A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)

I think the most Hitchcockian moment in Psycho is the scene in which Norman disposes of the evidence by sinking Marion Crane's Ford in the swamp with her body and the slightly less than $40,000 she stole in its trunk. We watch as the car slowly settles into the murk with a comically disgusting blurping sound. And then it stops, and we watch Norman's face as he anxiously bites his lip. But just as he is starting out to see if he can help sink it farther, the blurping noise returns and the car sinks to the depths. Who doesn't feel Norman's anxiety and relief in that scene, even though he's a psychotic murderer? This trick of alienating viewers from their own moral values is essential to the greatness of Alfred Hitchcock. On the other hand, I used to think that the least Hitchcockian moment in the film was the psychiatrist's long-winded explanation of Norman's dual-personality disorder, which tells us nothing that we don't already know. But now I think it's a bit of masterstroke. Simon Oakland's performance as the psychiatrist is so florid and self-satisfied that it reveals the character as a pompous showboater, which only heightens the cool, ironic smugness of Norman/Mother in the film's chilling final moment. He/she wouldn't hurt a fly, indeed. What is there to say about Psycho otherwise? That Anthony Perkins is nothing short of brilliant as Norman? Of course. That Janet Leigh's Marion is so well-crafted that we wish she'd been given roles this good throughout her career as a mostly decorative actress? Yes. That Bernard Herrmann deserved all the Oscars he never got for his work on Hitchcock's films? His score for Psycho, for which Hitchcock rewarded Herrmann with a screen credit just before his own as director, didn't even get a nomination -- but then, neither did his scores for The Trouble With Harry (1955), The Wrong Man (1956), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), and Marnie (1964). For that matter, Psycho didn't receive a nomination for George Tomasini's film editing, despite the shower scene, a literal textbook example of the art. (That the scene had been storyboarded -- perhaps with the aid of graphic designer Saul Bass, who later even claimed that he had directed it -- doesn't deny the fact that someone, namely Tomasini, had to lay hands on the actual film.) Yet Psycho remains one of the inexhaustible movies, those in which you see something new and different at each viewing, even if it's only to add to your stock of trivia. This time, for example, I was struck by the fact that one of the cops guarding Norman at the end looked vaguely familiar. I checked, and he was played by Ted Knight -- The Mary Tyler Moore Show's Ted Baxter. How can you not love a film that provides revelations like that?

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