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Psycho – Albert Hitchcock, An analysis.

November 24, 2011

Before I begin, I have not provided any videoclips. This is not because I did not want to, but I believe that “Psycho” should be watched in the way in which Hitchcock intended; from beginning to end, no interuptions. Therefore I have provided pictures to illustrate points made.


Film Theory Essay

The horror genre is practically as old as cinema itself; it plays on the audiences fears of the unknown and derived from directors taking inspiration from classic gothic literature, folk tales and legends. The early silent movies The Golem (1915) and Nosferatu (1922) are two prime examples of these. By the 1960s people wanted horror films that focused more on reality so that it was more believable and dealt with the issues of the here and now which set the path for the film “Psycho”. In this essay, I intend to analyse key aspects of Albert Hitchcock’s “Psycho”, such as audience, representation and institution. By looking at this I will also explore the social values of that time.

Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”, a psychological horror, was produced in 1960 as his last film for Paramount Pictures before moving to Universal although the film is owned by Universal. The audience is an important part of a psychological horror as it provides a preferred reading and pleasure for its target audience. A psychological horror is a subgenre of horror and depends on characters qualms, principles and emotion instability to build a tension and plot. The music and sound effects also play an important part of this genre as they also build a greater tension. The psychological horror has more of a reality and therefore enables the audience to relate to it, making it more terrifying as the audience will question if in fact this could actually happen to them.

“Psycho” a B movie, was aimed at 17-26 year olds as this age group were attracted by the enigma of the name as well as the posters and advertising of the movie. Although Hitchcock had previously produced colour films, this was to be in black and white which would add to the tension as well as keep the film on a low budget. This was also because he believed colour was too gory for audiences, especially with the famous shower scene. His target audience was near enough equally split in gender as it can be regarded as a date movie therefore both sexes would be going to see the film. It provided pleasures for the male audience through the violence and mystery throughout, whereas women would be attracted by the female star. This is due to the fact that they would be able to relate to her and therefore create a relationship and respond to the text. The romance part of the film would also attract them as it was escapism, something they again would relate to.

Furthermore, the idea of females being attracted to the story of the female lead character despite her not being a well known actress, is ruined in a short space of time as Marion is killed by Norman Bates. This makes the audience wary of forming personal relationships with other characters as they will be aware that others may be killed. This is odd of a movie as the majority of films allow the audience to form a bond with the characters whereas here the audience are made reluctant of this. This also ties in with the audiences preferred reading of Norman Bates. After he kills or as the audience believe, cleaned up after his mothers work; they become suspicious of his character and cannot trust him. However, many of the audience may feel sorry for Bates and will be drawn towards the negotiated reading as they sympathise with him and reflect on the restraints mothers can have over their children. The target audience have conflicting views all dependent on their personal opinions. This is through Halls theory of encoding and decoding where he believes that each individual has their own interpretation of a text and therefore decode these in our personal ways.

The representation is an important aspect towards the pleasures of the target audience. Marion is represented as a white female, blonde and relatively young. This conveys innocence about her as well as a typical female of that time era. Her innocence is also further demonstrated by the way she is dressed at first in white clothing, underwear and bag which is a stark contrast to how she is later portrayed in black clothing when she leaves with the money. She is an attractive looking female therefore males would be attracted to her. Her minimal job as a secretary suggests she represents a stereotypical woman of the time with a small job, looking for love so that she can settle down and start a family. This is a further example of Halls theory as it is the preferred reading of myself as it is made in the audiences mind, therefore although they will not see her sex life, which is hinted at through the encounter with Tom, as attractive or glamorous but rather as an affair, the audience will still subconsciously hope that things will work out for them. This promotes the personal relationship with the character. The audience will be surprised by her stealing the money and running away with it, although many may be in a similar situation and will sympathise with her. By creating this relationship between the audience and the character Hitchcock sets up a perfect storyline for a horror. Marion is a normal woman who people will relate to and therefore will be more terrified by how easily she is killed off. In ways this may show how men had become less protective of their females, especially a female in Marion’s situation. She was single and living her own life without the need for a man, this is quite a stereotypical thing to express as many women will disagree with the need for mans protection.

Institutions had many controls over the representations and general film making at this time. “Psycho” managed to dodge round these, making it a well known horror film to this day. It shows the classic signs of a horror and many still use it as inspiration. Before this film many horrors did not bother to explain their villains or why their minds worked in a particular way which made “Psycho” appeal more to audiences. Ever since ‘Psycho,’ it’s no longer been enough simply to present a villain or a monster; we want to understand their psychology as well. External controls had a huge influence in the way films were made as the code for films, which was later revealed to have had catholic influences that restricted films in order to, appease conservative views, meant their were many restrictions around about it. Marion and Toms love life is an example of this as their relationship could not be shown as titillating or attractive hence the reason why it was presented in a motel which the audience would associate as being cheap and unattractive. Also the fact Marion appears to be fed up of the situation, it is again suggested that their relationship is not glamorous. This meant that the “sex scene” was acceptable as Marion covered herself up quickly and nothing was explicit or striking.

In addition to this, mean in authority could not be shown in a bad way. This was conveyed by the policeman and also the inspector as they are portrayed as men in authority and are respected. They are the first people that are contacted when it is realised Marion has gone missing, which is the typical way in which a missing person case should be dealt with. No one disagrees with their actions or refuses to do as asked but rather they go a long with them and respond well to their decisions. This also fits in with the ideology associated with these men, which brings up Marion’s’ character ideology of the women at the time as it suggested women need protected. This is due to the fact that had she been with Tom at the motel then she may never have been killed.

Hitchcock had various ways of getting around the controls of restricting his film such as when it when it was tested he included parts which he knew could not be accepted. This meant the attention was taken away from parts such as Marion in her underwear or in the shower. This meant his initial film idea was accepted. I think this was very clever of Hitchcock as he was able to easily get around scenes which other films may not necessarily have been accepted.

Overall, I feel “Psycho” is a great example of the Horror genre and playing with the psychological features. His movie was one of the first true greats and continues to have a large influence over people today; it is still as much of a success that it was when it was first made as it provides the audience with effective readings and pleasure. When it first came out, Hitchcock created a rule that after the film had began to show in theatres no one could then enter. The only way to watch the film was from start to end with no interruption and also he did not want people to give away the endings to others so that everyone who went to see the film would not be let down in anyway. I think this is a great idea and filmmakers should take this idea to today as it is the only true way in which any film should be watched.


From → Film Theory

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