and how women and femininity played a role as those themes mixed.
- The third module explores films dealing with Conscience and Complicity and includes Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Strangers on a Train (1951), Rear Window (1954) and Vertigo (1958), films in which characters are drawn into ambiguous and often dangerous situations that trouble neat distinctions between good and evil.
- The last module of films delves into a topic that many consider quintessential Hitchcock: Spies and Spycraft. We will screen Notorious (1946), The Thirty-Nine Steps (1935), and North by Northwest (1959) to study how characters become caught up accidentally in situations they don’t at first understand. The people they meet and the spaces they navigate seem ordinary, yet Hitchcock reveals the turmoil lurking beneath seemingly mundane situations.
By the end of the semester, the Learning Beyond the Classics series will have enhanced the audience’s understanding of what makes a “Hitchcock” film and of the collaborative processes and industrial, social, and cultural contexts in which he worked. “What’s particularly exciting for me is that the Hitchcock film experience is heavily influenced by the people with whom you watch it,” Herbst said. “Revisiting many of these films with others’ fresh eyes or others’ long experience and then hear their insights I believe will be very enriching. Plus, having a bunch of the people around town trained in Hitchcock films is going to really up our city’s 2019 Halloween game.”
About Learning Beyond the Classics
Learning Beyond the Classics is a venture that brings the film studies classroom experience to the general public. The series includes a weekly reading, recorded lectures on the films you can listen to at your leisure, and a discussion after each film. All are welcome to sign up for the series. Come to explore and appreciate classic films at a new level.