Podcast Episode 123: TCM Spotlight On Alfred Hitchcock
TCM and Ball State partner for another online course
Beth: Welcome to another edition of listeners’ supported KPBS cinema junket podcast, I’m Beth Accomando. Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense. Hitch, however you want to refer to him his a filmmaker who’s left an indelible mark on cinema. His career span the silence and the talkies, black and white, Technicolor, and 3D, plus film industries on both sides of the pond. He worked primarily in the suspense thriller genre but found great diversity and nuance within it. His ‘1960s film Psycho, is often cited as the first slasher film, and the granddaddy of all the Freddy Jason’s and Michael Meyers. Five years ago his film Vertigo knocked Citizen Kane off the top slot of sights and sounds list of the 50 greatest films of all time. Although he made his last film in 1976, Family Plot, and passed away four years later his influence on movies and viewers is still felt today. As a testament to that TCM is once again partnering with Ball State University and Richard L. Edwards this time to present an online course about the master of suspense. Speaker 1: Want to master the master of suspense? TCM presents 50 years off Hitchcock, a free online interactive learning experience from Ball State University. Get in a massive look at one of cinema’s greatest artist Alfred Hitchcock with multimedia course materials, games, and more, plus you’ll be part of an active community of fans just like you. Use hashtag #hitchcock50 to join the conversation every Wednesday and Friday night in July when TCM features Hitchcock’s greatest films. Go to Hitchcock50.campus.netnow to start your in-depth experience. Beth: Plus TCM will screening a newly complete collection of Hitchcock’s films including some of his silent work for viewers to enjoy in July. Whether you grew up with Hitchcock’s films or his T.V shows, or the various spoofs and homages that came later you probably know something about his work. Maybe it’s the notion of the Mc Garvin that thing of character that could set a Hitchcock film in motion and keep the plot going, although it ultimately proved to have no real significance, or maybe it’s the theme of the wrong man as Cary Grant so deliciously played him in North by North West. Speaker 2: You means what’s that supposed to be? Speaker 3: Car is waiting outside you’ll walk between us and say nothing. Speaker 2: What are you talking about? Speaker 3: Let‘s go. [Music] Speaker 2: Let’s go where? Who, who… Who are you? Speaker 3: Near Erin boy is carrying a concealed weapon, his is pointed at your heart, so please know errors of judgment I beg of you. Speaker 2: Oh come on fellas, what is this a joke or something? Speaker 3: Yes, a joke. We will laugh in the car. Come. Speaker 2: But this is ridiculous. Beth: Or maybe it’s a just staccato strains of Bernard Hemmings score for Psycho that still sticks in your head. [Music] Beth: Hitchcock’s genius was his ability to blend his meticulously executed craft and artistry with a business savvy that kept his films popular for decades. Even a film like Vertigo that he considered a box office failure made back its money, it just didn’t turn as big a profit as Psycho, Rare Window or North by North West. A Hitchcock film could always brig you to the edge of your seat or in some cases hiding under it. He made you feel the frustration of a falsely accused Henry Fonda in the wrong man, or the tension of a wheelchair bound Jimmy Stewart watching his girlfriend encounter a killer in an apartment across the courtyard. He could also engross you in the activity of a killer and make you look for every drop of blood along with Anthony Perkins, Norman Bates in Psycho as you clean the bathroom, murder site. That was the key in all of Hitch’s films, the level of engagement he had with the audience. He always hooked us, always made it so we didn’t want to turn away from the screen for fear of missing something. He could be a bit of a sadist, putting us through agony as we watched character’s we like go through extreme and dangerous situations. But we loved him for every agonizing second. To celebrate Hitchcock, I speak with TCM host Ben Mankowitz, and Ball University’s Richard L. Edwards. You can sign up for their course until July 14th and enjoy the films on TCM all month. So let’s begin a podcast dedicated to geeking out over the master of suspense, first up is Ben Mankowitz. [Music] Beth: First of all I wanted to ask you this is going to be the third time TCM is doing one of these online classes with Richard Edwards, you guys aren’t an educational institution or anything, what is it that drives you to do this kind of programs and do these kind of things? Ben: Well, we’re not an educational institution, but we think of ourselves as the caretakers of this great art form. And part of loving these movies is talking about these movies and knowing about these movies. And while I am certainly not a professor or I do not teach class, you know it’s funny when you start in television they tell you to be conversational. But this is not a conversation for two minutes before the movie and for a minute after the movie or so I’m giving you a little lecture about the movie. And our audiences responded enthusiastically since Robert Osborn first started doing this in 1994. I mean we could have started TCM and just merely brought you the movies, I mean that’s our, that’s the thing that makes our, that makes us so valuable is that we have these movies. But by curating them we created this enormously valuable connection with our audience, and these mooks, phrase that I can’t still believe I’m using, are just are it feels like an extension of that. Giving people of the chance if they want and on their time mostly to learn even more about this art form that they are so emotionally invested in. It just felt like a natural next step when these things, you know when these online courses became a thing to people do. Beth: And to go along with this course, TCM is programming an incredible array of Hitchcock films. Most of the time we see his stuff his done in the United States, but you guys have dug back and are showing I believe even some of is silent film for this. Ben: We are. One of the great things about Hitchcock and it’s true I suppose with nearly every director, you could do it with also with John Ford, but with Hitchcock in particular if you start at the beginning and go to the end you see a real progression. First of all you start with the guy who knew what he was doing, it wasn’t as if you know his silent were hurdling amateurs, they were the work of a guy who clearly understood what he was, the story he was trying to visually. But if you follow him through to the mid ‘1970s when he was finished, you see this really interesting progression. I mean yes, ad of course he gets better but you also see that the just an expansion of some of the themes that he had in the silence taken in a new direction. You could see a guy grow, and he was always good. So almost more than any director there’s value from seeing Hitchcock from the beginning to the end. And as it is with so many of our fans, if you’re a Hitchcock fan you are, you want to deeply immerse yourself in Hitchcock. So yes. So we start in silent era when he started making movies, and we go right through till the end. Beth: If you could point to one of the silent films or something in one of those silent films that particularly stands out for you and terms of watching that chronological progression, is there a film that you think is particularly noteworthy for you or that had a scene that kind of made you go like, “Ah!” I understand something about some of his later work after seeing that? Ben: The easiest one would be The Lodger, just because you know it’s about looking for a serial in London. You know it was a, you know you can definitely see the influence of German expressionism in that movie. And it’s also because I find that interesting in part just because of the way we’re sort of you know, the way we think of Hitchcock, and the way every director that I talk to today at TCM has this, not every director but nearly every director, has this enormous reverence for Hitchcock ad the influence of Hitchcock on so many modern filmmakers is so profound. And then just to know that of course that at one point Alfred Hitchcock was young and he was influenced by others, but which means that of course that that now these directors you know, because their influenced by someone who is so profoundly influenced by German expressionism. We have a through line from German expressionism right to movies today. But you know The Lodger was you know, there were, you see the beginning of the idea of the wrong man in The Lodger, right which is surfaced again, and again, and again in Hitchcock movies you know probably most famously in North by North West. But if you watch The Lodger in addition to seeing the little signs of Psycho you certainly see little signs of North by North West among many Hitchcock films. But if people could only watch one silent Hitchcock, or they don’t like silent movies and they’re only willing to only watch one, I would see to see The Lodger. And you know and also then his Blackmail which is also terrific and that’s his first talkie, but I was initially shot as a silent. So it’s sort of converted which makes it an interesting watch all by itself in addition to being a typically suspense-able Hitchcock film with a cool signature location also in Blackmail that it occurs to me which you also see repeated so often in Hitchcock films. Beth: What do you think it is about Hitchcock that has made him remain so popular for long? He’s been dead for decades, what do you think it is about his particular style that has remained popular with the public? Ben: Well I think he does two things, one, he appeals to serious film lovers, he appeals to film scholars. And then there’s also just a mass market appeal. I mean there are so few directors that have forgotten that, that he can speak to a crowd that wants to have a glass of wine afterwards and talk about exactly what they’ve seen, and I’m not knocking that, I am included in that crowd. But I’m also more included in the crowd which is just stuffing your face with popcorn as you sort of drop your jaw, get scared and turn away from this screen, so he does both and the best directors too. But he is sort of the perfect example of appealing to both crowds and that there are plenty of serious film fans from here in the States, and in Europe. You know people like True Fo who thought you know if you don’t like Hitchcock then you’re not getting it, and you don’t, and then you don’t really love film. And I’m not sure you can say that about a lot of other directors but he works definitely on those on two levels. Beth: Do you think the fact that he made films that were very popular and that did connect with audiences earlier on in his career, do you think that hindered him in a certain way in terms of getting the respect as a real artist and craftsman? Because it’s only been recently that Vertigo’s made the top of the sight and sound list, and I’m just wondering if his kind of main stream popularity in some way kind of hindered him being appreciated as an artist? Ben: I think that’s probably true. I don’t look back at Hitchcock and think, “Oh that poor guy didn’t get appreciated enough.” But I hear you, it’s certainly a fair point. But we’ve also you know we’ve, we had this late in life for partly with that, then of cable television partly because of Turner Classic Movies, I mean I wasn’t there yet. But this sort of appreciation with there’s more mass market appeal of classic Hollywood that is thankfully come to pass in the last… You know I mean we’re 23 years old, it’s certainly older than that. But yeah, I mean and that you can say this, what you’re saying about Hitchcock could be said about so many others. I mean it certainly it could also be said about Olsen Wells who wasn’t till the ‘1970s that people started to recognize the brilliance of Citizen Kane. So you know when it’s started to be possible to see these movies in an easier way whether you’re watching on television or whether you start to go to a video store and rent it, and then just as there’s these communities opened up and you know film fans met film fans and started talking about movies. I think that it happened in an organic way, so I think it’s true what you’re saying about Hitchcock, but although you know I mean he did a get a lifetime achievement award from the academy. It wasn’t like it was like you know… It wasn’t like nobody understood. It’s not like he… I don’t think he died thinking, “Nobody appreciated me.” I certainly hope not. Beth: No, but it did take the academy all that time to give him the lifetime achievement and not ever giving him a directing award. Ben: [Overlapping conversation] [00:13:16]. No look, look Cary Grant and Robert Mitcham, and Barbra Stein winker. Beth: Yeah. Ben: Three tremendous oversights by the academy. But it’s almost better, right. I mean if Cary Grant had won one Oscar right it still wouldn’t have been enough, and if Hitchcock had won one Oscar wouldn’t have been enough. So that you can look back on those three people go, “Can you believe the academy never gave these three people, how might have been the very best at the thing they did?” Right and that they never won an Oscar. I don’t know I think it makes it a better story that there is more glory in omission than in winning one Oscar. Beth: Well it also seems, just to kind of play devil’s advocate a little bit, it also seems that he sometimes was criticized because he tended to work very much in a particular genre and style, and you know there’s the sense like, oh why doesn’t he you know try something different. But it seems like you know he was perfecting his particular style and that there is you know a lot to be appreciated in that. Ben: Yeah, I don’t think it was… It wasn’t a genre that was taken I guess, you know part of this is my own speculation but it stands to reason why these movies would be so popular and that people would love working with him, and they would be so finely crafted yet still wouldn’t be entirely recognized for what they were. It makes, there’s an incongruity there. So I suspect that it was dismissiveness of the genre. But that said it’s not like it’s not like crime film were appreciated, but there was a sense you know these weren’t the best years of our lives. This wasn’t, this is Nineveh, these weren’t war films that showed the proud sacrifice of a people under siege right. Now we see a movie’s like North by North West and we understand how sort of you know grand it is. But you know it wasn’t Ben Hur. So I suppose that had something to do with that, with how you know this is a town that is still struggling to find a way to appreciate comedy correctly. It still you know if we’re just talking about the academy, the academy still doesn’t have a, is not really, does not have its head on right about how it should deal with comedy. And that when you get a great, great funny film it’s okay to say, “Yeah, this is one of the best of the year.” Was really, really, really funny for a lot of people. So I suspect that the genre, the sort of notion that it was on the cusp of horror probably made it easier to dismiss him, because no question. I mean I don’t disagree with premise that it took a while for people to recognize that he was sort of you know I don’t know about undisputedly the best director ever, but I think if you polled every working director today, about who the best director of all time was, I’m going to guess that he’s, that his going to win. If you narrow the fields of directors who’ve heard of him. Beth: Do you remember the first Hitchcock film you saw, the first one that made an impression on you? Ben: Yeah. It was definitely North by North West. I took a fairly long time to come to classic films even with my family’s history, because I grew up in Washington DC and my dad was a Robert Kennedy press secretary and ran a George McGowan campaign. He was the president of National Public Radio when I was 10 that to me was the, he was the most famous person in the family by far. You know he was recognized almost every day that I went out with him and I… And so I knew that there was this family history with movies and I knew that it was important but I didn’t, it didn’t have any emotional connection. It seemed to be 3000 miles away and I didn’t quite get it. And unlike so many, likely I am an example of the problem, not the problem, the challenge that TCM has right now which is you know as always, it’s always been true how do you get 15, 16, 17 years olds to appreciate black and white movie and I didn’t. And so, well my mom made me you know charmingly watch a North by North West it was on television one night. And then great thing about it, and what I love most about this story is that I always thought of it as the first black and white movie that I loved. Speaker 1: Have you planned your vacation yet? You have a choice between sand and sunburn, or maintaining climbing and the Charlie horse. I find it all very innovating but we should all have some kind of holiday, so my suggestion is a quiet little tour say about 2000 miles. I have just made a motion picture North by North West, to show you some of these delight’s. Now for the best news of all, you can enjoy this wonderful vacation while seated comfortably in this theatre. I promise you nothing but entertainment, a vacation from all your problems as it was for me. [Music] Ben: The guy was into that story and ‘I’m so charmed,’ by Cary Grant I couldn’t, I’m so frustrated that these people were just so blind to the obvious fact that they had the wrong guy. Speaker 2: Oh Leonard, have you met our distinguished guest? Speaker 3: He’s a well-tailored one isn’t he? My secretary is a great admirer of your methods Mr. Kaplin. Elusiveness however were misguided impediment. Speaker 2: Right, right. Speaker 4: Did you call me Kaplin? Speaker 3: I know you’re a man of many names, but I’m perfectly willing to accept your current choice. Speaker 4: Current choice? My name is Thornhill, Rodger Thornhill, is never been anything else. Speaker 3: Of course. Speaker 4: So obviously your friend’s picked up the wrong package when they bundled me out her in the car. Speaker 2: Do sit down Mr. Kaplin. Speaker 4: I told you I’m not Kaplin whoever he is. Ben: I remember thinking we don’t even know what it is they’re doing. Like why I’m so… I don’t even… So I got the whole Hitchcock, McGowan thing even though I had no word for it then. And then of course you know realizing a few years later, or maybe many years later, 10 years I don’t know that my favorite, the first black and white movie I loved was in color. I’m just, and I was just remembering it wrong. But it was definitely North by North West as a young person. And then I think Notorious won my appreciation of classic films started just because I remember being unbelievably tense as Cary Grant carried Ingrid Birdmen down the stairs and nobody had a gun. It’s really just a question of whether Claud Raines is going to speak and that’s your tension. Have I… I felt that was great. Beth: So do those films remain your favorite of Hitchcock’s or has your favorite Hitchcock changed over the years? Ben: You know, the favorite Hitchcock question is almost like your favorite movie, like I don’t know. I really… Like right now because I’ve talked about it, I talked about it with Alexandra Felipe, and we talked about with… And then we did it again for another guest programmer. I mean right now if he asked what my favorite Hitchcock movie is, I probably say Rope because it’s really fresh in my mind. Speaker 2: By what right did you dare decide that that boy in there was in inferior and therefore could be killed? Did you think you were God? Brandon? Is that what you thought when you chocked the life out of him? Is that what you thought when you serve food from his grave? Well I don’t know what you thought, or what you are, but I know what you’ve done, you’ve murdered. You’ve strangled the life out of a fellow human being who could live and love as you never could, and never will again. Speaker 3: What are you doing? Speaker 2: It’s not what I’m going to do, Brandon, it’s what society is going to do. I don’t know what that will be, but I can guess, and I can help, you’re going to die Brandon both of you. You’re going to die. Ben: If you take Hitchcock’s entire resume you know no, few people are putting in the top I was going to say that it was you know forgotten Hitchcock classic but that’s too much. But I like it that it’s undervalued, so I love Rope you know. And yes I still love Notorious and North by North West, but what I am I … I’m not going to… I mean I can’t I never don’t watch The Birds ever, there’s no point but I don’t watch The Birds. Another thing that now I think why are The Birds doing it? How? You couldn’t make a movie now where they didn’t have some it wasn’t, we didn’t go back to some , some, we didn’t go back to Washington where bird experts fly out to Bodega Bay and they try to understand you know what these birds ate that poisoned their minds, made from a dark people and how to reverse it. And Hitchcock hey he didn’t care, didn’t matter why they’re doing it, they’re just doing it. Speaker 1: How do you do? My name is Alfred Hitchcock, and I would like to tell you about our good friends the birds. Speaker 2: That’s the dumbest thing I saw. Speaker 1: Birds just don’t go around attacking people without no reason. Speaker 3: Yes they attack the children. Attack them. Speaker 2: But not with all of these. Speaker 4: Good to not raise these species miss? Speaker 3: They bring beauty into the world. Speaker 5: Those gulls attack. Speaker 3: Impossible. Speaker 6: They came in right down the chimney. Speaker 7: Why are they doing this? Speaker 8: It’s the end of the world. Speaker 9: Are the birds going to eat us mommy? Speaker 2: Get yourselves guns and wipe them out of the face of the earth. Speaker 3: That would hardly be possible. Speaker 7: Mitch, down. Speaker 3: The continents of the world couldn’t take even more than 100 billion birds. Speaker 7: I’ll let… When’s… The birds are everywhere. Speaker 9: They’re coming, they’re coming. Ben: And maybe they’re going to continue or maybe they just stop since the end of the weekend. They’re so many Hitchcock movies that I love and then partly in preparing for this, that I watched so many again. You know Strangers on the train which to me is very, you know it’s thematically similar to Rope, but I couldn’t love Strangers on the train more. Beth: If people are signing up for the class and watching these films on TCM, is there something that you would tell them in like watching the films some advice you would give them, something to look for, or do you, would you say that watching them and chronological order is kind of like the best way to kind of experience this? Ben: I think there’s value in watching them in chronological order. I don’t want to put any, you know I never want to feel like watching movies is homework. You can watch them… The great thing about Hitchcock is that you know I’ve now seen Rope twice in five weeks. If it were on right now you know again I’m meant to do an errand I just turn down my television and Rope was on I’d watch it again. The great thing about Hitchcock is that you can sort of come in at any point and appreciate it and it can reach you emotionally in a number of ways. There is certainly value in seeing some of these movies two or three times and thinking of them academically, but even saying the words that that you should you should think about a movie academically scares people off. You can sit back, put your feet up with whoever you want to watch a movie with, or by yourself and watch any of these movies from the Lodger straight through to Family Plot and enjoy them. Beth: Well I have to say that hearing you talk about having to watch these films repeatedly makes it sound like the best job I could possibly imagine. Ben: It is. I mean I will, it is a great job, I mean you know. My only, it’s not a complain, my only observation about it is that I never quiet when I’m doing these interviews or whether I’m preparing for a big sort of, to month programing, like we’re doing this month with Hitchcock, you never entirely feel prepared because you can always do more. You can always read more, you could always have watched it a little carefully. The problems with watching a movie at home is that no matter how hard you to try to put yourself in just the frame of mind of watching the movie, oh you might check your phone, you might get a phone call, right. So I can always check it again. There’s certainly always more I could read, and you could sit down with somebody like Alexandra and I always think, I’m sitting down with somebody who knows more than I know. Every interview I’ve ever done I think I’m sitting down with somebody who knows more than I do. But there’s tremendous value in the preparation and you’re overall you’re right I can’t believe I have this job, still I can’t believe it’s been, I mean this is going to be a, I’m right at 14 years and I still… I still feel like I just got there. It still feels new and fresh to me. Beth: Well thank you very much for taking some time to talk about Hitchcock. Ben: No, my pleasure anytime. [Music] Beth: That was TCM host Ben Mankowitz. The last time I spoke with Richard L Edwards it was about the film Noah Class he did with TCM. So before we get into Hitchcock, I wanted Edwards to talk a little bit about his partnership with TCM for these online courses. [Music] Richard: It really started with a partnership that goes back many, many years with a Sony Claude who is the director of new business development at TCM. And he and I have collaborated on various different projects and we knew each other from a previous life where we’re both assistant professors in Northern California at a small college. And we have always been looking at ways to look at films and to bring our passion and our interest in films to the broadest possible audience. And so he looks at it from the Tuner Classic Music side, and I look at it from the online learning side. I work at Ball State and I’m the executive director of a research unit that looks at better ways of delivering online and blended courses. And so these courses that I partner with Turner Classic Movies brings together both this real deep passion and film love around classic movies, plus on the desire to create highly engage able, highly entertaining free educational opportunities for people who are fans of these films. Beth: And you also have a background in film. You studied film at USC was it? Richard: Yes. So my background is this, I have a PhD in critical studies from the USC School of Cinematic Arts right there in Los Angeles. I have spent most of my career as a scholar, has been studying films they’re much more in the film more in the Hitchcock theme. This is my area of specialization. So I’ve published a book on film law. I’m currently working on an article on Alfred Hitchcock that’s coming out of the work I’m doing on this course. So these are research areas of mine in addition to just the teaching experience. Beth: Recently TCM and you have partnered on this Hitchcock class and this is the third time you guys are offering something like this. You’ve done something on Phil Moore and on Slap Stick comedy. So what is it that you are offering to people? And what is it that you’re kind of hoping that people will gain from? Richard: Oh it’s a great question Beth. We definitely want people who sign up for the course, and the course is open right now for enrollment. Enrollment in the new Hitchcock course is available through July 14th, so it’s not too late to sign up for the most current course. What we are looking at both myself and all of my great colleagues over at Turner classic movies is to create and generate more insight into the films of Alfred Hitchcock. This is really meant to be an engaging learning experience. It’s broken down into daily modules that you can get delivered to your mobile device or to your computer that allow you to get a little bit more insight beyond just a thumbnail sketch of each of these movies. And so the goal of the course is to help people who are broadly inetersted in film to gain a little bit more understanding of how what type of genre is Alfred Hitchcock tended to focus on during his illustrious 50 year career. How Hitchcock worked with his amazing stars such as Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Jimmy Steward, and you know those great classic Hollywood stars. As well as digging into how this most singular director who really had an incredible presence as a director, was also this amazing collaborator who worked with artists as diverse as Salvador Dolly, the title designer Saul Beth and the great composure Bernard Hermann. So we really feel that it’s probably best understood broadly as a film appreciation class, but we do hope that people who participate also really enjoy that the course is a really a reason for a social community to spin out. And so part of what I absolutely love about this partnerships I do with Turner Classic Movies is under the hashtag #Hitchcock50 we have a vibrant community of thousands of film fans who are sharing their thoughts on Hitchcock in real time every day. And so even in addition to some of these modules that we deliver as a course-like experience there’s really just an opportunity for anyone even if they don’t sign up for course to just jump in to a Hitchcock conversation following the hashtag #Hitchccock50. Beth: Now, I took the Film More class which was fabulous. And what people should know is that you can kind of dive in as deeply or as shallowly as you want. You can, because you offer a lot of staff that you could just read. Richard: Yea. Beth: And just you know gain information from there, or you can engage really fully with you, and with the community of people taking the class. Richard: No, absolutely. The big word that I stress with anyone who’s curious about the course is that it’s highly flexible so you nailed it. It can be a deep dive where you spend a lot of time going through all the materials we freely make available through our course website, but it also can be just a lighter touch. If you just want a little bit more knowledge, you can actually spend a few minutes each day just engaging with course. Some of the things that we just that I’m so thankful for when I work with TCM and also my great crew here at Ball State is in the Hitchcock course. We have a daily video lecture that I recorded with Dr. Weiss Gearing who has published over 36 film books, and we do a round table discussion for… And we’ve done it, we did it for every single day of the course steps. It’s going to be launched. People can just hear Weiss and I talk about Hitchcock[ing]. Spend just anywhere between five to 10 minutes to just getting additional insight on Hitchcock. We’ve also in this version of the course have added a gamification element, and so there are many games you can play. So on Mondays we have a visual game that we show you stills from films that’ll appear in July on TCM and you have to pick whether or not it was directed by Hitchcock or by another director. So it’s like this rapid visual literacy test. We also have a version of hang man, so that you can learn some of the famous names that collaborated with Hitchcock in an interactive mini game. And then we also have a game called ‘Strangers on a quiz’ where you can do the kind of quiz up logic people are familiar with and just rapidly see how well you have, you know that you already have knowledge about, or interest about Hitchcock. So we try with that, what I’m just been relating to make it very accessible. A lot of it is watching very short videos, and a lot of is really hopefully engaging in game play. And then yes, wrapped around that there are different web pages you can read for more depth. But it really is designed to try to fit a wide spectrum of viewers. Beth: One of the things that’s great about this is TCM is going to be serving up a huge collection of Hitchcock films that you can watch along with the class. This seems kind of unpreceded to have these much kind of available? Richard: Yeah, it is. I mean I talk about this all the time internally so it’s kind of fun to talk about it on the radio and make it a little more public. I’ve taught courses on famous directors before, and if you’re teaching it at the college level, the 15 week course and the best you ever do is about one film a week, sometimes you do a double bill, you might show two films a week. What’s so amazing about this six week course which is literally the, you know less than half the length of a normal college course people who are subscribers to TCM will be able to see 40 films. And so what’s fabulous about that is we are in the era of binge watching. People are slogging on to all sorts of services to watch a lot of similar material in a compressed time frame. And I am telling you right now, the best binge watching anyone is going to do this year is watching 40 films of Hitchcock on those compressed time frame. You will see patterns, you will gain insights just solely from that act. So what TCM is offering the public is absolutely unprecedented and I definitely even if people don’t sign up for the course I encourage people to binge watch Hitchcock because that’s going to be your best education. If you watch his films and TCM is doing a great public service, because it’s all the way from his silent films classics, films such as The Lodger, all the way through his last film Family Plot. And so it’s a chronological festival that allows people to see each week Hitchcock maturation as one of the true visual and cinematic geniuses of eth 20th century. And so yeah, I can’t speak to that point more highly which is that TCM is independently of the course doing a great public service. Beth: And why is Hitchcock a good director to focus on? What is it about him that decades after his passed away and decades after his last film we’re still fascinated by his movies and they still draw people are retrospectives, and here in San Diego we have this out door cinemas that show Hitchcock on a regular basis that fill the house, what is it about him that you think makes him unique? Richard: Yeah, several things, I really think that Alfred Hitchcock had an unusual long and productive career. There are very few film makers who begun in the silent film era, and Hitchcock directs his very first film in 1925 before the advent of sound, before the jazz singer at Warner Brothers. And you can just even imagine even if you’re a casual film fan, there really weren’t a lot of directors who moved from the silent film era to the sound film era, and if they did move to the sound era they didn’t end up literally having an additional 45 year career after they transferred to sound. So part of what is so absolutely amazing about Alfred Hitchcock is to study the films of Alfred Hitchcock is to get an education of the evolution of 20th century cinema. And he goes through every major time period and every major advancement in film. He goes from the silent film era, to make this amazing British sound films highlighted by probably by his best film at the British period The 39th steps, then he moves by with The contact offer from David O Selznick to Hollywood in 1940. His first Hollywood film Rebecca wins the Oscar for best film, and then his offered 10 year period during the classic Hollywood system hay day making master works with amazing talent such Shadow of a doubt and Notorious, and Spell Bund with Gregory Pack and there’s Cary Grant and Ingrid Birdman. But then where most directors at that point would probably have slowed down, in his ‘50s Hitchcock makes his absolute master works in his peek years at Warner Brothers and Paramount. So in his ‘50s he starts to make films such as Rare Window, Vertigo, and North by North West that are just absolutely astonishing. Then on the door step as his turning 60 he has his greatest commercial hit with a, what was supposed to just be a little budget horror film Psycho that then kicks off the final 17 years of his, 16 years of his career. [Music] Speaker 1: Here we have a quiet little motel, when in fact it has now become known as the scene of a crime. Speaker 2: You have a vacancy? Speaker 3: Oh, we have 12 vacancies. Speaker 4: You notice the first place it looks like it’s hiding from the world. Speaker 5: I think that we’re all in our private traps, clamped in them [music], and none of us can ever get out. Richard: What’s so fascinating about Hitchcock and why I think he sticks with people is he’s always been a master of visual story telling. He’s worked in all these different eras and unlike many other directors he just seemed to have a higher gear that just kept going up decade after decade peeking for most scholars like myself with the, you know exquisite master works from Strangers on a train, to Psycho. But almost all these other films are highly viewable. And then probably the other way to answer your question more briefly, is he was a genuine author. He was the author of this films and based on the way friends Wa, True Foe talks about authoritarian what matters to make a filmmaker and author of a film there has to be a personality and a person vision that he has put into his films. Add the one thing no one will ever mistake when they’re watching of a Hitchcock film is thinking that he is all over the map. Hitchcock had an intense visual focus and an intense thematic focus. And I think people are really drawn to that that Hitchcock put himself into all of these films in ways that still matter today, and that still resonates with audiences you know decades after he made his last film in the mid ‘1970s. Beth: Now sometimes Hitchcock gets I don’t know if it’s to criticize but sometimes he gets pushed aside a little bit because he consistently worked in the same genre. And sometimes people say, “Well you know all he did was these suspense films with these thrillers.” But is there anything really wrong with somebody perfecting a particular like kind of story telling? Richard: No I don’t think so. And I think that part of what’s going to be the fun of people end up taking the course is that they’ll start to realize that Hitchcock had a lot of range and a lot of diverse interests. And while there are, is a way to say that his just the master of suspense whish is the famous short hand for his entire output. He was a person who was endlessly restless with a visual imagination and he also was constantly pushing what were going to be the story telling capabilities of modern cinema. So his early films or silent films, then he moves into sound film, then he moves into silent films and Hollywood. But then in the ‘195s he makes a 3D Dial ‘em for murder, then he moves into wide screen films North by North West is just this glorious Technicolor widescreen experience. And part of what I’m trying to get at with that is even as some of his thematic preoccupation are somewhat narrow this gentleman had broad imagination, and if you do watch all 50 of the films on TCM in order you’re never going to feel ever a sense of repetition. He was not repeating himself, what he was doing was he was perfecting his art form. And I agree with you Beth, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. And in fact many of the greatest artists are known for a kind of singular idiom that is attracted, that is identified with them in highly codified ways and to me that’s not a bad thing. Beth: Well, he also seemed in addition to being someone who was a master of his craft, he also seemed to have a certain business savvy. You point at you know he tried 3D, you know he tried things. He went into television. He tried things that seemed to be also kind of smart from a business perspective. Richard: Oh, absolutely. Hitchcock understood that films were not only art, films are a business, and it’s very expensive to make films. And you’re not going to make a 50 year career in the cinema if your films are not returning the money back to the studios that are investing in them. So Hitchcock always has one eye on the ledger and one eye on the sound stage, but what I love about Hitchcock is al of his interest in business as far as I’m concerned emphasized the importance of the audience. Hitchcock had a deep respect for his audience, and he didn’t have a cynical relationship with them. And he wanted to give the audience something that they wanted, but each time always had a little Hitchcock twist. He was endlessly inventive. And later in his career I think part of the challenge that happens with people who are only lightly familiar with Hitchcock is they might know him from iconic television series and those campy intros that he did, or they might know him from some of the documentaries that have been made in recent years that emphasized his ‘60s career around say Psycho, The Birds and Marnie. But if you look at the overall arc of his career this was a director whose films almost always made money. He had very few commercial flops. He was always attentive to the desires and needs of the audience, and he always at the heart of his desire to be a filmmaker is the wanted to tell a story that would as many people as possible. And I think that’s another reason why his cinema lives on and why a network like TCM can show 40 films that are going to find a lot of eye balls because these are film you can keep returning to again and again because they’re not just minor art films, there are major entertainments that have artistic elements in them. Beth: Well it seems like to the, in talking about him like this that his concern for the audience is part of what does I think even this longevity because his films were never pretentious. He never seemed to be like, I’m making this you know arty film that’s above you know the common audience. He wanted people to enjoy it and so you never get this level of pretention in his film even though there’s a great amount of craft. Richard: Yes, I agree. And here’s where I also want to give a big shout out to his wife Alma Ravel, because Alma is essential to understanding that part of the longevity of Hitchcock. Alma who started five years before Hitchcock in the film industry, and they met when Hitchcock got his first job at famous players Laski back in the early ‘20s in great Britain. He ends up marrying Alma Ravel who becomes Amal Ravel Hitchcock, and his wife who is with him for his entire career from his first film all the way to Family Plot, really helped Hitch always horn in on the right story. And Charles Champlain, the famous LA critic once said that Hitchcock touch head had four hands and two of them were Alma’s. And Alma had a touch for picking stories that really were going to fit Hitchcock’s talent. And one of my favorite stories when you learn about how Hitchcock came up with his next creative project is that if Alma said no to story idea he just abandoned it quickly, because he always wanted his wife buy-in, because she had a great nose to for that balance between what was going to be both commercially both commercially successful, but that was also going to feed her husband’s for cinematic inventiveness. And I think it’s that secret, that has propelled these films into the pantheon of classic cinema, because they’re both, their these best big star laden spectacles of glory, as well as this amazing artistic personal films that have Hitchcock personality in every frame. Beth: Do you remember the first Hitchcock film you saw and what it was about it that kind of, did it suck you in immediately? Did you fall in love immediately with him? Richard: Yeah. I definitely being a gentleman of a certain age, the first time I ever saw Hitchcock was in the ‘1970s on television. I’m watching the Alfred Hitchcock presents TV series. Do the first time I ever saw Hitchcock he was the empress Sorio who introduced these thrillers in the mold of a twilight on episodes as my memory always remembered those. [Music] Speaker 1: Good evening, I’m looking to see what lies ahead. The old Rome’s used to tell the future by cutting animals open and examining their entrails. Due to some objections by anti-BB sections we have to omit the butchering, but through the wonders of modern science we’re not denied a glimpse into a future besides it’s much more tidy this way. This is an X-Ray of a goat, an animal which the ancients found to be full strange pot heads. Um, it looks like rain. I can see this will also give one insight about the past for example, I now know what happened to those car keys I lost last summer. As to the immediate future either this X-Ray paint wasn’t properly developed, or else we’re in for a very dismal time of it for the next minute. Richard: I really didn’t get into Hitchcock in a major way as a scholar and told my, in a major way as like a fan that really kind of understood something special is going on here until the ‘1980s when I was in college in my first film course. So as I was a freshman in college I took an intro to film course and there were a couple Hitchcock films that were being screened. Then I remember seeing Shadow of a doubt when I was 18 in this film class and it’s just wowed me. It was, the course opened with Citizen Cane, so I’d already been familiar with Joseph Cotton but this is such a different role for Joseph Cotton and Theresa Wright was revelatory. Speaker 1: Good Charlie, I know a secret about you, you don’t think I know. Speaker 2: What secret? Speaker 1: Well, remember I said you couldn’t hide anything from me, because I’ll find it out? Now I know there was something in the evening paper about you. Speaker 2: About me in the evening paper? Speaker 1: About you? That’s why you played that game with Ann and Rodger, you didn’t want us to know and you wanted to tear the paper. Now I know you might as well tell me. Speaker 3: [Chuckles]. But I’ve got to that Charlie. Speaker 2: Only it wasn’t about me, it was about the, someone I used to know. Speaker 1: There. Speaker 2: It’s none of your business. Speaker 1: Uncle Charlie you’re hurting. Speaker 2: Oh child. Speaker 1: Your hand. Speaker 3: Charlie I didn’t mean to hurt you, I was just fooling [chuckles] Speaker 2: It was nothing just, just some gossip. My very pretty about someone I once met up with [chuckles] not for you to read. Get it. Goodnight young Charlie. Speaker 1: Goodnight Uncle Charlie, pleasant dreams. Richard: And I’ve always been a new guy, so of course my first Hitchcock film then were Hitchcock. But Shadow of a doubt just grabbed me from the beginning and then we also saw Rear Window his great film with Jimmy Steward and Grace Kelly and Raymond Bird. Speaker 1: Geoff if you could only see yourself. Speaker 2: What’s the matter anyway? Speaker 1: Sitting around looking out at the window is one thing, but doing it the way you are with binoculars and wild opinion about every little thing you see is, is disease. Speaker 2: What do you think I consider it a recreation? Speaker 1: I don’t know what you consider it, but if you don’t stop it I’m getting out of here. Speaker 2: But what, what’s… Speaker 1: What is it you’re looking for? Speaker 2: I just want to find out what’s the matter with the salesman’s wife that’s all. Does that make me sound like a madman? Speaker 1: What makes you think there’s something theirs something the matter with her? Speaker 2: A lot of thing. She’s an invalid, she’s demands constant care, yet neither the husband, or anybody else been in to see her the whole day, why? Speaker 1: Maybe she died. Speaker 2: Where’s the doctor? Where’s the undertaker? Speaker 1: She could be sleeping, or under sedatives. He’s in there now. There’s nothing to see. Speaker 2: What if there is something… I’ve seen her through that window. I’ve seen bickering and family quarrels and mysterious trips at night, knives, and saws and rope. That now since last evening not assign of the wife, all right now you tell me where she is. Speaker 1: I don’t know. Speaker 2: Or what she’s doing, where is she? Speaker 1: Maybe he’s leaving his wife, I don’t know. I don’t care. Lots of people have knives and saws and ropes around their house. Speaker 2: [Overlapping conversation] [00:51:23], Speaker 1: And lots of men don’t speak to their wives all day. Lots of wives nag and men hate them and trouble starts, but very, very few of them end up in murder if that’s what you’re thinking. Speaker 2: I hear it’s pretty hard for you to keep away from that word, isn’t it? Richard: Those two films together one with more black and white, black and white films in the ‘1940s and a gigantic widescreen technicolor masterpiece from the ‘1950s, where my two footholds and I’ve been climbing you know up the mountain of Hitchcock from those two holds ever since. These are films you have to return to again, and again. I have started and I’ll be re-watching all of the films on-air. So I’ve had to clear out my DVR’s so that I can record 40 films in a rom. I’m going to try and watch a lot of them live and share my thoughts live on twitter on Friday nights during the festival. So if people want to come and join and hear my thoughts about these films I’ll be live tweeting on the #Hitchcock50 harsh tag Fridays in July at 8:00 pm or 9:30 pm depending on the film. The final point I just want to wrap up with is even when you’re just introduced to Hitchcock, if he gets under your skin just consider yourself lucky, because to spend your lifetime watching and re-watching these films to me is a pleasure. Beth: And Hitchcock’s reputation within kind of Hollywood and the critical community has shifted and changed, because recently I think Vertigo finally moved to the top of the sight and sounds you know best 100 films. And when that film initially came out that was one of his few kind of financial, I don’t know if it was a failure. Richard: Yeah. Beth: But it didn’t do as well. Richard: Yes. Beth: As his others. So has his position kind of in film history been shifting and changing? Richard: Yeah, because and it’s absolutely fascinating. I love that question Beth because it goes to the heart of the Hitchcock phenomenon as well. In the ‘1960s right before the publication of the famous set of interviews that he did on the, ended up as book called ‘Hitchcock True Foe’, even as his making these incredible entertainments that we now see as some of the greatest films of the entire 20th century such as Vertigo, Rare Window, and North by North West. He really enters into the ‘60s as a filmmaker understood more as an, in a as entertainer than an artist, part of that of entertainment aspect comes out of the fact that people are familiar with his TV show and they see him as a kind of light comedic entertainer. But starting with the True Foe book and then the ‘Great early scholarship’, of Robin Wood people started to take Hitchcock more, and more seriously. And so you get examples of films like say Vertigo which is only funny because everyone will always say Vertigo was a flop, and it’s a very common error because that’s how Hitchcock himself described Vertigo. But Vertigo made back all of his money, Vertigo did not flop, it wasn’t… He did not lose money on Vertigo, all that happened with Vertigo is he just made his money back. It cost a millions to make and he made millions in box office but it was a wash, and why hat was so disappointing to Hitchcock is previous film like North by North West would return four times the investment. And so compared to what North by North West was doing, and Rare Window, yes. Comparatively it did not make anywhere near the profits of these films that are surrounding it, so he personally in his own head said that’s a flop. But, and but what becomes weird about what he does when Vertigo does not meet his personal Box Office expectations is he pulls out from circulation of years, for a couple of decades. And so part of what people struggle with now, is with all of these material available they have problem imagining that back in the ‘1960s, and early ‘1970s you could not see a copy of Vertigo even if you wanted to see the film, he had pulled it from circulation. Speaker 1: I wake up at night saying that man fall from the roof and I try to reach out to it, and I insist… Speaker 2: It wasn’t your fault. [Screams] Speaker 1: Do you believe that someone out of the past, someone dead can enter and take possession of a living being? Speaker 3: You jumped into the bay, you didn’t know though you were. You dashed but you didn’t know. Speaker 2: I didn’t jump, I didn’t jump. I fell, you told me I jumped Speaker 3: Why did you jump? Why did you jump? Speaker 2: Please don’t ask me, please don’t ask. [Music] [Screams] Richard: And so part of what is always fascinating about Hitchcock is, several of his films that he is most seen critically with today were out of circulation for decades, and that had, that affected his critical reputation. Nowadays his work is much more accessible. You have festivals like 50 years of Hitchcock on TCM that really restore the archivist career to the audience, so that people can watch how his film, how his career develops from 1925 to 1976. And when you watch the entire arc you just start to recognize that the work was always first rate and amazing even if not every single picture achieved the popularity and success. And then the final point to conclude this point on is you are correct that Sights and Sound magazine recently named Vertigo instead of Citizen Kane for the first time as the greatest film ever made in popular cinema. It’s a long overdue recognition for Hitchcock, a director who never won a single academy award for direction even though he has the best picture Oscar for Rebecca. Is just amazing to me that this was one of those true giants who the lifetime body of his work will stand the test of time. Beth: We just showed Rebecca here in San Diego as part of a program I work on called famous first and it was his first Hollywood film that he did here with David O Selznick. Was that film a turning point for him in terms of how he approached film making because, that was, working with Selznick must have been a little bit difficult because Selznick had a strong personality and a strong vision for what he wanted to see on the screen. Richard: Yeah. Beth: Did that change in him in any way in terms of how he approached film making and trying to maintain the control he wanted? Richard: Absolutely. You know he had reached by the end of the ‘1930s, I believe he reached what he could develop through the studio apparatus of the British Film industry. So he was always itching even from his first films that he was directing to work with the Hollywood studios and the Hollywood film technicians, and the Hollywood stars. You know to be able to cast A-list talent such as in Rebecca its Lawrence Olivia. Speaker 1: Oh, I was carried away by her, enchanted by her as everyone was. And when I was married I was told I was the luckiest man in the world. She was so lovely, so accomplished, so amusing. She’s got the three things that really matter in a wife everyone said, reading, brains and beauty and I believed in completely. But I never had a moment’s happiness with her, she was incapable of love, or tenderness or decency. Speaker 2: You didn’t love, you didn’t love her. Richard: It really is a turning point Rebecca is a amazing film that I think is an overlooked masterpiece that does a lot of things that say Citizen Kane does later in the same year in similar ways with its use of powerful motifs missing signifiers like who’s the first Mrs. De Winter. And on the present letter R, which always remind me a little bit of rosebud towards that. Once he was finally given the machinery of a professional Hollywood studio there is no doubt in my mind Hitchcock knew exactly what to do with it, and it’s Rebecca that really starts a stream of film of films through the ‘1940s that constantly up his craft until he gets to film like Strangers on a train in 1951, where he amazingly find yet another gear all the way through Psycho. Beth: And do you have a personal favorite Hitchcock film? Richard: Yeah, I definitely have a fondness for a couple different sets of film. I’m a big fan of the spy thrillers of the ‘1930s. The espionage genre is one of my favorite genres, and so I love like The Original, The man who knew too much, The 39 steps, and films like that because they just have liveliness and a momentum for me as a viewer that even his later films don’t quiet have the same kind of rhythmic exuberance that I think those films have. Then I’m also extremely partial to his three on war mater pieces for my perspective, so I love Shadow of the doubt, Notorious, and Strangers on the train. Those are just always going to have special place in my heart. But if I have to pick the one film that just hypnotically I probably can’t turn off if I get the opening credits is the film like Strangers on the train, which is again one of his near perfect master pieces. I can watch The Story of Guy Bruno over and over again. It’s just an exceptionally a great film based on the novel by Patricia Herdsman. Speaker 1: Want to hear one of my ideas for a perfect murder? You want to hear the busted light talking in the bathroom, or the carbon monoxide in the garage? Speaker 2: Neither one. I may be old fashioned, but I thought murder was against the law. Speaker 3: What is a life for two guys? Some people are better off dead. Speaker 1: I don’t like your wife and my father for instance. Oh that reminds me the wonderful idea I had once. I used to put myself to sleep at night figuring it out. Now let’s say that you’d like to get rid of your wife. Speaker 2: That’s a morbid thought. Speaker 1: No, no, no, no just suppose. Let’s say that you had a very good reason. Speaker 2: Now let’s, let’s not… Speaker 1: No, no. Let’s say that you be afraid to kill her, you know why? You get caught. And what would trip you up? The motive. Ah, now here is my idea. Speaker 2: I’m afraid I haven’t got time to listen to… Speaker 1: Listen it’s so simple too. Two fellows accidentally, like you and me. No connection between them at all, never saw each other before. Each one has somebody that he’s like to get rid of, so they swap murders. Speaker 2: Swap murders [laughter]. Speaker 1: Each fellow does the other fellow’s murder, then there’s nothing to connect them. Each one has murdered a total stranger like you do my murder, I do yours. Speaker 2: We’re coming into my station. Speaker 1: For example, your wife, my father, crisscross. Speaker 2: What? Speaker 1: Oh we do talk the same language don’t we? Speaker 2: Sure Bruno, we talk the same language. Thanks for the lunch. Speaker 1: Oh I’m glad you enjoyed it. I thought the lunch were little overdone myself. Speaker 2: Nice meeting you. Speaker 1: You think night there is okay? Guy, you like it? Speaker 2: Sure Bruno, sure. They’re all okay. Beth: And just talk a little bit more about working with TCM because it’s seems like they do so much for film preservation and film history? And you know it seems a bit unique for what’s basically a corporation to take part in that. Richard: Yes. Beth: In such a strong ad compelling way. Richard: Oh absolutely. I just think that they you know, and I can only talk about this from my own personal perspective. But I think as a network they are the best network in the United States at curating and providing context for the films they show on air. I love their hosted introductions that they craft so carefully so that the audience has a little bit of knowledge of the prime time films before they watch it. But then it’s the thoughtfulness of their curation of how they string together these festivals and really think through regardless of what the programing theme is, of how the organization of the titles makes the most sense for that film maker, that genre, that body of films. And then yes, because they are the epicenter, the network is classic film they have to be concerned with all of these other things which is that we are still at risk of many of these great films deteriorating and being lost for all time to us. And so there has to be attention paid to film preservation. There has to be attention paid to generating things like festivals that audiences understand why these films matter so much. And so yes, I think TCM does a lot of very valuable things around the maintenance and the importance of classic film as a key part of just American culture, and world culture itself. So yeah I would agree with that. Beth: And if people are interested in this course where’s the best place for them to go get more information and to sig up? Richard: Yeah, the best place to go is the TCM has set up a very easy portal for everyone to jump in and sign up. It’s Hitchcock50.TCM.com. So if you go to that page there’s an enroll now link. There’s also the schedule of all the films that are going to show on the network. And so absolutely, if people are interested just go to Hitchcock50.TCM.com and sign up. It’s absolutely free, absolutely flexible. If people do complete all six weeks of the course by passing a short multiple choice quiz at the end of every week, there is a certificate of completion that they can receive. It’s not backed by any accreditation, it’s just a nice piece of paper to have, but it’s beautifully designed and it’s a memento of having gone through this experience. So if people are interested, you know definitely check all these stuff out. Beth: Well thank you very much. And thank you for offering another one of these classes, they are so much fun to take and you just learn so much, and it’s fun to engage with other people who have a similar passion. Richard: Well, thank you Beth and I appreciate you taking the time to get the word out about this course, because we definitely have plenty of open seats remaining for anyone who wants to learn. That’s the best part about a digital course even when you get 10 of thousands of students I can spend up another 10,000 seats anytime I need to because it’s an open online course. So yeah, everyone is welcome and thanks for you know talking with me today. Beth: All right thank you very much. Richard: You’re welcome, my pleasure. Beth: That was Professor Richard L Edwards who’s conducting the TCM Ball University online Hitchcock class running through august. Thanks for listening to another edition of listeners supported KPBS cinema junket podcast. Please check out my archives for more on TCM including their classic film festival and their spotlight programming. And I’d love to get your feedback, so please consider leaving a review or rating so more people can discover cinema junket. So, till our next film fix, I’m Beth Accomando your resident cinema junkie.
Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense, Hitch — however you want to refer to him — is a filmmaker who has left an indelible mark on cinema. His career spanned the silents and talkies, black and white, Technicolor, and 3-D, plus film industries on both side of the Pond. Now TCM and Ball State are offering an online course about his work.
He worked primarily in the suspense-thriller genre but found great diversity and nuance within it. Hitchcock's 1960 film "Psycho" is often cited as the first slasher film and the granddaddy of all the Freddies, Jasons and Michael Myers. And five years ago his film "Vertigo" knocked "Citizen Kane" off the top slot of Sight and Sound’s list of the 50 Greatest Films of All Time.
Although he made his last film, "Family Plot," in 1976 and died four years later, his influence on movies and viewers is still felt today. As a testament to that TCM is once again partnering with Ball State University and Richard L. Edwards to present an online course about the master of suspense. Plus, TCM will be screening a nearly complete collection of his films including some silent for viewers to enjoy in July.
Whether you grew up with Hitchcock’s films or his TV shows or the various spoofs or homages that came later, you probably know something about his work.
Maybe it is the notion of the MacGuffin, that thing or character that could set a Hitchcock film in motion and keep the plot in motion although it ultimately proves to have no real significance. Or maybe it is the theme of the wrong man as Cary Grant so deliciously played in "North by Northwest." Or maybe it is just the staccato strains of Bernard Herrmann’s score for "Psycho" that still sticks in your head.
Hitchcock’s genius was his ability to blend his meticulously executed craft and artistry with a business savvy that kept his films popular for decades. Even a film like "Vertigo" that he considered a box office failure made back its money. It just did not turn the big profits of "Psycho," "Rear Window," and "North By Northwest."
A Hitchcock film always brought you to the edge of your seat or in some cases hiding under it.
He made you feel the frustration of Henry Fonda as a falsely accused man in "The Wrong Man," or the tension of a wheelchair bound Jimmy Stewart watching his girlfriend encounter a killer in an apartment across the courtyard in "Rear Window."
Hitchcock could also engross us in the activity of a killer and make us look for every drop of blood along with Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates in "Psycho" as he cleaned the bathroom murder site.
That was key in all of Hitch’ films — the level of engagement he had with the audience. He always hooked us, always made it so we did not want to turn away from the screen for fear of missing something. He could be a bit of a sadist, putting us through agony as we watched characters we liked go through extreme and dangerous situations. But we loved him for every agonizing second.
To celebrate Hitchcock, I speak with TCM host Ben Mankiewicz and Ball State University’s Richard L. Edwards. You can sign up for the course until Friday and enjoy the films on TCM all month.
That was TCM host Ben Mankiewicz. The last time I spoke with Richard Edwards it was about the film noir class he did with TCM. So before we get into Hitchcock, I wanted Edwards to talk a little about his partnership with TCM for these online film courses.