You are on page 1of 4

Film theories in Hitchcock Studies

adapted from
Jane Sloan, Alfred Hitchcock:
A Filmography and Bibliography and
Robert Kapsis,
Hitchcock: The Making of a Reputation

auteur criticism

structural criticism (formal system)

social and political Hitchcock (reflection-of-
society approach: sociological and historical
criticism)

psychoanalytical criticism

feminist criticism

production of culture approach (industrial
model)

reception theory

technical analysis ("how he does it")

Hitchcock and film history
The auteur theory:

Developed by French film theorists as "politique des auteurs."
Among these theorists, several were particularly interested in
Hitchcock: Francois Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer.

1. Despite the collaborative nature of movies, a film has an
"author," who is the director.

2. As an artist, a director can work within conventional forms and
genres and still impose a distinctive "vision" on the films.

"Auteur" critics downplay historical or infrastructural elements to
emphasize the "vision" or unified sensibility that structured the
film. These critics prefer to examine a director's full body of work,
looking for recurring themes, symbols, and motifs that define the
auteur's vision. Auteur criticism also tends to prefer directors who
worked in conventional genres (suspense, westerns, etc.), because
they provide the best opportunities to see how a distinctive
sensibility can manifest itself even with cliched material.

Structural criticism:

Structuralism looks at a film or any other "text" as a signifying
system, a set of patterns or relationships. The meaning of a work (or
a body of work) comes not so much from inherent meanings of its
individual elements, as from how they interrelate within a "formal
system."

In Hitchcock studies, structural analysis has emphasized thematic
oppositions and other recurring patterns. Various critics have
suggested various key patterns: doubling, pursuit and flight, activity
and passivity, voyeurism and 'the gaze,' and so on.

Genre, considered as a set of conventional patterns within a basic
formula, is one interest in structural criticism. Plot patterns (such as
the falsely-accused man) are recurring structural elements related to
genre. Film techniques such as subjective (point-of-view) shooting
can also be analyzed as structural elements.

Semiotics, a form of structuralism, uses the concept of codes to
discuss conventional ways that things are done in texts. Codes are
cultural phenomena because they are learned. Nevertheless, through
familiarity codes come to seem natural rather than cultural: this
process is called "naturalization."

There are various categories of codes, including cultural codes (for
Production of culture approach (industrial model):

The production of culture approach to film emphasizes the making
of movies as an industrial process. (It is also known as the
infrastructural approach because it emphasizes the internal
workings of the film business.) The most fully developed
industrial model was the Hollywood studio system, which
Hitchcock worked in for over 25 years. (His work in the European
and British film industries of the 1920s and 1930s provides a
somewhat different model.) The production of culture approach is
contrary to the auteur theory, in that it emphasizes filmmaking as a
collaborative process as well as a business.

Criticism following the industrial model emphasizes the three-
stage process of pre-production, production, and post-
production--in Hitchcock's case, his collaboration with writers,
producers, editors, publicists, and others in creating films. A very
important part of the studio era was the star system, which
affected Hitchcock's selection and use of actors.

Reception theory:

Reception theory, also known as the reader-response approach,
gives an essential role to the viewer (or 'reader'), rather than treating
the "text" as a unique entity separate from readings of it. This
approach considers meaning as something produced, "negotiated,"
or "fabricated" by an interaction of the film with its viewer. In other
words, reception theory analyzes the reading of a text as a
communicative process.

Reception theorists emphasize the "horizon of expectations" that a
viewer brings to a film or any other text. These expectations are
determined both by the human perceptual apparatus and by the
"interpretive community" that any individual viewer is a part of.
Members of an interpretive community share previous textual
experiences as well as cultural assumptions; this shared background
leads individuals within the community to approach and interpret
particular texts in similar, predictable ways. Among the shared
artistic factors are genre (considered as a set of expectations for a
familiar film type), the artist's reputation (Hitchcock as "the Master
of Suspense"), and infrastructural factors such as marketing and
publicity. Ideology comprises shared cultural and social assumptions
within the community.

Although reception theory deemphasizes the idea that a text has one
correct interpretation, it also rejects the notion that all
back to notes page
main course page