The Thriller


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The Thriller

  1. 1. The Thriller Lesson Objectives To look at what constitutes a ‘thriller’.
  2. 2. The ‘Thriller’ – what is it?  Discuss with your partner what films you have seen that you think are ‘thrillers’.  Make a list of as many as you can think of.  Films you have chosen:
  3. 3. Common Misconceptions:   For the purpose of this unit, I want you to think about thrillers less like: And more like:
  4. 4. The ‘Thriller’ – what is it?  ‘The thriller is a very difficult genre to pin down because it covers such a wide range of films. Thrillers are films of suspense … that are supposed to instil terror into the audience.’ – Susan Hayward, Key Concepts in Film Studies  Different types of thrillers are:      spy thrillers political thrillers conspiracy thrillers Legal thrillers … and, most obviously, psychological thrillers.
  5. 5. Aspects of the Thriller
  6. 6. “When you enjoy something, you must never let logic get too much in the way. Like the villains in all the James Bond movies. Whenever Bond breaks into the complex: ‘Ah, Mr Bond, welcome, come in. Let me show you my entire evil plan and then put you in a death machine that doesn’t work’.” -Jerry Seinfeld (SeinLanguage, 1993)
  7. 7. “MEEP! MEEP!  Animated director Chuck Jones worked at Warner Brothers for decades making short movies starring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and company.  He also made the Road Runner cartoons and from the first episode, an elaborate set of rules emerged…
  8. 8. The ‘Rules’ 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. The Road Runner cannot harm or upset the coyote except by going ‘MEEP! MEEP!’. No outside force can harm the Coyote, only his own ineptitude or the failure of Acme Products. The Coyote could stop anytime – if he were not a fanatic. No dialogue ever, except ‘MEEP! MEEP!’ The Road Runner must stay on the road – otherwise, logically, he would not be called the Road Runner. All action must be confined to the natural environment of the two characters – The Southwest American desert. All materials, tools, weapons, or mechanical conveniences must be obtained from Acme Corporation. Whenever possible, make gravity the Coyote’s greatest enemy. The Coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures.
  9. 9. Do films follow rules?   Some film-makers will claim that ‘there are no rules’ or that ‘rules are there to be broken’. However, most would agree that there are certain conventions that mainstream films observe in order for them to be acceptable to the mass audience.
  10. 10. Main Task   Working with a partner, try to think of as many ‘features’ or ‘rules’ which you think make up a ‘thriller’. Obviously, as we have discovered, there are many different types of thrillers, so this may be difficult. You can include:     Different technical aspects Plot generalisations Character types Re-occurring themes/situations
  11. 11.    Brainstorm a list of thriller films, then, in pairs see if you can identify some of the rules that they always seem to follow. Make a list for yourself to record your own ideas Are some rules less likely to be broken than others? Try prioritising your rules (into those that are never broken and those which can be broken).
  12. 12. Aspects of the Thriller: Hitchcock
  13. 13. The only way to get rid of my fears is to make films about them. “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” •Alfred Hitchcock was the master of suspense whose films came to be the benchmark for ‘psychological’ thrillers. “If it's a good movie, the sound could go off and the audience would still have a perfectly clear idea of what was going on.” “Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.” “I am a typed director. If I made Cinderella, the audience would immediately be looking for a body in the coach.”
  14. 14. The Suspense ‘Thriller’ – Hitchcock model  ‘Under the strong influence of Alfred Hitchcock, thrillers often begin with a crime and the accusation of an innocent bystander. Were the accused to contact the authorities, no doubt the case could be promptly solved, but instead the poor bystander runs from the law thus further jeopardizing life and limb.’ – Rick Altman – Film/Genre     Some examples: ‘The 39 Steps’ – 1935 ‘North by Northwest’ – 1959 “ [In]…The Thirty-Nine Steps….suspense films abandon both thrills and suspense when the falsely accused character finally reaches safety” Rick Altman (again)
  15. 15. Suspense and Shock  Example: Imagine a scene  Example: Now imagine the same scene except that instead of the camera revealing the bomb under the table it, without any warning, explodes and kills all present.  This is SHOCK! in a film similar to this (classroom, students, teacher). The camera reveals that there is a bomb under the table to the audience but we (the students, teacher) are unaware of it.  Will we be saved? Will the bomb go off?  This is SUSPENSE! 
  16. 16. Sabotage (1936)   Watch this scene and imagine how shocking it must have been to an audience in the 30s. How is suspense created?
  17. 17. Rope (1948)   Tells the story of two young, wealthy men, Brandon and Philip, who strangle and murder a friend of theirs just to see if they can get away with it. They then invite other close friends (including the murdered man’s parents!) to their apartment for a dinner party, whilst hiding the body in a chest/box in their sitting room, just to see if they can get away with it!
  18. 18. Rope (1948)  The suspense is created through the body in the chest/box.  What will happen? Will the body (and the two men) be discovered and brought to justice? Do we, the audience, even want this to happen?  
  19. 19. Hitchcock’s ‘Maguffin’.  A MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin or Maguffin) is a plot device that motivates the characters and advances the story, but has little other relevance to the story. “We have a name in the studio, and we call it the 'MacGuffin.' It is the mechanical element that usually crops up in any story. In crook stories it is always the necklace and in spy stories it is always the papers."
  20. 20. The ‘Psychological’ Thriller The Mind, Conflict and the Past   The suspense created by psychological thrillers often comes from two or more characters preying upon one another's minds, either by playing deceptive games with the other or by merely trying to demolish the other's mental state. Sometimes the suspense comes from within one solitary character where characters must resolve conflicts with their own minds. Usually, this conflict is an effort to understand something that has happened to them.
  21. 21. Narrative – Structure, Formulas and Devices
  22. 22. For example:  Use of ‘continuity editing’.  The clear establishment of ‘cause and effect’ plotting which establishes character motivations and helps tell an interesting story which proceeds logically and steadily.
  23. 23. Enigmas  This refers to a puzzle, something mysterious or inexplicable, or a riddle or difficult problem.  In thrillers this is commonly something which the protagonist has to try to find out or solve before the narrative is resolved and the film finishes.
  24. 24. ‘Red herrings’    A red herring is the name given to a device which intends to divert the audience from the truth or an item of significance. Can work with other devices (enigmas) to create suspense. For example, in Saw two characters spend time imprisoned in a room in which a third character lies dead. Throughout the film, both characters appear to be guilty of a series of murders, until it is discovered at the end that the third person in the room is not actually dead but is, in fact, the killer.
  25. 25. North by Northwest (Hitchcock, 1958)  “…dusting crops where there ain’t no crops”  Main character, Thornhill, sent to meet a man (Kaplan) who will explain why he has been mistaken for a government agent and, we believe, help him.
  26. 26. Cliffhangers    Sometimes, although not always, used. Often feature a main character in a precarious or difficult dilemma, or confronted with a shocking revelation. This can entice the audience to keep watching in order to see how the situation resolves itself.
  27. 27.  It’s not exactly, strictly speaking, a thriller, but The Italian Job (1969) gives us a witty example of this in it’s famous ending.
  28. 28. Analysis of Film Openings
  29. 29. Main Task  Go through the work sheet, filling in the details as we watch the openings of these films.
  30. 30. 1. Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)   This film has an extremely difficult narrative structure where events are told in 10 minute segments but backwards. This echoes the confusion that the main character feels as he struggles to remember events.
  31. 31. 2. Brick (Rian Johnson, 2005)
  32. 32. 3. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)