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This course basically asks you to approach film in both an academic and a practical way, and ideally these two will blend together. We're going to start things off by watching a film and using it as a basis to practice all the skills needed to succeed in the course.

The film you actually work with might be different, but for now we're going to talk about Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 classic Psycho. Just bear in mind that even at this early stage of the course, you are producing work which might well become part of your portfolio, or which may eventually become your comparative study. Aim for the top levels with everything, right from the start.

Sitting comfortably? Good. Then let's begin.

Everyone will watch the film in class. (Obviously, if you miss lessons, watch it yourself. We'll make it available to you.) Then, we'll start to do various tasks on it. However, these tasks will be easier and better if you think like a researcher and go further than a simple viewing of the film. An obvious thing to do would be to watch a couple more Hitchcock films. Now, he made something like 60 films and wrote several more, so some guidance might help. When studying a film, it makes sense to look at the films the director made immediately before and afterwards. In this case, that would be:

  • Vertigo (1958)

  • North by Northwest (1959)

  • Psycho (1960)

  • The Birds (1963)

All of these are outstanding - it must be one of the greatest run of films ever made by a director - and watching some or all of them will give you a much deeper appreciation of Hitchcock's style and themes. However, this is only for super-duper extra-special students - it's not compulsory.

You might also want to read around the topic a little. Start with Wikipedia, sure, but one of the most useful things you can do is to go to IMDB and read the reviews written by the professionals. They're here. (There are lots of them. Even reading the first two - Roger Ebert's very positive review and James Berardinelli's more critical opinion - will get you thinking in new and more focused ways.) Again, though this makes your work easier and better, it's not compulsory. At IB, you are trusted to be independent - find your own level.

Prepare for... Textual Analysis

First, have a look at what the textual analysis assignment demands. It assesses your understanding of three things:

  • The context of the film

  • The technical detail of the film ('what IBO call 'film elements')

  • The relationship between these two things (also, the relationship between your extract and the rest of the film or even to other films. This is where those keen students who watched other Hitchcock movies start to reap the benefits.)

You're going to produce an analysis of a five-minute extract of the film. Start with the context. Let's use the opening section to work with. 

This is not necessarily a very good extract to choose, by the way - there are other parts of the film which can give you a lot more to talk about!

YOUR TURN! Choose a five-minute extract and provide an analysis of it. Your teacher will tell you the detail - it might be an essay or a presentation or a talk, or you may have the choice.

Prepare for... Film Portfolio

Psycho  is one of the most influential films ever made. It has been copied and pastiched countless times.

In 1998, director Gus van Sant remade the entire thing, almost shot-by-shot, in colour. Here's a side-by-side of the shower scenes.

Prepare for... Comparative Study

This kind of remake is called 'Reverse Engineering' and it's what we're going to do to practice basic film-making skills. Choose a part of the film - one to two minutes is fine - and remake it as exactly as you can. You can't use anything - music, effects, graphics - that you didn't make yourself. Work in pairs, choose one role - probably cinematographer or editor, but all of them are available - and remember that even this first task can become part of your final portfolio. ***NEW ADDITION*** - if you want to contribute to your portfolio, it would be better to make a short scene of your own inspired by Psycho rather than a reversed engineered piece.

The last thing we will do with Psycho is compare it to another film. Although the assessment criteria for the comparative study ask for the second film to be from a different cultural context, let's not worry about that for now. You can choose anything. A few suggestions:

Your teacher might ask you to expand on your earlier analysis (perhaps just by adding a section) or to compete a whole new task. Whatever you are asked to do, remember that you are assessed on:

  • Your knowledge of the two films

  • Your ability to compare and contrast the films

  • How well you actually construct and present the comparison. (The actual comparative study is a film. This criterion might not be relevant just yet.)

Finally, perhaps we can use this presentation when we're ready for a deeper dive into film theory..

THis is the kind of work Level 7 students produce. Why is it so good? What sort of preparation went into it? How faithful to the original is it? Why did they choose this particular part?

They did make one mistake, though - there is a reason why they couldn't use it in their portfolios. Can you figure out what it was?

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