TBD on Ning

Eyes. Drains. Stuffed birds. Windshield wipers. $40,000. Marion Crane. The Bates Motel. Norman Bates. Mrs. Bates. “She isn’t quite herself today.” A toilet. A study. A stutter. A private trap. A peephole. A kitchen knife. Skree skree skree skree! “Mother, oh God — blood, Mother, blood!” A car. A swamp. The Bates house. A detective. A crane shot. A creased bed. A sister. A boyfriend. A detective. An attic. A cellar. A rocking chair. A lightbulb. A wig. Skree skree skree skree! A psychiatrist. An asylum. A fly. A smile of the damned…. Half a century ago today, on June 16, 1960, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho had its world premiere in New York City, and in the 50 years since it
has become the rare movie in which every image and detail and motif is now, more or less, iconic. Every moment in the movie is a piece of mythological Americana.

So it turns 50 today. Have you see it? What are your thoughts?

Tags: 50, classics, movies, psycho, years

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Replies to This Discussion

By the time I saw Psycho, the movie was more than scary — it had become cool.

There was a deeper cool connection as well. “Psycho Killer” explicitly made the statement that Psycho was rock & roll. And the thing is, it now was — in a way that no one could have conceived back in 1960, when the movie came out. It took place in an atmosphere of dark and stifling ’50s conformity, when an afternoon tryst had the musky, sinful air of secret depravity, and Marion Crane, stealing that $40,000, was like Doris Day taking a walk on the wild side. In that context, Norman Bates’ knife was the primal force that cut through the repressive ’50s blandness as potently as Elvis had. Sure, Norman was a maniac serial killer dressed in his mother’s Victorian rags, but when he slashed that knife, he brought down a world of civilized propriety that needed to be brought down.
I look back and see it as Hitchcock “going indie.” He shot it on an exceedingly modest budget, using much of the crew from his TV series, and you have to appreciate the radicalism of that choice at the time. Hollywood film making, as Alfred Hitchcock practiced it, was a deluxe affair. In paring himself down, he was saying that he wasn’t going to hide behind production values — that he was looking to reconnect to something raw, simple, primitive, elemental. I can’t tell you how many filmmakers today I wish would give themselves a similar challenge (top choice: Martin Scorsese). Psycho has the joy of cinema because Hitchcock burned away the commercial-movie fat until there was nothing left but cinema.
Have you ever counted the dirty metaphors? Try watching the movie and ticking off the loopy erotic entendres that pepper the dialogue in the opening 45 minutes (“Wow, it’s hot as fresh milk!”). They’re there in almost every line. And they’re part of what gives Psycho its weirdly corseted porno atmosphere.
To me, it’s the way that Hitchcock places the audience at the center of the movie. At first, we identify with Marion. Then, in the single most revolutionary act in the history of Hollywood cinema, Hitchcock takes the main character of what appears to be a classically structured, three-act narrative and literally cuts her out of the picture. What does the audience do then? There are a lot of theories about this (David Thomson meditates on it thoughtfully in his 2009 book The Moment of Psycho), and the most conventional is that our sympathy shifts over to poor, beleaguered Norman. The truth is that it shifts around — from Marion to Norman to the detective to Lila and Sam. Finally, though, we rise with Hitchcock’s camera above all of them, merging — literally — with the director’s omnipotent view. As that happens, the mystery at the heart of the film (who’s doing the killing?) draws our emotions like a cosmic magnet. The mystery becomes, in effect, the main character, and we merge with that mystery.
My favorite scene is the dinner conversation between Marion and Norman in Norman’s office. The acting in that scene is superb, with Anthony Perkins providing glimpses of Norman’s madness while maintaining his vulnerability, and Janet Leigh displaying both fear and sympathy in a wonderfully understated way. Compare the original to the botched version in Gus Van Sant’s remake and you’ll realize how much depth that Perkins, Leigh, and Hitchcock brought to the film.

What scares me was not the shower scene. I somehow can’t remember a time when I didn’t know what happened in the shower scene, so that lessened the shock. The scariest moments include the murder of Arbogast, which always makes me jump, Norman’s general creepiness in his conversations with Sam Loomis and with Marion Crane, the “peeping” scene, and, last but not least, the smile of absolute evil given by Norman aka “Mother” at the end of the film. To me, that was the smile that killed Anthony Perkins’ career, typecasting him forever as the unstable neurotic or psycho. Love all the bird metaphors (Marion Crane literally becomes like one of the stuffed birds on Norman’s wall, except he doesn’t stuff her. But close enough!
It’s one of my all-time favorite movies. I think my favorite scene is when Norman is peeking at Marion through the hole in the wall… it’s such a crazy thing to see in a movie made in 1960. And his reaction to it is brilliant… the hole in the wall already exists, meaning he has done this before, but he then becomes almost repulsed at his own perversion. It’s a simple scene that says a lot about the complexity of human nature and the relationship between our public repression and our private urges/pleasures. To your list of films that transcend time, I would add Jaws.




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