Have some fiendish fun in art

Gothic films can provide monstrous inspiration for creative endeavours
24th October 2014, 1:00am
Clarissa Jacob


Have some fiendish fun in art


Last year, I found myself simultaneously working as an art teacher at an international school in London and helping the British Film Institute to create education resources for its Gothic film season (www.bfi.org.ukgothic). It was a unique opportunity to discover some great films and find interesting ways to use them in lessons.

So, as Halloween approaches, here are some of my favourite Gothic-inspired activities for art classes.

Sketching Nosferatu

The amazing thing about silent cinema is that it relies on visual storytelling in a way that films with sound do not, and this makes it great for art lessons with almost any age group. For one lesson, I gave students some background on silent films and the plot of 1922 classic Nosferatu, which is pretty familiar to any vampire fans. Then I played the opening scenes of the film, pausing at certain points so students could sketch what was on the screen for one-, two-, five- and 10-minute periods. It is a black-and-white film, so this activity works especially well for charcoal sketching or using white chalk on black paper.

German Expressionism and cinema

A great way to expand students' understanding of Expressionism and how German Expressionist art influenced film is to play them Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920). These films can be effectively paired with the work of Kthe Kollwitz, August Macke and Lyonel Feininger. Both films can also prompt discussion of the wider historical context in which they were made.

Gothic posters

Studying film posters from the 1950s alongside more contemporary examples enables students to analyse the visual and textual strategies used by designers to entice cinema audiences. How has colour been used? What about text? There is a distinct move during this period away from colourful, detailed posters to a more pared-down, minimalist and monochrome aesthetic. Get students to think about which designs are scarier and which make them want to see a film.

Design your own

Building on the previous task, collect the titles of some fantastically named films - such as Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster - and ask students to choose one to design a poster for. Old B-movies are best because students are less likely to have preconceived ideas about them (and some of the titles are hilarious). Using the skills they have developed in analysing classic and contemporary film posters, students create their own examples, making use of the visual marketing tactics they have identified.

Create a monster

An article by author Neil Gaiman, in which he talks about watching Night of the Demon as a child and how effective it is that the viewer never sees the creature, inspired me to create a lesson on this 1957 horror film. After playing the scenes where characters describe the demon, ask students to sketch what they imagine it looks like. Particularly useful is an excerpt from the script, which can be used to create a storyboard of scenes leading up to the big reveal.

Clarissa Jacob has taught at the Lyce Franais Charles de Gaulle in London and is currently working on her doctoral thesis. She blogs at womenandfilmproject.wordpress.com

Science fiction in your classroom

For its latest season, the BFI is putting science fiction at the centre of its cinematic universe. BFI Education has created Sci-Fi in the Classroom, a top 10 of fantastic films accompanied by teaching resources and lesson ideas that will help you to energise subjects such as English, music and physics. The resources will be available on the TES website (bit.lyBFIEducation) from 3 November.

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