Metafiction and the metaphysical detective story: Vertigo

A re-reading of the Alfred Hitchcock classic

The subject of my Phd thesis was in part what is referred to as the “metaphysical detective story”, a mostly literary subgenre of the detective novel (e.g., Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy). In their seminal study of such narratives, Patricia Merivale and Elizabeth Sweeney have identified some common tropes:

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Hotel English with Barton Fink

ESL/EFL lesson about hotel experiences, reservations and complaints, based on clips from the Coen Brothers’ Barton Fink

Barton Fink is a film situated at the beginning of what I think it is fair to call the Coen Brothers’ heydey in the 1990s, preceding as it does Fargo in 1996 and The Big Lebowski in 1998, a run interrupted only by the fine, but admittedly lesser work The Hudsucker Proxy in 1994. A satire of the Hollywood system in the 1940s,  it came out a year before Robert Altman’s more contemporaneous, multi-protagonist “comeback” movie The Player in 1992. I mention the latter as each film delves into the more soul-destroying undercurrents of Tinseltown with a metafictional twist: the eponymous playwright turned screenwriter in the Coen brothers movie and Tim Robbins’s studio mogul in The Player both – in their quest for Hollywood glory – seem to become literally authors of their own dramas. Continue reading

Survival English with Nick Roeg’s Walkabout

Communicative English class about Australia and desert survival based around clips from Nick Roeg’s Walkabout

A film I have returned to a number of times in my teaching is Nick Roeg’s Walkabout. Although unashamedly art-house, my students – both adults and teens – have responded well to it, the emphasis on the visual and non-verbal making it rich in potential for description and speculation. It also seems a fitting to post an article about the maverick British director as he died at the end of last year, leaving behind a small but beguilingly strange back catalogue, most of which dates from the 1970s.

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Rear Windows

Edward Hopper, Night Windows, 1928.

English class on surveillance, voyeurism and neighbourliness, featuring Alfred Hitchcock, Edward Hopper, Avril Paton and Ole Marius Jøergensen

Following on from my previous post about The Prisoner, which evokes among other things the theme of surveillance, and the post about Brainstorm, which imagines a dystopian technology allowing users to vicariously experience other people’s memories, this class focuses on the subject of neighbourhood watch, privacy and voyeurism. The clips I have used that best elicit discussions on these themes are from one of the all-time greats, Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Continue reading

Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner

Communicative English class about the Cold War, brainwashing and individual freedom

I have done many variations of a class based around clips from Patrick McGoohan’s iconic 1960s tv series The Prisoner, focusing in particular on the opening sequence and the first scenes of the debut episode. These work especially well as a basis for discussion as there is minimal dialogue and the narrative is almost entirely shown, with plenty of scope for description and vocab-building. The first episode is also rich in mystery, allowing lots of opportunities for student speculation. Continue reading