Hitch 101: A One-of-a-Kind Hitchcock Festival
Nearly half a century ago, Alfred Hitchcock faced the camera and said, in one of the droll bookends to his television series “Hitchcock Presents”: “I should like to address my next remarks to those of you who are watching the show in the year 2000. Please write in at once and tell us what life is like. I’m quite curious.”
Typical humor from the man who once surprised his guests by serving blue food at a dinner party (and, to great cinematic effect, surprised Janet Leigh with cold water in her famous shower scene).
But even though “Hitch,” as he was called, may have merely been joking about time travel, this much rings prescient and true: In the year 2000, some of us are certainly still watching. In fact, more are watching than ever before.
So much of Hitch is part of our cultural imagination: Cary Grant’s desperate run from a crop duster in “North by Northwest.” Doris Day’s scream that brings the Albert Hall concert to a halt. The birds multiplying on the jungle gym. The carousel gone amok. The shower.
Still, there is a good deal of Hitchcock that is unknown, like “The Lodger” from 1926, or all of his British silent films, or his World War II documentaries.
But this needn’t be so.
This fall, 101 years after Hitchcock’s birth, the USC School of Cinema-Television and the USC Arts Initiative celebrate the master of suspense with a retrospective festival, showcasing his oeuvre and running concurrent with an upper-division class on Hitchcock taught by Drew Casper, who holds the Alma and Alfred Hitchcock Chair at USC.
With the course and the festival, every extant Hitchcock film will be screened, from the early silent films, made in Britain in the 1920s, to the cult classics and masterworks produced at the height of his career.
The films will screen in Norris Cinema Theatre and Lucas 108 from Aug. 30 through Dec. 6. Admission is free, but reservations are required. For those films that are part of the course, priority seating will be given to enrolled students. For a complete screening schedule and to make reservations, call USC Spectrum at 213-740-2167.
“This is a once-in-a-life opportunity to see Hitchcock’s body of work on the big screen – as it was meant to be seen,” said Casper, who feels that the “postage-stamp” view afforded by television does a tremendous disservice to film.
And, because Hitchcock’s films will be screened in chronological order, Casper said, “This also is a rare opportunity to see the director’s development, from his beginnings in British cinema to his move to Hollywood under the influence of Selznick and then his achievement as an independent producer/director and corporation.”
Casper, who created and started teaching USC’s Hitchcock course in 1975 – a class which is a sell-out, with 340 students each time out – believes that Hitchcock was truly one of a kind: “a technical genius who forged the very language of film; a master of suspense who sent pulses racing; a consummate entertainer and primitive artist whose films held emotional truths and mordant ironies that came from deep, secret places of his heart.
“Hitchcock was a man with something to say and with the cinematic language to say it. Far too often today, people know how to use the medium but don’t say very much,” said Casper.
Though Hitchcock is known as the father of the thriller, Casper believes that the genre is just a vehicle. For instance, he said, “‘Notorious’, 1946 – arguably Hitchcock’s best work – is not really about Nazis and uranium, but rather a profound meditation on the difficulty of trust in a relationship.”
Since Casper has a Jesuit education in common with Hitchcock, he clearly sees the influence of Catholicism in the director’s films – “sin, guilt, darkness and light, devil figures, salvation, resurrection through crucifixion” – and the influence of Jesuit teachings, “the emphasis on structure and order, for example, as well as the spirit through matter.”
Casper feels “privileged to teach a body of work that would throw any teacher into high gear – movies that, with each viewing, reveal various and different layers of meaning, movies that posed the right, the pertinent questions about life and society, movies that set standards that still haven’t been surpassed.”
The director’s daughter, Patricia Hitchcock O’Connell, an actress who appeared in several of her father’s films, including “Psycho,” says that the “staying power” of Hitchcock’s films is directly attributable to his desire to entertain an audience. “He made his films for the audience and for entertainment – not for the critics or for self-pleasure,” she said. “And audiences don’t change over the years.”
Hitchcock’s first and most important audience, however, was his wife, Alma Reville. “She was in the business before him, and she worked with him on almost every picture,” said O’Connell, who is currently writing her mother’s biography. “He’d never do a project without consulting her first. If she said ‘no,’ he wouldn’t do it.”
Casper added that “Alma was there throughout, always over his shoulder. On scripts, in writing, rewriting, in the planning, in the finishing… . He didn’t function without her.”
In 1997, when O’Connell and her family endowed USC’s Hitchcock Chair, they named it after both Alma and Alfred, honoring both Hitchcocks and ensuring the continued life of their combined legacy – even though Hitch, characteristically, once quipped when questioned on his feelings about posterity, “What has posterity ever done for me?”
Please Note: Pat O’Connell will be on hand at USC’s Norris Cinema Theatre for the screening of “Psycho” and “A Hitchcock Evening With Family, Friends and Associates” on Nov. 8. For a complete film schedule and to reserve seating, call 213-740-2167.