PSYCHO

Psycho
d. Alfred Hitchcock / 1960 / USA / 109 min
Viewed at: Downstairs @ the Prince Charles Cinema (London, UK)

Still from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho

Is there anything at all that hasn’t already been said/written about post-silent Hitchcock, let alone about a film as canonical as Psycho? Probably not, that’s why I actually attempted, during a screening of the recent British re-release, to identify what I really don’t like about it.

Of course, doing such is little more than a fools errand, and I could only come up with two rather petty points: Janet Leigh’s ridiculous, outsized hairstyle (until it gets wet, of course), and that pulpy, B-movie explanation for Bates’ psychosis at the hands of a strangely miscast psychiatrist.

Indeed, there really is a lot to like here: Saul Bass’ spare but wonderful titles, Bernard Herrmann’s magnificent, utterly riveting score, Anthony Perkins as the epitome of creepiness – the list goes on. And I think I’ve seen this film enough times now to start really appreciating the little things.

This time around, I was particularly taken by the lengthy cross-fades that mark any point at which characters – particularly Marion Crane – look directly (or almost directly) into the camera. There’s just something so sublime, simple and effective about these cross-fades that really draw you into the story:

Example of a cross-fade from Hitchcock's Psycho

Of course, it’s all related to Hitchcock’s obsession with voyeurism and the functions of the human eye:

Still from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho

Still from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho

And since Psycho is easily one of the most parodied films of all time, the web is overflowing with horrible little homemade spoofs. Now and again, though, you stumble across a little slice of genius like this – done on VHS and making great use of Anthony Perkins’ extracurricular crooning:

Of course, amongst his many talents, Hitchcock was also master of the cinematic trailer, so you should probably watch this also:

Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention the fact that the British Film Institute recently launched an appeal to help rescue all of Alfred Hitchcock’s silent films, and also hope to raise awareness about the only ‘lost’ Hitchcock, The Mountain Eagle (1927).

Hitchcock was a master, and Psycho was but one of his masterpieces.

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2 thoughts on “PSYCHO

  1. gelpi2010 says:

    I’m a self-described Hitch fanboy, so I enjoyed reading your observations. Sorry, but I even love the epilogue with the explanation – I think it fits the B-movie atmosphere of the low-budget production. Anyhow, it’s a masterpiece. And yes, I hope we get to find Hitch’s lost silent film.

    • steev says:

      I know what you mean about the B-movie atmosphere and in some ways, one of the most interesting aspects of Psycho (and I suppose Hitchcock in general) is the ability to navigate the narrow straits between serious-minded ‘cinema’ and his obvious pulp/genre obsessions.

      Thanks for reading!

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