American movies of the 1930s, embracing the progressive New Deal spirit, envision the camera as possessing the power to transfigure human beings, to free them to walk in the direction of what Emerson called “the unattained, but attainable, self”. Hitchcock was attracted to their Emersonian faith in our freedom to be reborn, transfigured. But he also never tired of quoting Oscar Wilde’s epigram “We always kill the thing we love”. A shadow of doubt darkened the Hitchcock thriller. Tracing the trajectory of Hitchcock’s career, this lecture will argue that the conflict or tension between these two seemingly incompatible world views is a key to his authorship as a whole. Was his aspiration, then, to try to bring together the two halves of his artistic identity, or to acknowledge and embrace an irreconcilable duality at the heart of what he loved to call “the art of pure cinema”?
William Rothman received his PhD in Philosophy from Harvard University, where he taught for many years, and is Professor of Motion Pictures and Director of the Graduate Programs in Film Studies at the University of Miami. He was founding editor of the Harvard Film Studies series (Harvard University Press), and is currently series editor of Studies in Film (Cambridge University Press). His books include Hitchcock: The Murderous Gaze (Harvard University Press, 1982), The “I” of the Camera: Essays in Film Criticism, History and Aesthetics (Cambridge University Press,1988; second edition, 2004), Documentary Film Classics (Cambridge University Press, 1997), Reading Cavell’s The World Viewed: A Philosophical Perspective on Film (with Marian Keane), Cavell on Film (ed) (SUNY Press, 2005), Jean Rouch: A Celebration of Life and Film (Schena Editore and University of Paris-Sorbonne Press, 2007), and Three Documentary Filmmakers. He is currently working on a book tentatively titled Emersonian Hollywood, a new book on Hitchcock, and a second edition of Hitchcock: The Murderous Gaze.