British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Do we ♥ Hitchcock?

Is there still more to learn about Alfred J. Hitchcock, already the most written about filmmaker in the history of the medium? Professor Charles Barr offers a fresh perspective and details of his new research into ‘Unknown Hitchcock’.

About the Author: Charles Barr taught for many years at the University of East Anglia, and more recently in the USA and in Dublin. He is currently a Research Fellow at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, and is active on the board of the US-based scholarly journal The Hitchcock Annual. His pioneering work on British cinema includes Ealing Studios (rev. edn, 1999) and English Hitchcock (1999), and, as editor, All Our Yesterdays: 90 Years of British Cinema (1986); and he was researcher and co-writer of Stephen Frears’s film Typically British: A Personal History of British Cinema (1995). The second edition of his book on Vertigo for the BFI Film Classics range was published in 2012. With Alain Kerzoncuf he is the co-author of Hitchcock Lost and Found: The Forgotten Films (2015).


‘Titanic fatigue’ became a familiar syndrome in the course of 2012 – the commemorative publications and exhibitions and TV programmes just kept relentlessly coming, not to mention the 3D reissue of James Cameron’s film of 1997. Is there a danger of Hitchcock fatigue as well? We are nowhere near to a big Alfred Hitchcock anniversary (it is 113 years since his birth, and 32 since his death), but the challenge of the ‘Cultural Olympics’ inspired the BFI to mount, in Titanic year, a major Hitchcock offensive: restoration of the silent films, a complete South Bank retrospective, intensive publicity online and through other media.

… Hitchcock stands as arguably the closest we have to a universal representation of the cinema medium

Add to this the hype surrounding the latest ‘Best Films’ poll by Sight and Sound, in which Vertigo took over the top place from Citizen Kane, and the two imminent feature films (the Psycho-centred Hitchcock, from Hollywood, with Anthony Hopkins, and The Girl for BBC TV, with Toby Jones, centred on The Birds and Marnie), and we might soon feel in serious need of a Hitchcock moratorium.

And yet… the fact remains that Hitchcock stands as arguably the closest we have to a universal representation of the cinema medium, which makes him of special value to students of cinema at every level. This is not the same as claiming him (or his Vertigo) as ‘the best’, whatever that means. Forget the extravagant BFI claim that he is on a par with Shakespeare or Dickens as an English Great – aside from any quality issues, neither of them did the majority of their work abroad, or took American citizenship – and ponder instead the words of the American scholar Paula Marantz Cohen, writing in 2008: ‘The appeal of Hitchcock to the theorist and historian of film is impossible to overstate. To study him is to find an economical way of studying the entire history of cinema.’ The hype of 2012 is justified if it advances this understanding rather than simply underwriting the BFI’s campaign slogan ‘The Genius of Hitchcock’.

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