| media studies | film noir | sci-fi




The great thing about teaching Hitchcock to kids is that it ultimately can be “entertaining”, while providing accessible examples of how visual language works and how film narratives are constructed, leading to the development of analytical skills and thereby usurping passive consumption of popular media. The character and personality that was constructed around the director/artist Hitchcock is part of the appeal; he publicly portrayed himself as a subject of his own films in his control of them- the master storyteller. By cameoing himself in each film, as the real-life character Hitchcock, he always reminds us of meta-cinematic ideas, calling attention to the film as a construct, as artifice. Because of this his films can be exceptionally appealing to kids, as long as you discuss the film as you go, watching it in pieces and revisiting the ones you've seen prior. Here is an opportunity to insert pathways for exploration of the film, modeling for your students how to watch a film actively and critically, without it interrupting, but rather adding to, their enjoyment of it.

The concept of aritifice is basic to film analysis, and Hitchcock's films and adjoining character offer students an enticing and intelligent way to become familiar with it: the demands of the filmmaking and videogames industries for more and more realism and seamless portraitures continue to "pull the wool" over consumers eyes, in that the fakery becomes invisible and therefore outside of their consideration. To know of the artifice and of the tools involved can empower students to create their own worlds. To explore the intent and deliberation that Hitchcock put into his films can add to the pleasures of watching them by exploring those pleasures themselves.



Psycho is full of examples of how visuals convey meaning, how communication occurs with images, characters, places and things. It shows how movies don’t just happen or occur, but are minutely planned and constructed. The Shower Scene has become an iconic cultural artifact that is homaged and referenced again and again. To explore the source of such an artifact provides students with cultural capital. I have found that kids are always interested in how the films were made, about anecdotes and cultural references, plus horror is appealing and suspense seduces. Horror films convey cultural anxieties and teenagers are certainly not immune from these, but need to be given opportunities to explore them that relate to their own time's cultural products. So many of filmmaking's tools of suspense originated with this film.

Hitchcock is indeed a master. When I show Psycho and The Birds I talk about Freudian theory and they look at me in fascination, with a recognition and love/hate confusion. Kids consume so much sex and death, that the Hitchcockian universe of tangled relations and oedipal desires as accessibly acted out in his films, helps to ground these concepts in narrative, in entertainment, and by-now familiar cinematic archetypes, such as the psychopathic serial killer, or horror and male-female desire. Our cultural landscape has been shaped by Freudian concepts, distilled down to cliches and nuances that influence our own expectations of relationships. ( The sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond is an example of trickle-down Freudian theories gone mad.) To explore some of these concepts, especially those of the unconscious, is to provide tools for teenagers in the assessments you're asking them to make on the culture they consume.

The issues of censorship that Hitchcock dealt with when making Psycho is a story that gives students an historical perspective on cultural morality: ask them to imagine never have seen someone actually blow up in a film. The idea of a man and a woman being shown on a bed together being risque is titillating to them. This sort of historical perception - that things weren't always this way - is empowering: you have to know where you came from in order to envision where you're going, in order to envision possibilities and alternatives. Putting Psycho into perspective in relation to what's acceptable to a culture, and what's not, in terms of "decency" raises a lot of interesting questions for teenagers living with similar issues today. Have your students address the issue of video game ratings, of internet censorship, etc.



click on the poster to go to the webpage for when we studied either The Birds or Psycho: