If you’re ever on campus and the topic of Alfred Hitchcock comes up, there’s only one person to turn to: Dr. Jack Sullivan.
Sullivan is the director of the American Studies Department and a professor of English. He authored two previous music books and his newest, Hitchcock’s Music, has garnered acclaim from critics such as the New York Times, which labeled it as “fascinating.”
The book was such a hit that he was approached by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York to give a lecture on March 20 as part of a series of talks by film scholars on their books entitled “Meet the Scholars” at 6 p.m.
In fact, this will not be Sullivan’s first lecture at MoMA. He has already given a series of lectures on Hitchcock, including one on Dec. 31, 2007, where he showed Rebecca and introduced the film by talking about the score of Franz Waxman.
His discussion will not be limited to one film. He believes there are numerous vital Hitchcock film scores to speak about that he couldn’t speak on just one.
“I realized that there are so many important ones from my book that I need to discuss,” Sullivan said. “The book covers all 53 Hitchcock sound films and even how it functions on the silent films in terms of what’s on the screen.”
People attending can expect a discussion on Sullivan’s observations, including how Hitchcock used music to influence the atmosphere, characterization and even storylines of his films, based on extensive interviews with composers, writers and actors, and research in rare archives.
Sullivan’s fascination with Hitchcock’s music is not a recent revelation. It started at a very young age when he went to go see the movie Vertigo.
“Bernard Herrmann’s music had blown me out of my seat,” Sullivan said. “Even though I was much too young to comprehend it, it got to me at an emotional level and it stayed with me.”
Since then, Hitchcock’s music developed into an interest in Sullivan unlike any other director. He feels the music has more substance than a regular movie soundtrack because the basic part of the psychology of the movies is in the music.
“Hitchcock’s music is not background but the foreground,” he said. “It is a part of the storyline very often and part of the secret and the detective or espionage puzzles. And very often Hitchcock’s characters are musicians who sing or play important themes that connect with the action.”
Moreover, the extent of influence that Hitchcock’s music has had upon the film industry is massive, according to Sullivan.
“All the most important Hitchcock scores had some innovation: in Birds electronic music, in Rebecca a sinister organ, in Vertigo very radical harmonies and circling rhythms,” he said.
One of the best parts of writing the book was that once it came out Sullivan realized “other people were haunted by the score and that [I] wasn’t the only one.”