Academic Questions (2010) - The Canonical Alfred Hitchcock
- article: The Canonical Alfred Hitchcock
- author: Michael J. Lewis
- journal: Academic Questions (October 2010)
- issue: volume 23, number 4, pages 458-468
- DOI: 10.1007/s12129-010-9195-6
- journal ISSN: 1549-0068
- copyright: Michael J. Lewis / Academic Questions
- keywords: "Hitchcock" - by François Truffaut, "The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock" - by Peter Bogdanovich, Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant, François Truffaut, Frenzy (1972), Grace Kelly, Islington Studios, London, James Bond, James Stewart, John Steinbeck, Lifeboat (1944), Michael J. Lewis, North by Northwest (1959), Notorious (1946), Peter Bogdanovich, Psycho (1960), Raymond Chandler, Rear Window (1954), Rebecca (1940), Robert Donat, Salvador Dalí, Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Spellbound (1945), Terry Teachout, The 39 Steps (1935), The Birds (1963), The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927), Thornton Wilder, Vertigo (1958), Young and Innocent (1937)
The Canonical Alfred Hitchcock
Michael J. Lewis
When the call went out, about a generation ago, that the Western canon must be purged of its surfeit of "dead white males," the cry was loudest in departments of English. (Why this should be so — why it is easier to rally a mob against Milton and Spenser, say, than Michelangelo and Mozart — has never been satisfactorily explained.) And it is more than ironic that that same canon has in the intervening years been expanded to include someone who might be regarded as the double-distilled quintessence of the dead white male — that arch-brutalizer of women, Alfred Hitchcock — and that this should happen precisely in departments of English. In recent years, Hitchcock has been the subject of seminars and surveys throughout the country, almost all of them offered by English departments. A small selection might include "Theories of Authorship in the Cinema: Alfred Hitchcock" (Bryn Mawr); "Hitchcock: Cinema, Gender, Ideology" (Tufts); "Hitchcock in England and America" (Vanderbilt); "The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock" (University of Maryland); and a research seminar on "The Hitchcock Canon" (Berkeley).
There is no question that Hitchcock is a major figure of popular culture. He was one of the founding fathers of the cinematic art and, together with Eisenstein and Murnau, helped define its visual language. So fruitful was he that a single film could spawn an entire genre, as Psycho helped create the modern horror film and North by Northwest the style and tone of the James Bond films — not so much cloak and dagger as tuxedo and irony. Hitchcock is one of those titans who did not merely work within a medium but utterly transformed it.
Yet Hitchcock is not treated by the academy as a figure of popular culture, and he is not studied in the same way that, for example, Walt Disney or Norman Rockwell might be. The course descriptions have little to say about the crafting of mass entertainment, public taste, or the long since abandoned distinction among lowbrow, middlebrow, and highbrow. Instead, Hitchcock is treated respectfully as a creator of narratives, and if he achieved a broad popular audience, well then, so did Homer and Shakespeare.
It is remarkable that Hitchcock should remain steadfastly ensconced in the academic canon despite the battering his critical reputation periodically takes. Not long ago, a twenty-five-year old blogger created a stir when he posted a list of ten overrated film directors of whom the worst offender was Hitchcock1. Although he was widely and furiously denounced, as he doubtless intended, he was expressing a point of vie...
Michael J. Lewis is Faison-Pierson-Stoddard Professor of Art at Williams College, Williamstown, MA 01267; Michael.J.Lewis@williams.edu
- ↑ Ben Shapiro, “Top 10 Most Overrated Directors of All Time," Andrew Breitbart Presents Big Hollywood (http://bighollywood.breitbart.com/), posted on January 17, 2010, http://bighollywood.breitbart.com/bshapiro/2010/01/17/top-10-most-overrated-directors-of-all-time/
- ↑ Terry Teachout, "The Trouble with Alfred Hitchcock," Commentary (February 2009), 46.
- ↑ Ibid., 45.