MDST3501: Special Topics in Directors and Auteurs | Fall, 2024
Meets Tuesdays/Thursdays, 2:00pm-3:15pm
[Note: This course is applicable toward the MDST Film Concentration]

How did “suspense” become so synonymous with one director? How and why did that director’s works move from dismissed popular entertainment to inclusion in multiple film “canons”? How do we consider the continued impact of problematic artists?

In this course, we will engage with the films of Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980), one of the quintessential directors of the twentieth century and the so-called “master of suspense.” We will endeavor to understand his significance in the history of film (as a medium, as an artistic form, as an industry) as well as the ongoing influence of his works. Through this, we will interrogate the interpretation of film history — focusing on critiques of and challenges to “auteur theory” — as well as wrestling with Hitchcock’s difficult legacy with respect to labor and gender. Through a deep look at Alfred Hitchcock, this course will celebrate a specific, significant creator’s works while also adopting an evolving critical perspective toward the man himself and the industry he helped shape.

We will follow a roughly-chronological approach to his films, starting in the silent era and going through to the 1970s, his last decade of work. With over fifty surviving films, we cannot be comprehensive, and will instead highlight significant works from both his British and American studio periods. These may include films such as The Lodger, The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Rebecca, Shadow of a Doubt, Notorious, Rope, Rear Window, The Wrong Man, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, Marnie, and Frenzy.

Additionally, we will sample select films by filmmakers inspired by Hitchcock, including those by Brian De Palma, Guy Maddin, Park Chan-wook, among others.

We will also encounter other interpretations and re-interpretations of Hitchcock’s work across other media forms ranging from Hitchcock’s own Alfred Hitchcock Presents television series to The Simpsons to playable analog and digital games (Rear Window, Vertigo).

However, the films themselves will be the primary texts of the course, with supplemental course readings provided as PDFs via the course Canvas site. As watching and discussing these films will provide the backbone for the course, students will be organized into persistent “screening pods” to help students watch and discuss the films together outside of class. There will be no dedicated screening time for the entire course, but students are encouraged to coordinate their pods to watch together (either in a face-to-face context or online). All films will be made available to students, with select theatrical screenings also available at local theaters.

There will be no exams for the course, and most assessments will be in the form of regular written papers. For a final project, students will have the opportunity to submit a written research paper, create a video essay interpreting Hitchcock films, or craft creative interpretations of the content presented in the course.

If you have any questions about this course, please don’t hesitate to contact Dr. Duncan at