Monday, March 20, 2017

We All Go a Little Mad Sometime, or Thoughts on Psycho

Contrary to popular belief, Psycho (1960) is not my favorite Hitchcock movie.  It’s easily in the top five, but number one, in case you care (and I know you do)  would be a tie between North By Northwest (1959) and Vertigo (1958) followed by Rear Window (1954), To Catch a Thief (1955), Strangers on a Train (1951) and then finally, Psycho (1960).  And that’s not counting my miscellaneous favorites like Rope  (1948), The Trouble With Harry (1955), The Birds (1963), Dial M. For Murder (1954).  I really like mid-century Hitchcock, that’s when he really hit his stride and made his most stylish movies.
But I digress, this review is about Psycho, a movie that film scholars have written books about analyzing it frame by frame, and Anthony Hopkins even starred in amovie about the production.   There’s really not much more to be said about Psycho so I’m just going to offer some random thoughts, the first being if you get a chance, see it in a movie theater.  A black and white film in a movie theater isn’t black and white; it’s black and silver.  The whites and the grays create an almost iridescent moonlight, there’s nothing like it, and the experience is lost on a TV or a computer screen.
Also far be it from me to spoil a 57-year-old movie but it should have been a clue for audiences when they saw Vera Miles get a higher billing than Janet Leigh during those iconic Saul Bass credits.  The movie as you are well aware opens with a portrait of Phoenix Arizona, and all those buildings and windows before focusing on one of them, looking inside, and telling the story of the people behind that window.  There’s a certain randomness at work here; like the hand of fate the camera has chosen a single window for us as the audience to peer into, and to follow that story wherever it goes.
The Hitchcock cameo comes fast, in front of Marion Crane’s office (he’s wearing a cowboy hat), Hitch always wanted to get his cameo out of the way because he felt it was distracting for audiences who were always looking for him and not paying attention to the plot.  The director’s daughter, Pat Hitchcock has a small role as Caroline, Marion’s annoying (and married, a sore point for Marion) co-worker.  Patricia Hitchcock always played unlikeable characters in her father’s films, it seems odd, like a reverse nepotism or some weird family issue being permanently embedded into American cinema.  However when you think about it, Hitch embedded a lot of his weird issues into his films, that’s what makes them so great.  But he had Robert Walker throttle her in Strangers on a Train (1951), I mean, who does that?
Additionally, the sequence preceding and following the shower scene is essentially silent; there's only one line and for more than fifteen minutes all the audience has are sound effects, Bernard Hermann's fantastic score and Anthony Perkins frantically cleaning up after his mother.  We're watching a silent movie and we're more than ok with it, we want more.  I've said it before, but this movie is the work of a genius from a master storyteller.
Vera Farmiga has done such a great job in Bates Motel in fully inhabiting the character of Norma Bates in such believable and compelling ways that it’s easy to forget that in Psycho, Norma existed as an interpretation of Anthony Perkins.  The audience hears a voice, actor Virginia Gregg, (a voice that technically, only Norman hears) who also featured in Psycho II (1983) and Psycho III (1986) as well as the rest of her appearing in classic American TV shows like Dragnet (1967), Happy Days (1974), Kolchak: The Night Stalker  (1974), The Rockford Files (1975) and The Six Million Dollar Man (1974).
It’s a uniquely American, mid-century gothic horror and the first American film to show a toilet.  It’s ironic that Anthony Perkins took the role to drop his teen idol image, only to fully inhabit a character that would follow him for the rest of his life.  And it’s also interesting that the movie starts out like a typical Hitchcock thriller, a girl on the run with $40,000 bucks, which has literally nothing to do with the plot.  These are just lives intersecting on a lonely highway, and that randomness that can sometimes lead to murder.  That’s the real horror, the snowballing of casual decisions that lead you down a dark path with no escape.





my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).