BRATTLEBORO >> Dr. Walter Srebnick and Dr. Walter Raubicheck, scholars and longtime fans of Arthur Hitchcock, will be sharing their expertise in two presentations in Brattleboro next weekend in conjunction with the screening of "North by Northwest" and "Vertigo" at the Latchis Theater.
Raubicheck will talk after a screening of "North by Northwest" at 4 p.m. on Saturday, July 30; his presentation will be at the Positive Geek on Flat Street. On Sunday, July 31, both men will speak at a gala Hitchcock-themed dinner at Duo Restaurant after the screening of "Vertigo" at 4 p.m.
Raubicheck teaches at Pace University on Long Island, and Srebnick, who is now professor emeritus, also taught there for many years. While both started out as professors of English literature, Raubicheck recalled in a phone interview that they soon realized that they shared a passion for Hitchcock films.
"When Walter and I went to grad school, they didn't have cinema studies, so we never actually took film courses," he said. "Then we realized that there was a developing field of cinema studies where Hitchcock was taking a prominent place.
"Together with two other professors we decided to form a minor in film studies," he went on. "We did a lot of reading on our own and at the same time five Hitchcock films were re-released to movie theaters."
Srebnick explained that the re-release was dramatic, since for legal reasons the five films, including "Rear Window" and "Vertigo," had been unavailable to audiences for decades.
"You couldn't see them in revival houses, you couldn't see them in theaters — and this was a time before you could rent videotapes or DVDs," he said
The two colleagues organized a academic conference at Pace around the five films.
"It was the first conference academic conference that we know of about the films of Alfred Hitchcock," Srebnick said.
The two later selected and edited a collection of 16 papers from the conference, wrote an introduction and published it as a book, "Hitchcock's Rereleased Films: From 'Rope' to 'Vertigo.'"
In a larger conference at New York University in 1991 to mark the centennial of Hitchcock's birth, Raubicheck chaired a panel of screenwriters who had worked with the director, while Srebnick chaired a panel of actresses in Hitchcock films.
Both noted the blend of entertainment and psychological insight in Hitchcock's films.
"We started out as fans as kids," Raubicheck said. "He is the master of suspense, and as kids we were able to relate to that. Later on we were able to analyze what he's doing as a director, and at the same time we realized that there is a depth to these films that became clear once we began to study them — which we didn't understand as kids.
"These two films are perfect examples of films that we both liked as kids, and then as adults and scholars," he went on. "We realized that underneath the surface entertainment there's a lot of psychological depth."
Srebnick noted that many consider "Vertigo" one of the greatest films ever made, and that "North by Northwest" is often cited as Hitchcock's most entertaining film.
"Both are intensely visual — the way he uses the camera and edits closely identifies the viewer with the main character, " Srebnick commented. "'North by Northwest' has all these wonderful cliffhanging, suspenseful moments — chases, a cross-country trip — and a man who's totally flippant and in charge of the world, the man who has total control, loses control and has to regain control and reassert himself in situations in which he risks his life. He grows as a person — you really see it here. He goes from a shallow, flippant guy to a man of much more substance.
"When you get to 'Vertigo,' I think it is perhaps Hitchcock's most romantic film, his most psychologically haunting film, and the one in which the viewer is captured and engrossed in an almost supernatural love story," he went on. "It has that emotional and visual richness.
"Hitchcock is the most visual of directors," he said. "In these movies I'm captured by what I'm watching and seeing, and at the same time that I'm enjoying them and being entertained, I've always felt that there was another layer of meaning underneath — a level beyond the visual, that is emotional and psychological and can even be intellectual. Here is a move, a form of popular, accessible entertainment, that can move me and reach me on the most profound level, like a great novel would. It has that level of richness."
Raubicheck mentioned the role of technique.
"We also became much more aware of technique, what Hitchcock was doing with the camera that set him apart from other directors," he said, " — how he photographed these films to convey these insights, how he used the camera."
"One of the things we're going to be talking about is what Hitchcock is doing with the camera when he's shooting the film and what he does later in the editing room," Raubicheck continued. "He wasn't the editor but he supervised the editing, and he basically shot the film with the editing in mind from the beginning."
The two were especially interested in Hitchcock's collaboration with his screenwriters.
"He wants to tell the story visually — yet he hired very first-rate screenwriters who came up with weird, interesting and sometimes profound dialogue which adds another whole level,"
Raubicheck continued. "He and the writers would come up with the story together. At a certain point Hitchcock would say, 'OK, now go home and write a first draft.' He didn't write dialogue — he relied totally on his screenwriters.
"He knew what he was good at and what he wasn't good at, and he collaborated with other people — the actors and screenwriters and editors," Raubicheck concluded. "He knew that he needed them. It was a team, but he was the captain."
Admission to both films is by donation, to benefit Latchis Arts. To make a reservation for the dinner at Duo on Sunday evening, call the restaurant at 802-254-4141.
Maggie Brown Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.