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Faculty Interviews Winter 2021

Maria Belodubrovskaya on Teaching Global Cinema and Hitchcock’s Oeuvre

By Amy Skjerseth / CMS PhD Candidate

Maria Belodubrovskaya began teaching in the Cinema and Media Studies department in 2019, but 2020 is her first year in residence at UChicago. She joined CMS from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she was Associate Professor in the Department of Communications Arts. She is the author of Not According to Plan: Filmmaking under Stalin (Cornell University Press, 2017) and a range of articles on Russian and Soviet cinema, including “The Cine-Fist: Eisenstein’s Attractions, Mirror Neurons, and Contemporary Action Cinema” (Projections, 2018). She is currently working on her second book, Beyond Montage: Film Aesthetics and Propaganda under Stalin, which examines Soviet cinema’s approach to style and narrative in comparison with Hollywood and other major film traditions. Her book seeks to challenge some received notions about Soviet film’s ideological conformity and socialist realism while showing how the Soviet cinematic tradition fits into the transcultural aesthetic discourse.  

In the Winter Quarter, Belodubrovskaya is teaching “History of International Cinema II: Sound Era to 1960” and “The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock.” The first class will be remote and the second in person. Belodubrovskaya is excited about the course schedule for “History II,” which has two screenings per week. “This allows you to really get some watching under your belt and to see some of the best movies ever made,” she explains. “One of my current projects is on the Russian films of the 1930s to 1950s, and comparing what was happening in Russia to what went on globally has distinct research interest for me. The question for Russia cinema and for any other tradition, for that matter, is what was shared throughout the global cinema project and what was specific to a film, a group of films, or a filmmaker.” This is the first time she will teach this course, and one of her goals is to select films that are new to her. “And there is nothing more exciting than teaching new films,” she says. 

The Hitchcock course, however, is familiar ground for Belodubrovskaya, who taught a survey of Alfred Hitchcock’s films at U-W Madison. In addition, she is currently writing an essay on the surprise plot in Hitchcock. “When I first started teaching Hitchcock, I thought I would spend the entire time on his blonds (Hitchcock and women) and his style (Hitchcock the perfectionist who controlled every aspect of production),” she recalls. “It turns out that how Hitchcock constructs his films is far more interesting, and the surprise plot is just one example of it. Hitchcock is always considered ‘the master of suspense,’ but if you actually look at some of his most famous films, Vertigo  and  Psycho, they are structured for surprise and not for suspense.” In her essay, Belodubrovskaya explores how (and how often) Hitchcock utilized the surprise plot. She argues that his practice was to generate structures of engagement that could end up as surprise or as suspense depending on the production circumstances and his desired outcome. In her course, Belodubrovskaya will cover some of Hitchcock’s great classics like  Rear Window  and  North by Northwest, as well as more controversial and flawed films like  Rope,  Marnie, and  Frenzy.  

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