Master of Suspense – Films at the Courthouse return with a summer of Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock Margaret Herrick Library photos
Alfred Hitchcock
Margaret Herrick Library photos

Roman Baratiak’s longtime dream of screening summer movies in the Sunken Garden came true some four years ago, and he’s been watching the crowds come every year since. For the first three years, this Arts & Lectures summer series has stuck with genre films: One year it was musicals, another it was science fiction, and another was classic monster movies. But this year is the first time Mr. Baratiak & Co. have settled on the works of one director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starting this Wednesday with arguably Mr. Hitchcock’s best film, “Vertigo,” the summer series will screen eight of the director’s best suspenseful works, ending with “Strangers on a Train” on Friday, Aug. 23.

Most of the films — except for “Shadow of a Doubt” — screen on a Wednesday at UCSB’s Campbell Hall, for those who want to have a more traditional moviegoing experience, but on the Friday following, bring your blankets and chairs and get ready for some classic films.

"Vertigo," starring James Stewart andKim Novak, willbe shown Wednesday
“Vertigo,” starring James Stewart andKim Novak, willbe shown Wednesday
"North by Northwest," with CaryGrantand Eva Marie Saint,will be shown July17 and 19. Margaret Herrick Library photo
“North by Northwest,” with CaryGrantand Eva Marie Saint,will be shown July17 and 19.
Margaret Herrick Library photo
Fans and scholars alike keep returning to Hitchcock because, as UCSB Professor Allan Langdale says, the director keeps returning to the themes of identity and voyeurism, ideas that still intrigue us to this day.

“Voyeurism is pleasurable when it can take place at a safe distance,” Mr. Langdale says. That safety isn’t assured in Hitchcock, and especially not in “Rear Window” (July 10 and 12), which restricts its POV to Jimmy Stewart’s wheelchair-bound existence. Decades later, Mr. Langdale says, people still gasp at one certain moment in the film — he knows, because he screens it for college students — when both Mr. Stewart and the audience are caught exactly in the act of watching. Mr. Hitchcock knows a lot of us like to spy on our neighbors.

Next up is “North by Northwest,” (July 17 and 19) Cary Grant’s best Hitchcock film, with its iconic crop duster attack and another of the director’s great motifs: the man falsely accused.

Voyeurism returns big-time in Mr. Hitchcock’s game-changing “Psycho” (July 24 and 26) as Norman Bates spies on his hotel customer taking a shower. The shower scene is so famous, so parodied, that it’s easy to forget the rest of the film is more than those brief 10 minutes.

“Shadow of a Doubt” only screens at Campbell Hall on July 31 because of Fiesta at the Courthouse. Here, Joseph Cotten plays a man who may not be the long-lost uncle he claims to be when he visits a bucolic small town.

Another film to play with identity is “Notorious” (Aug. 7 and 9) with Ingmar Bergman going undercover to catch some Nazis in South America and falling in love with her agent, played by Cary Grant. The following week features Hitchcock’s last great film “The Birds” (Aug. 14 and 16), his most experimental as well, with no soundtrack used and hence a lot of eerie silence. The season finishes with the fantastic “Strangers on a Train” (Aug. 21 and 23), in which a sociopathic socialite tries to convince a stranger to help out in a murderous plot.

But back to this week’s screening: “Vertigo,” with its queasy psychosexual drama, its scenic San Francisco locations, its dynamic turn from Kim Novak, its dream sequence and its soundtrack, all make this one of the crowning achievements of film art. (Poll after film poll agree — don’t take this writer’s word for it only.) And whether it’s your first or 10th viewing of the film, there’s always something new to catch.

See you in the garden!

Arts & Lectures’
Alfred Hitchcock Nights
When: 8:30 p.m. Wed. and Fri., through Aug. 23.
Where: UCSB Campbell Hall (Wednesdays) and the Courthouse Sunken Garden, 1100 Anacapa St. (Fridays)
Cost: Free

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