Must We Kill the Thing We Love?: Emersonian Perfectionism and the Films of Alfred Hitchcock

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Columbia University Press, Mar 25, 2014 - Performing Arts - 352 pages

William Rothman argues that the driving force of Hitchcock's work was his struggle to reconcile the dark vision of his favorite Oscar Wilde quote, "Each man kills the thing he loves," with the quintessentially American philosophy, articulated in Emerson's writings, that gave classical Hollywood movies of the New Deal era their extraordinary combination of popularity and artistic seriousness.

A Hitchcock thriller could be a comedy of remarriage or a melodrama of an unknown woman, both Emersonian genres, except for the murderous villain and godlike author, Hitchcock, who pulls the villain's strings—and ours. Because Hitchcock believed that the camera has a murderous aspect, the question "What if anything justifies killing?," which every Hitchcock film engages, was for him a disturbing question about his own art. Tracing the trajectory of Hitchcock's career, Rothman discerns a progression in the films' meditations on murder and artistic creation. This progression culminates in Marnie (1964), Hitchcock's most controversial film, in which Hitchcock overcame his ambivalence and fully embraced the Emersonian worldview he had always also resisted.

Reading key Emerson passages with the degree of attention he accords to Hitchcock sequences, Rothman discovers surprising affinities between Hitchcock's way of thinking cinematically and the philosophical way of thinking Emerson's essays exemplify. He finds that the terms in which Emerson thought about reality, about our "flux of moods," about what it is within us that never changes, about freedom, about America, about reading, about writing, and about thinking are remarkably pertinent to our experience of films and to thinking and writing about them. He also reflects on the implications of this discovery, not only for Hitchcock scholarship but also for film criticism in general.

 

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Contents

Drawing a New Circle
1
1 The Wildeer Side of Life
31
2 Accomplices in Murder
40
3 I Dont Like Murderers
49
4 Little Deaths
58
5 The Time to Make Up Your Mind About People Is Never
73
6 But May I Trust You?
78
7 Silence and Stasis
87
11 Scotties Dream Judys Plan Madeleines Revenge
141
12 Never Again?
173
13 A Loveless World
185
14 Birds of a Feather
199
15 A Mothers Love
208
16 Every Story Has an Ending
255
Emerson Film Hitchcock
270
Notes
287

8 Talking vs Living
99
9 Two Things to Ponder
105
10 The Dark Side of the Moon
110
Acknowledgments
295
Index
297
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About the author (2014)

William Rothman is professor of cinema and interactive media at the University of Miami. An expanded edition of his landmark study Hitchcock: The Murderous Gaze was published in 2012. His other books include The "I" of the Camera: Essays in Film Criticism, History, and Aesthetics, Documentary Film Classics, and Reading Cavell's The World Viewed: A Philosophical Perspective on Film.

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