Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)

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Magic Hate Ball
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#26 Post by Magic Hate Ball » Mon Jul 14, 2008 8:21 pm

I know what he means by "baroque". Look at The Man Who Knew Too Much remake, and the final opera house scene. It's like the film's chipped out of marble or something. It's very stately.
Antoine Doinel wrote:Well, Grace Kelly looks fabulous, but I can do without "tanning salon" era Cary Grant.
And the striped shirt that sends my TV into spastics.
moviscop wrote:
domino harvey wrote:There has never been a performance in any Hitchcock film better than Joan Fontaine in Rebecca. This is science fact.
Tippi Hedren? Marnie?
Are you kidding? With her face pulled back into that ridiculous donut hair?

Props55
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#27 Post by Props55 » Mon Jul 14, 2008 9:10 pm

Just when you think nothing new can be said about an established classic along come personal observations that spark new perspectives. Thanks Michael, Colin et al for addressing the sketchy, bare, soul-less, mundane workaday world of PSYCHO and reminding me of just how forcefully this film ripped through so many conventions of its time, both social and cinematic. Not just the rather tame conventions of presenting violence and sexuality but that of presenting young attractive middle-class characters as ecstatically happy while on a chrome-plated, fast track to the joys of '50s suburbia instead of trapped by social, economic and spiritual malaise. Despite the print ads promising a "new" kind of Hitchcock thrillride (and hinting strongly at illicit sex) I doubt anyone seeing this film expected to experience the spectacle of a couple like Leigh and Gavin meeting for furtive lunchtime sex in an airless old downtown hotel then retiring to such dead end jobs as hers in the stifling office and his in a musty hardware store. Sure we've seen handsome folks working real jobs but there were a few rays of sunshine or a least a key and some fill light to brighten up their lives. Not these people. They're trapped in and by some of the flattest lighting in any Hollywood A feature of the '50s. Thanks to Hitch and John Russell every image seems thick with a hot, tactile desert air until the liberating rain washes away the frustration, hysteria, panic and guilt. But only momentarily.

I really need to see this again!

Note to fiddlesticks: I concur re the attractiveness of the MARNIE cast and especially Diane Baker. In fact, one of the reasons this film fails to work for me is that Baker is a much more tempting sexual object than Hedren.

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Polybius
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#28 Post by Polybius » Tue Jul 15, 2008 12:02 am

Michael wrote:Psycho's cast is extra lean and oozes raw sex.
Image

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tojoed
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#29 Post by tojoed » Tue Jul 15, 2008 4:32 am

domino harvey wrote: Why do you argue against science?! [-X


I have this art versus science thing. I can't help it.

Narshty
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#30 Post by Narshty » Tue Jul 15, 2008 6:13 am

domino harvey wrote:But to appease your desire to discuss the film at hand directly: Hitchcock considered this film a comedy. :shock:
Why does that surprise you - it's a series of ghoulish practical jokes played on the characters and the audience. You can just see Hitchcock chortling away all through the shooting.

Then again, I'm not much a fan of Psycho anyway - all the talky scenes (about 60% of the film) are extremely wearying on repeat viewings, especially when you've got a director with as much of a tin ear for dialogue as Hitchcock.

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Michael
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#31 Post by Michael » Tue Jul 15, 2008 7:21 am

Polybius wrote:
Michael wrote:Psycho's cast is extra lean and oozes raw sex.
Image
Yes, Arbogast too. Depending on my mood.
Then again, I'm not much a fan of Psycho anyway - all the talky scenes (about 60% of the film) are extremely wearying on repeat viewings, especially when you've got a director with as much of a tin ear for dialogue as Hitchcock.
Really? The diagolues are perfect - very direct and pulpy. Everyone talks as if he's in a rush except for that wonderful exchange between Marion and Norman in the "parlor". I find those actors deliver their lines very believably, filtering through their own unique personalties.

Narshty
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#32 Post by Narshty » Tue Jul 15, 2008 8:41 am

When dialogue is delivered well in a Hitchcock film, I tend to consider it the actor's achievement. There are some nice exchanges in the early part of the film, but once Janet Leigh's no longer around it slumps noticeably. Maybe I'll have another look at it if I bump into it and check for the fireworks you mention.

(In the meantime, how about the terrific Psycho II, one of the most enjoyable and underrated films of the 80s?)

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Michael
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#33 Post by Michael » Tue Jul 15, 2008 10:02 am

Narshty wrote:When dialogue is delivered well in a Hitchcock film, I tend to consider it the actor's achievement. There are some nice exchanges in the early part of the film, but once Janet Leigh's no longer around it slumps noticeably. Maybe I'll have another look at it if I bump into it and check for the fireworks you mention.
Psycho's dialogues are pretty direct and simple to give the characters the "everyday/common American folks" vibe. The only "elaborate" lines came from the psychiatrist in the end, "elaborate" simply because it's all BS. Doesn't he remind you of Dr. Phil? Typical the way Americans swallow everything from the media.

When I think of Hitchcock, I don't think of dialogues like the way I think of directors like Woody Allen and Richard Linklater. Hitchcock is all about what you see and music reinforces that more than words.

Narshty
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#34 Post by Narshty » Tue Jul 15, 2008 10:47 am

Oh, Hitchcock's skills are unmistakably visual, which is why I find a script with as much dialogue as Psycho (and dialogue of the standing around in a room talking type) in certain ways an odd choice and one that I don't think he manages to transcend. It's very theatrical and old-fashioned, despite the on-the-nose modernity of the chatter itself, but whether this is an idiosyncrasy (the old and the new, etc.) or an outright flaw is one to debate.

(As a sidenote, I think one of the best ever directors of dialogue is Sam Peckinpah, and he's no slouch with a strip of film. But I don't want to turn this into a pissing contest between two cinematic greats of visual impact.)

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Polybius
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#35 Post by Polybius » Wed Jul 16, 2008 4:04 am

Michael wrote:Yes, Arbogast too. Depending on my mood.
Touché

In all of the times I've seen the two films, I don't know why it hadn't occurred to me until last night that Balsam and Perkins were also both in Catch-22.

It was a real feather in their caps.
Last edited by Polybius on Thu Aug 25, 2011 1:26 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Michael
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#36 Post by Michael » Thu Jul 17, 2008 5:58 am

Now reading Stephen Rebello's book. Very entertaining and exhaustively detailed. I saw Psycho so many times throughout my life but for reasons I still can't articulate, my recent rediscovery of Psycho slammed me hard. :? I never took Psycho as anything emotional except suspense, it was the most brilliant, the greatest slasher film and nothing more. But then all of sudden, emotions and themes hidden from me for the most of my life finally filled up every desert-dry crack of the film last week. (It is really hard to shake off the almost-Antonioni-esque "emptiness" of Marion's killing and Norman's isolation.)
(In the meantime, how about the terrific Psycho II, one of the most enjoyable and underrated films of the 80s?)
It's now in my Netflix queue. There are countless lame rip-offs of Psycho but I always feel that the only one film that deserves to be the successor of Psycho is truly the Psycho of my generation: Halloween. Even though Halloween doesn't have the sneakily brooding resonance of emotions and themes (not like it needs to have them or maybe I haven't noticed them yet), it still shares the same spirit of a slasher film as Psycho.
Last edited by Michael on Thu Jul 17, 2008 6:48 am, edited 1 time in total.

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SoyCuba
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#37 Post by SoyCuba » Thu Jul 17, 2008 6:22 am

Michael wrote:I always feel that the only one film that deserves to be the successor of Psycho is truly the Psycho of my generation: Halloween. Even though Halloween doesn't have the sneakily brooding resonance of emotions and themes (or maybe I haven't noticed them yet), it still shares the same spirit of a slasher film as Psycho.
Have you seen Santa sangre? It's Jodorowsky's take on many of the themes in Psycho and a slasher film in many ways as well. It always leaves me in tears.

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Michael
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#38 Post by Michael » Thu Jul 17, 2008 7:04 am

SoyCuba wrote:
Michael wrote:I always feel that the only one film that deserves to be the successor of Psycho is truly the Psycho of my generation: Halloween. Even though Halloween doesn't have the sneakily brooding resonance of emotions and themes (or maybe I haven't noticed them yet), it still shares the same spirit of a slasher film as Psycho.
Have you seen Santa sangre? It's Jodorowsky's take on many of the themes in Psycho and a slasher film in many ways as well. It always leaves me in tears.
It's been a long while since I saw Santa Sangre. I can certainly see some of the themes of Psycho in Jodorowsky's film however its style is very carnivalesque and dense, and always overly populated. It resembles mostly of late Fellini and Argento.

It's a far cry from the dry, lonely world of Psycho. However I still think Halloween is the closest to Psycho than any other slasher films, including Santa Sangre because what it seems to me is that Hitchcock and Carpenter shared the same passion realizing their own slasher films - low budget/cheap and direct like a cold stab (nothing florid). Their amazingly simple music scores are equally effective and powerful. Mrs. Bate's skull glowing through Norman's face in the end is as unsettling as Michael vanishing into the night darkness of the suburban backyard.

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colinr0380
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#39 Post by colinr0380 » Thu Jul 17, 2008 10:19 am

I like Psycho II - it is perhaps unfair to try and expect it to reach the heights of the original but it gets closer than most sequels and is certainly far better than any sequel made 23 years later could expect to be. The director Richard Franklin died last year.

I do agree about Halloween. It is a beautifully shot and composed film (another good double bill idea - P.J. Soles movies with this and her unlikeable character in Carrie both coming to sticky ends!)

I like the temporal and spatial consistency - i.e. that it mostly takes place in one night, the time divided up according to the movies showing on TV, and that feeling that you can be speaking to someone across the street on the phone and as soon as you hang up it is like they are in another world and anything could be happening over there, whether it is casual sex or casual death! So close and yet so far.

And also that the 'responsible' Doctor has the disturbing speeches explaining Myers while the killer himself is silent and purposeful - as if in psychoanalysing him Loomis has extracted the killer's reasoning and abusive past leaving himself tormented by the killer's past while leaving Myers empty of feelings of pleasure in his murders or reasoning behind why he is doing them, just with the compulsion to commit them remaining.

I didn't really like the move in the later films to Laurie being Michael's sister therefore giving Michael 'motivation' to have targeted her in the first film. It is much more frightening to just be targeted and attacked for no particular personal reason. I'd like to think that instead of Myers wanting to get his sister in particular he is more involved in targeting the town of Haddonfield itself and what could be perceived as the hypocrisy of small town wholesomeness compared to all these young women abandoning the kids they are meant to be babysitting without a second thought to go off and bonk each other (the thing that set Michael off as child - due to annoyance at being ignored or that his sister was having fun with another boy?)

And the way Myers pushes his luck by going after Laurie (and is about to sully the above M.O. because she is actually looking after the kids in her care), when he could have killed all the 'bad' kids and disappeared into the night even earlier! I would suggest that if he had succeeded in killing Laurie then he would have had to have been captured and killed. By Loomis forcing Myers into keeping his 'philosophy' of who he kills clean, it allows him to disappear without punishment - and to become the urban legend used to keep babysitters on the straight and narrow!

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Faux Hulot
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#40 Post by Faux Hulot » Thu Jul 17, 2008 12:24 pm

SoyCuba wrote:Have you seen Santa sangre? It's Jodorowsky's take on many of the themes in Psycho and a slasher film in many ways as well. It always leaves me in tears.
I met Jodorowsky around the time when Santa Sangre was released, and he said that the only movies he was watching then were slasher & gore films.

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Michael
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#41 Post by Michael » Fri Jul 18, 2008 12:18 pm

A little write up of Psycho, reading it brought my mind to L'avventura (also made the same year as Psycho) occasionally. =

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Michael
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#42 Post by Michael » Tue Jul 22, 2008 10:30 am

Just finished reading Stephen Rebello's Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. Whoa, a great, great book. It brilliantly details what makes Psycho such a landmark film and why it stands out of all of Hitchcock's cinema. It was fascinating reading about Hitchcock being thrown off by the unexpectedly wild popularity of Psycho, a very cheap film for him to make. The script writer Joseph Stefano mentioned a scene edited from the rough cut - it showed Janet Leigh, after being stabbed in the shower, lying dead on the bathroom floor with her buttocks showing and all. Stefano found the scene the most devastating and poetic and he was very upset that Hitchcock edited that scene.

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Balthazar493
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#43 Post by Balthazar493 » Tue Jul 22, 2008 10:37 am

I've used Rebello's book as a course text a number of times when I've taught a class on Psycho. It is an entertaining book, for sure, and useful for its production information, but a great book? I don't see on what grounds such a claim would be made. Moreover, it is a work of journalism more than a work of criticism. (Which, in fact, is why it's just a good classroom text.) His insight into the film, aesthetically speaking, is virtually nil.

As for the SHOT (not scene) that Stefano refers to: there is never any discussion in Rebello of how exactly such a shot would have actually been passed by the censors (an overhead shot of Janet Leigh's buttocks?). More importantly, we might ask: how would such a shift have broken the "subjective" spell of the sequence?

BTW this "poetic" shot does appear in Van Sant's film, and, it is the opposite of haunting.

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Michael
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#44 Post by Michael » Tue Jul 22, 2008 10:51 am

The book is great for all the reasons you mentioned : entertaining and very informative. I was totally riveted by Hitchcock's handling of Psycho, how it went through the censors, and so forth. Film journalism rarely gets this very readable and fun.

Funny I don't remember the "poetic" shot in Van Sant's film. Just to be clear, "poetic" is Stefano's own description of the shot, not mine.
More importantly, we might ask: how would such a shift have broken the "subjective" spell of the sequence?

BTW this "poetic" shot does appear in Van Sant's film, and, it is the opposite of haunting.
I see what you're saying but the "haunting" quality of Hitch's Psycho has a lot to do with its cinematography being black and white, not color like Van Sant's.

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tryavna
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#45 Post by tryavna » Fri Jul 25, 2008 4:07 pm

Michael wrote:
Narshty wrote:When dialogue is delivered well in a Hitchcock film, I tend to consider it the actor's achievement. There are some nice exchanges in the early part of the film, but once Janet Leigh's no longer around it slumps noticeably. Maybe I'll have another look at it if I bump into it and check for the fireworks you mention.
Psycho's dialogues are pretty direct and simple to give the characters the "everyday/common American folks" vibe. The only "elaborate" lines came from the psychiatrist in the end, "elaborate" simply because it's all BS. Doesn't he remind you of Dr. Phil? Typical the way Americans swallow everything from the media.
Missed this thread as I was catching up over the past week.

Psycho is, without a doubt, one of the best films for introducing young people to black-and-white cinema. I remember TA-ing for a basic Intro to Film course, and this was one of a handful of B&W the professor showed, but Hitchcock was actually the director more students chose to write their papers on than anyone else. It obviously had not lost its power one whit for newbies to the world of Hitchcock (and black and white).

My one problem with the film, however, is exactly the one you highlight, Michael: The psychiatrist's long-winded speech at the end overexplains the film and brings it to a standstill (at least until we go into Norman's cell). It's one of the single worst sequences in an otherwise great film.

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Michael
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#46 Post by Michael » Fri Jul 25, 2008 4:23 pm

tryavna wrote:My one problem with the film, however, is exactly the one you highlight, Michael: The psychiatrist's long-winded speech at the end overexplains the film and brings it to a standstill (at least until we go into Norman's cell). It's one of the single worst sequences in an otherwise great film.
I used to despite that sequence, found it to be the only flaw of Psycho. But as years went by, after a few more viewings, I no longer feel the same way.

#1: Psychiatrist's babble is another form of voyeurism, adding another piece to Psycho's already beautifully serpentine tapesty of voyeurism. He spells everything out that's wrong with Norman with such a know-it-all attitude. He tries to dig into Norman and still thinks he gets Norman right. But of course he doesn't. I think Psycho is Hitchcock's sneaky way of painting America in a very unflattery way. Americans tend to "buy" everything from doctors, psychiatrists, cops, etc and it still goes on today with Dr. Phil for instance.

#2: This sequence also gives us some time to "rest" or "recover" especially right after Lila runs into Mrs. Bates before getting the blow of that amazing ending.. Once we feel everything's all "right, calm and settled" with the "help" of the psychiatrist, we then stalk quietly into Norman's cell with him staring directly through us, reminding us that no one will ever "get" him. Very few films end as unnerving and creepy as Psycho.

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tryavna
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#47 Post by tryavna » Fri Jul 25, 2008 4:43 pm

Interesting points, Michael. I'm not sure that I entirely buy into your very wide definition of "voyeurism," particularly in the case of psychoanalysis. At any rate, this is clearly an example of someone explaining in words rather than Hitchcock himself showing us something visually, and that seems antithetical to Hitch's project here.

As for #2, I can certainly accept that Hitch needed to provide a brief respite (and perhaps, at a stretch, even an explanation), but the scene just rambles on far too long. It could easily be cut in half, timewise. (Or even better, the film could be allowed to end more ambiguously, as The Birds so wonderfully does.) As is, it sucks too much energy from the film right after an exceedingly exciting climax: you're ready for the film to come to its bleak ending, but it keeps putting it off. Each time I rewatch Psycho, I'm always surprised at just how long that sequence is.

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Michael
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#48 Post by Michael » Fri Jul 25, 2008 5:00 pm

Quoted from Roger Ebert:
For thoughtful viewers, however, an equal surprise is still waiting. That is the mystery of why Hitchcock marred the ending of a masterpiece with a sequence that is grotesquely out of place. After the murders have been solved, there is an inexplicable scene during which a long-winded psychiatrist (Simon Oakland) lectures the assembled survivors on the causes of Norman's psychopathic behavior. This is an anticlimax taken almost to the point of parody.

If I were bold enough to reedit Hitchcock's film, I would include only the doctor's first explanation of Norman's dual personality: "Norman Bates no longer exists. He only half existed to begin with. And now, the other half has taken over, probably for all time." Then I would cut out everything else the psychiatrist says, and cut to the shots of Norman wrapped in the blanket while his mother's voice speaks ("It's sad when a mother has to speak the words that condemn her own son..."). Those edits, I submit, would have made "Psycho" very nearly perfect. I have never encountered a single convincing defense of the psychiatric blather; Truffaut tactfully avoids it in his famous interview.

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tryavna
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#49 Post by tryavna » Fri Jul 25, 2008 5:05 pm

I know that many critics have felt the same way about the film's ending, but I'm honestly surprised that Ebert and I are actually using some of the same words ("long-winded," etc.).

Now I'm scared....

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kinjitsu
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#50 Post by kinjitsu » Fri Jul 25, 2008 5:19 pm

A little more input on the shrink from Robin Wood:
The psychiatrist's "explanation" has been much criticized, but it has its function. It crystallizes for us our tendency to evade the implications of the film, by converting Norman into a mere "case," hence something we can easily put from us. The psychiatrist, glib and complacent, reassures us. But Hitchcock crystallizes this for us merely to force us to reject it. We shall see on reflection that the "explanation" ignores as much as it explains (the murder as symbolic rape, for example). But we are not allowed to wait for a chance to reflect: our vague feelings of dissatisfaction are promptly brought to consciousness by our final confrontation with Norman, and this scene in the cell, entirely static after the extremes of violence that have preceded it, is the most unbearably horrible in the film. What we see is Norman, his identity finally dissolved in the illusory identity of his mother, denounce all the positive side of his personality. "Mother" is innocent: "she" spares the fly crawling on Norman's hand: it is Norman who was the savage butcher. Thus we witness the irretrievable annihilation of a human being. The fly reminds us of Marion, who wasn't spared: the act constitutes a pathetic attempt at expiation before the pitiless eyes of a cruel and uncomprehending society. For a split second, almost subliminally, the features of the mother's ten-year-dead face are superimposed on Norman's as it fixes in a skull-like grimace. The sense of finality is intolerable, yet it is this that makes our release possible: we have been made to see the dark potentialities within all of us, to face the worst thing in the world: eternal damnation. We can now be set free, be saved for life. The last image, of the car withdrawing from the dark depths of the bog, returns us to Marion, to ourselves, and to the idea of psychological liberty.

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