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Cineaste (2003) - Can Hitchcock Be Saved from Hitchcock Studies?




Within film studies, books on Alfred Hitchcock have become something of a mini-industry where many recent Hitchcock materials contributed to Hitchcock Studies. John Belton argues that as Hitchcock Studies has grown, the nature of the questions posed in pursuit of the object Hitchcock have been shaped by the development of Film Studies as an academic discipline rather than by qualities inherent in Hitchcock's film themselves.


As Robert Kapsis has noted in Hitchcock: The Making of a Reputation, Alfred Hitchcock always courted the press. From the early years in England working for Michael Balcon at Gainsborough to his final years in Hollywood working for Lew Wasserman at Universal, Hitchcock attempted to produce and direct critical response to himself and to his work. One of Hitchcock's favorite screenwriters, Charles Bennett, told stories of Hitchcock spending his entire weekly salary on elaborate (self-) promotional parties for London's film critics back in the early 1930s. Hitchcock remained actively engaged in the publicity for and promotion of his films throughout his career, personally conducting national press tours.

It is possible, in other words, to trace the 'Hitchcock Industry,' the proliferation of essays, articles, trade press, and academic press books on Hitchcock, back to Hitch cock himself and his attempt to control his construction as a celebrity-entertainer-artist in the media. But Hitchcock has been dead for twenty-three years now. At the time of his death, according to Jane Sloan's Alfred Hitchcock: A Guide to References and Sources (1995), there were already over 540 articles and books on Hitchcock, including a handful of essays by Hitchcock himself, numerous interviews with him, and other pieces 'spawned' by the director's efforts at generating publicity. We can, perhaps, 'blame' Hitchcock for some of this material.

But he is not to be held entirely responsible for what happened after his death. From then (April 28, 1980) to his centennial in 1999, more than sixty-four new books and 371 new critical essays were published. Given that the 'Hitchcock Industry' really took off during the 100th anniversary of his birth (1999), one could guess that another twenty-or-so books had been published since then, not to mention scores of new articles. At any rate, a quick count of books on Hitchcock currently available for sale on Amazon.com indicates eighty-seven new and old book titles.

Books on Hitchcock sell. For the past twenty-five years, since the heyday of high auteurism, university and trade presses have taken a beating on studies of film directors. But Hitchcock, partly because of his status as a cultural icon and partly because college film courses are regularly devoted to his work, has endured as a subject for popular biographies and scholarly monographs. Robin Wood's book, Hitchcock's Films, subsequently retitled Hitchcock's Films Revisited, is perhaps the best example of Hitchcock's enduring popularity. Originally published (in a green cover edition) by Zwemmer in 1965, it was reissued in 1969 (in a yellow cover edition that included a chapter on Torn Curtain). A third edition came out in 1977 with a "Retrospective" on the earlier editions. In 1989, Columbia University Press reprinted it along with about 200 pages of new material. That edition was revised yet again in 2002 with a new forty-page preface and a new essay on Marnie.

Wood's book holds a very special place in English-language scholarship on Hitchcock, being not only one of the first such books but also one of the best. At the same time, its various revisions document crucial shifts in films studies as a discipline and provide an important portrait of Hitchcock's role, as a figure of study, in the development of critical paradigms from early auteurism, to psychoanalysis, feminism, semiotics (of a sort), and queer studies.

There are various ways of accounting for the proliferation of books and essays on Hitchcock. The most obvious explanation would seem to be that Hitchcock's oeuvre merits such attent...

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