With reference to the films “Psycho” and The Birds”, I will illustrate the techniques, which the director Alfred Hitchcock used for his films to appeal to specific audiences, I will be referring and paying close attention to the shower scene from the film Psycho, and the school scene from The Birds, I will be referring to the Hays code and how Hitchcock overcome the code. During when these two films were released in the 1960s when the hays code would govern which films were allowed to be shown and those which weren’t.
In the 1960s films provided more entertainment than TV when these films were released there was a rapid change from silent to talking movies. Alfred Hitchcock’s film Psycho is a thriller/horror and tells us the story of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) who is not happy with the way life has treated her. She works at a Phoenix estate agents. And has to meat her lover Sam (John Gavin), between dinner breaks secretly. They cannot marry one another as Sam is obliged to give most of his money towards his divorce settlement.
One day at the estate agents Marion is trusted in banking $40,000 by her employer. When given the money Marion sees the opportunity to seize the chance and start a new life with her lover Sam, She leaves Phoenix immediately and is on the way to Sam’s Californian store. On route she feels tired and is caught up in a storm she feels the need to rest and pulls off the highway and heads towards the Bates Motel. She checks up in the motel where she meets the shy but friendly owner Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), who seems to be hen- pecked by his mother who lives in the imposing old house nearby.
When at the motel Marion decides to take a shower, this is where Norman sees his chance and kills Marion. The birds is also a horror/thriller this is a story of Spoilt rich kid Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) meeting handsome young Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) when she plays a practical joke on him in a San Francisco pet shop. She gets what’s coming to her when Mitch turns the tables and plays a joke back on her, pretending not to recognize her and treats her as a common shop girl.
Looking to get her own back, she decides to hand deliver the pair of love birds that Mitch has bought for his younger sister’s birthday and travels to his home in the small seaside town of Bodega Bay. But on route to Mitch’s house, Melanie is attacked by a seagull, and before long the feathered population in the town is turning on the humans in a series of increasingly vicious and apparently organized and coordinated attacks. Alfred Hitchcock had to follow the hays code in order for his film to be released in America. Compared to the code today the hays code seems to be harsh.
This is why Hitchcock had to use cinematic sequences which would leave the audience to put the pieces together, a example of this is the shower scene in the hays code in clearly states that films must not contain explicit nudity, but during the shower scene in the film Psycho Marion Crane is naked, but we do not see anything which could be called explicit nudity or any uncalled for parts. To avoid pushing the Hayes code to the limit as throughout the film, Marion Crane would wear a skin outfit in order for Alfred Hitchcock to justify the scene to be legal, this is why he could say that the audience would picture her naked.
The code also acknowledges that no picture should be produced that would lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin, blasphemy and bad language (even words such as ‘Damn’ or ‘Hell’) were forbidden as were excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embraces, suggestive postures and gestures, were not to be shown.
Another example of how Alfred Hitchcock got around the hays code was by letting us the audience imagine and put the pieces together was at the start of the film Psycho when the audience sees Marion Crane and Sam in the same bedroom having just woken up; the audience would have automatically assumed that they had spent the night. The shower scene was cleverly done, showing 78 different camera shots but lasting only 46 seconds, Alfred Hitchcock edited out the bits which would break the hays code and avoided showing any unnecessary parts by great camera work as well as editing.
The shower scene takes place right after Norman leaves Marion’s room she decides to take a shower. When in the shower she appears to be calm and relaxed, after looking at the head shot we can see her facial expression and can say she was enjoying the water pouring over her body. As mentioned before Marion is wearing a skin outfit. We then see a silhouette of a body appear right behind Marion as she has her back to the curtain.
This automatically brings upon the attention of the audience focusing on the silhouette and takes the attention of Marion this is because it was inappropriate to show two people in such a situation. We now that no two people were in the shower scene at the same time. All of a sudden the curtain is ripped off to reveal a shadowed figure which appears to be that of a woman grasping an enormous knife. We get a close up of Marion’s face from this we can see the terror visible in the screaming mouth.
The now well renowned music of screeching violins begins; this is mixed with the sound of Marion screaming which brings about tension and suspense within the shower scene. The person then attacks Marion and the changing of camera shots between the body and knife start, this with the high pitched sound effects and the sound of a knife ripping through the skin leads to the tension and suspense reaching a anti climatic atmosphere which ends in the fast penetration of the knife into the skin .
During the shower scene we do not see the knife entering the body; we hear sounds effects which would manipulate the audience into imagining that the knife is entering the body by tearing through the flesh. We then see her fall out the shower clinging onto the curtain for dear life, as she lets go off the curtain the camera zooms in and focuses on her eyes from this us the audience can see she is dead. We get a scene of her blood draining away down the drain. This is not real blood but chocolate syrup this is a cinematic device when her blood is draining away this symbolizes death in a suffering way.
This scene makes the viewer imagine the acts of violence and nudity which was not allowed to be shown because of the hays code. Creating the set for the scene was a lengthy process. The shower unit was made up of four retractable walls to let the cameras be placed without hesitation. Whilst filming this scene, the cameras remained dry; however the camera crew was soaked. It is also true that during the filming of this scene, Janet Leigh was in the shower for seven shooting days.
This is a considerable length of time considering that the scene only lasted for 46 seconds. This showed how Hitchcock and his crew tried to make their film different to others and the length’s they would go to attract a bigger target audience. The film was shot in black and white although colour was available. Alfred Hitchcock did this on purpose in order to reduce the effect of explicit gore and enormous amounts of bloodshed. Since the film was in black and white Alfred used chocolate syrup to represent the blood.
This also helped him with the hays code issues as like it wasn’t her real flesh on show it wasn’t her real blood. Alfred Hitchcock’s film “the birds” also gives us the element of surprise as we do not initially now who or what the killers are, as in the film Psycho we think Norman is a shy and harmless man but he ends up in being the killer, also in the film the birds we are mislead to believe that the birds are innocent as they were at once described as “love birds” this is ends up in being the total opposite to what they were first called.
I am going to take apart the most popular scene in the film “The Birds”. This is known as the school scene, this takes place when Melanie is sat on a white bench outside the school with her back to the school playground, awaiting the school teacher. Then a shot looks at how a single black bird swoops across the skyline and situates itself on the children’s climbing frame. Then a shot shows how when she is lighting her cigarette the number of birds on the climbing frame increases to 4.
This is slowly building up the tension and suspense within the audience and indicates the attacks about to happen next. Then another bird goes and sits on the climbing frame but Melanie still does not notice this as she still has her back to the birds. Then we see a shot where Melanie does see a bird flying across with her eyes she follows the direction which the bird is flying and eventually sees the flock of birds scattered all around the climbing frame, fence and the structure behind it.
Alfred Hitchcock on purpose builds up the tension with the audience earlier then that of the character. This is to make the audience feel certain unease as they would want to help her to notice the birds behind her; this leaves a certain level of uncertainty and tension which when eventually is broken with Melanie noticing the birds. The children within this scene are shown as innocent and harmless. Alfred disguises them in not knowing what is happening outside by showing them singing a song.
Melanie is then shown returning to the school and children are asked to walk out slowly and only run when told to. All the different shots in this scene are slow but are building up the tension, the tension increases as there is no music just the screaming of the children and flapping and squeaking of the birds. The audience would now as long as they can here the birds squeaking the attacks would continue. The next show shows a girl in a red sweater is pecked at, her glasses smash and she is helped into a car and to safety by Melanie and the school teacher.
Noticeably Alfred Hitchcock had no control over the birds; this meant he would acquire some sought of special effect in order for the experience to be realistic. Alfred Hitchcock did this by sending his camera crew to rubbish dumps and filming birds in their natural form. This meant that when the birds played their part in the film it would be more realistic. He would do this before the actors played their part this was because he wanted the actors to play in accordance with the bird’s natural form. He used the blue screen to combine the two scenes once he had shot them.
However there was a problem with this as a white line became visible around the bodies which had been edited into the film, this meant that the audience could see that he had used special effects as it was noticeable, to eradicate this Alfred Hitchcock used sodium lighting. After looking at both films it is evident that Alfred Hitchcock was a clever director and changed the way people saw films. He created to films of mass success then and now, the two films are unmistakably the two best horror/thrillers around then and still are good enough to compete with films now.
After the film Psycho there have bin many directors who have tried to capture some of the magic Alfred Hitchcock with either a copy of the film psycho or a sequel, The copy of the Film was directed by Gus Vant Sant and was made in 1998, although this was a newer version of the film, the director was not able to catch the same light as his predecessor did. With the sequel the story of Norman coming out of prison 22 years later this film was directed by Richard Franklin this also was another film which was unable to do the same as its older brother.
Movies by Alfred Hitchcock are always well done, Psycho is known as one of his best. In all of his movies there are many things that look like just normal everyday items. But they really are placed there to say something. In the movie Psycho, every item is placed, and every scene is perfect. From looking at all this we can say that Alfred Hitchcock is one of a kind director his work should not be imitated as there is only one “Psycho” and one “the birds”. He reached a specific audience by ranging his work to a wider audience in my opinion.
His special effect dragged in audiences to view his intricate and detailed work. Although the hays code prevented him from showing some of the things he might have wanted, the way he got people to think and imagine what happened next made this film one of a kind. He used his editing, media terminology and music to symbolise things which he was not allowed to show. The reason Alfred Hitchcock reached a specific audience was that he stretched the hays code as far back as he possible could.