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'Master of suspense' Alfred Hitchcock gets ASU Online course

October 5, 2023

Chris LaMont has been writing, directing and producing movies for over 20 years.

The clinical associate professor in The Sidney Poitier New American Film School is a self-professed lover of suspense-thrillers, so it makes perfect sense that he would be the mastermind behind the online course dedicated to the “master of suspense” himself, Alfred Hitchcock. 

Portrait of

Alfred Hitchcock

“He is one of the most important filmmakers in the history of cinema,” LaMont said. “He is the most influential filmmaker to all the filmmakers now, like del Toro, Spielberg, Scorsese.”

From his earliest silent films, through the advent of sound, Hitchcock’s career spans six decades and boasts over 50 features. He directed movies across multiple countries and continents. His unique camera angles, long pans and editing techniques remain hugely influential today. 

Any class looking to tackle this prolific director would have its work cut out for it. 

“I sat down and wrote out a treatise, an 80-page script, that ended up being about 25 hours of online lecture,” LaMont said. “I understand holistically how an online class should be built and how it should be organized and how it should be academically rigorous. I’m really proud of this class. And you can only take it as an online class.”

LaMont said the most enticing element about his course isn’t just that it is rigorous and engaging. 

“If you’re an online student, it’s good to have classes that check a requirement box and are fun,” he said. “I try to make (this course) as fun as possible.”

LaMont and his writing partner, Joseph Russo, have written and produced suspense thrillers for Hollywood, Netflix and Lifetime Network. 

We spoke to LaMont about his love of Alfred Hitchcock, and the class he designed around the master director.

, clinical associate professor in The Sidney Poitier New American Film School

Chris LaMont

Question: What inspired you to teach a class on Alfred Hitchcock (FMP 405: Hitchcock)? 

Answer: I was introduced to the work of Alfred Hitchcock at an early age watching TV and seeing his movies. Then I saw his TV show in reruns. And I read his YA book series in grade school — yes, there is one; it's called "Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators," about teenage sleuths with their own agency. After that I was hooked, and he is one of my inspirations for filmmaking.

I love suspense-thrillers — not horror films, yikes! — and his influence has been part of my creative journey as a WGA screenwriter, working on several suspense-thriller screenplays, and his work still resonates with me even after repeated viewings of his films.

He's one of the greatest filmmakers ever, and when the Herberger Institute of Design and the Arts asked me if I wanted to do an online class about a filmmaker, I immediately said yes and FMP 405: Alfred Hitchcock was born. To do the class, I sat down and wrote the equivalent of an 80-page treatise on Hitchcock and that's the content that students learn today. 

Q: Would you describe Hitchcock as “the master of suspense”?

A: He was definitely called "the master of suspense" for a reason, and it wasn't because he made great suspense-thrillers. It's because he understood how to direct the camera to convey suspense with slow shots and tighter close-ups, and his knowledge of editing is what makes his work stand apart from most classic filmmakers. He understood how to put the audience into the point-of-view of the characters in an almost voyeuristic way. We are seeing the action unfold through their eyes, and then he is able to manipulate emotions with camera, lighting, and sound to build up suspense.  

Q: Which emotions did Hitchcock try to evoke in his audiences? 

A: Hitchcock plays with emotions like fear in various ways. You aren't just afraid when scary things happen to your favorite character in a film, but also somewhere inside the audience is someone who wants to be scared. It's cathartic. But it's not just horror films. Hitchcock knows how to play with all of our emotions for a film. Emotional engagement is key to good filmmaking, and you laugh and cry and are afraid when you are in the hands of a master director like Hitchcock.

Q: What are some of Hitchcock’s enduring influences on cinema today?

A: Hitchcock's camera work was impeccable. He had longer camera shots that would build suspense. His 1948 film "Rope" was the first film that was conceived to be one giant long take. Sixty-four years later, Alejandro González Iñárritu brought "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)" to life starring Michael Keaton doing the exact same thing — one continuous camera take.

He created the "dolly zoom," which is the camera technique where the background appears to compress around a subject, like the scene in "Jaws" where Steven Spielberg used the shot to convey the terror felt by Roy Schieder's character, Chief Brody, seeing the shark for the first time. 

His editing style of what he called "pure cinema" where there is no dialogue and is driven purely by visuals, such as the shower scene in "Psycho," was unique for its time but is utilized by filmmakers all over the world today. 

He was able to refine the use of rear-screen projection, like the bi-plane scene in "North by Northwest" where Cary Grant is in the studio running and the rest of the crew were on location filming the plane he’s running from. 

His use of music, special effects, sound — he was able to utilize every tool in the filmmaker’s arsenal and his work influences film that we see every day. 

Q: If someone could only watch one Hitchcock film, which one should it be?

A: There are a ton of films that should be seen. "Vertigo" (1958) is considered one of the greatest films in history and was recently the number one film on the Best Of list from the British Film Institute. "North by Northwest" (1959), starring Cary Grant, is basically the original James Bond spy story before there was a James Bond. "Psycho" (1962) of course was the film that broke the mold for horror films now and forever.

But I have to go with 1954's "Rear Window." Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly are the amazing stars for this thriller about a man confined in a wheelchair who sees a murder from his apartment. The whole film takes place in the apartment, the camera never leaves the room. It's the one film that most of my students who take the class haven't seen, and after they see it they are blown away by how good it still is 70 years later.

Hitchcock was such a good filmmaker that nearly all of his films have stood the test of time. You can't go wrong with seeing a Hitchcock film. Besides those four films, we've got five more in the class: "The 39 Steps" (1935), "Rebecca" (1940), "Notorious" (1946), "Strangers on a Train" (1951) and "The Birds" (1963). All great films that will open your eyes about a classic filmmaker whose filmography will continue to entertain audiences forever. 

Top photo by Willem van Bergen from Rotterdam, The Netherlands, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Margot LaNoue

Senior Media Relations Coordinator , EdPlus

'FOOD' performance brings the 'sublime ridiculous' to ASU Gammage

Audience interaction a core feature of creator Geoff Sobelle's work

October 5, 2023

Actor, director and creator Geoff Sobelle considers himself a dedicated absurdist, chiefly interested in moments of the "sublime ridiculous," as outlined in his artist statement. What do moments of the sublime ridiculous entail? Sobelle explains it best.

“The sublime tends to mean something almost transcendent or a moment of grace after rock bottom. In a way, it’s a mystical awareness or openness, something in that regard. The ridiculous is, in a funny way, the opposite,” Sobelle said. “It's like opening up your drawer to get your printer cables out and you're suddenly just in a rat's nest of power cables. It’s that world of overwhelming simplicity, like tidal waves of just ordinariness. There are these moments where in the midst of doing something or in a moment of something utterly ridiculous, you might find a little sliver of grace. That’s what it’s all about.” Man with spaghetti noodles on his head seated at a table full of food. A lover of the "sublime ridiculous," actor, director and creator Geoff Sobelle explores the rarity in mundane themes. Photo by Maria Baranova Download Full Image

Sobelle’s work exemplifies this definition. His recent trilogy of performances — "The Object Lesson," "HOME" and, most recently, "FOOD" — home in on the concept by exploring the rarity in mundane themes and the relationships audiences have with objects, living and eating.

“FOOD” debuts Friday, Oct. 20, at ASU Gammage and runs through Oct. 21. Tickets are on sale now at

“I should say that's kind of an accidental trilogy, but they are kind of a bigger piece together. They're purposefully so simple, but so massive that you could never get your arms around it," Sobelle said. “And I love that; it's just a ridiculous sort of project to even try. They all also find unique ways of working with the audience, so the audience themselves are very much at the heart of each of these works.”

Audience interaction is a core feature of many of Sobelle’s works, as he believes the audience is the reason live performance exists in the first place. His affinity for using the voice and emotion of the audience stems from a background in magic, developed during his youth.

In the same way that a magician might ask someone to pick a card, Sobelle makes a point to make the audience feel as if they are in the same space the performance is in, blurring the lines between the stage and the seats.

“I think in magician land, you’re with the audience. You're always in direct address and it's always participatory. Then when I studied in Paris, I just discovered the clown, which is similarly totally directed,” Sobelle said. “In that world, the engine is the relationship between the audience and the performer. I've always been really fascinated by performances that are rehearsed and yet it still feels as if it's falling out for the first time in front of you. So it's my own kind of funny magic trick.”

Sobelle’s experiences abroad expanded his passion for physical comedy beyond what he knew from an American lens. Concepts like the mime and the clown, as well as icons who embodied them, like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, have inspired his performances to the core, focusing on relationships and exploring everyday life in a greater way.

Due to the natural yet rehearsed nature of his performances, each show has the unique element of a new crowd every time — an independent variable that can alter moments of the show. Sobelle jokes that it makes some performances more interesting than others, but that people are endlessly interesting nonetheless, particularly in his newest performance, "FOOD."

“It’s always so hard to say what the audience can expect from 'FOOD' because there's a lot of surprises in the show. I'm hoping that it will allow them to see their everyday life in a new light,” Sobelle said. “We want to focus on the relationship and history to food, flavor, preparation and all of those things. I'm hoping that it's the kind of thing that stimulates a lot of conversation after the show.”

While Sobelle’s "FOOD" is performed around the world, he is particularly excited to return to ASU Gammage. After performing "HOME" there in October 2019 and participating in ASU Gammage's Digital Connections series with an online performance in 2020, Sobelle has been able to form meaningful connections at ASU.

“I have a very big debt of gratitude to ASU Gammage with putting a lot of faith in me and co-commissioning my work," Sobelle said. “It’s really amazing and incredibly important in this theater ecosystem. I love the experience of being there in Tempe. It's a super cool audience and great space — I’m super excited to come back.”

Jillian Cote

Marketing & Communications Assistant, ASU Gammage