Two Als, you might say, taught us how to love Hitchcock. That is, two men, both visiting professors and both named Al have consecutively held down a rather randomly conceived and unofficial post as summer instructors at UCSB’s film studies department, where they teach a deep appreciation for and hearty explication of the great English director, who did so much of his best work here. Both Als, who have never met, approve heartily of UCSB Arts & Lectures’ upcoming summer film series, Alfred Hitchcock Nights: Eight Classic Films of Obsession, Mystery and Suspense, which kicks off this week.
They agree the lineup is great. “It’s a really good selection of the central films,” said Al LaValley, the original Al, who taught at UCSB from the mid-1970s though the late ’90s. “These really are the most psychologically rich of his films,” he added, noting that Vertigo, the opening and possibly the most psychologically tortured of Hitchcock’s movies, was often considered the director’s take on his own narcissistic moviemaking tendencies.
A week later we see Rear Window, which offers us a voyeuristic feast on a variety of erotic and romantic psychologies, and then the show dips into Psycho, just to prove Al isn’t lying. We’ll also see The Birds — which may be a little more apocalyptic than psychoanalytic. The series also brings middle period Hitch-in-Hollywood classics, like the sexy American identity thriller North by Northwest, the one currently favored by Early Al. The other Al, Allan Langdale, leans toward the final film, Strangers on a Train, for revealing Hitchcock’s darling trope — doubling
“I teach a class called ‘Theory through Hitchcock and Hitchcock through Theory’ because I love all that mirroring he does,” he said, citing Stranger on a Train’s evil twins, tennis player (Farley Granger) and creep (Robert Walker) as crisscross murderers. There are also the two Charlies in Shadow of a Doubt, and many more that reflect (so to speak) Hitchcock’s view of the dark side always being near us.
Both Als wish the series had something from their favorites list. “I wish there was something from the early British period,” said Langdale, who thinks films like The 39 Steps help inform our understanding of Hitchcock’s later films. “And I love Marnie,” he added, a little wistfully, calling it a film you learn to love once you love Hitch’s world.
“I wish they were showing The Trouble with Harry,” said Al the Elder, who loves it when Hitch mixes humor with macabre. Neither is complaining loud, mind; they separately agreed that A&L’s picks are all audience-pleasers.
“If I could be there,” said LaValley, now semi-retired in Oklahoma, “I would love to introduce Rear Window. It’s great because it’s really two movies; it’s a romantic comedy movie when the blinds are drawn and another movie altogether whenever the blinds are up.”
Arts & Lectures presents Alfred Hitchcock Nights: Eight Classic Films of Obsession, Mystery and Suspense starting this Wednesday, July 3, with Vertigo. All films screen Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. at UCSB’s Campbell Hall and Fridays at 8:30 p.m. at the Courthouse Sunken Gardens. For a full list of films and screening times, call (805) 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu.