It has been way too long since I have posted on the site and for regulars, I apologize but to be honest, there has not been much to excite me about the films in theaters since the middle of August. The only time I have been to the show in the last month was to take advantage of a BOGO coupon from AMC for the latest Mission Impossible film, which I Vlogged on when it came out. The drought ends now but not with a new release, rather with a screening of a fifty five year old classic from the master Alfred Hitchcock.
“Psycho” is a film that would be hard to find new things to say about, since it has been dissected and analyzed continuously for the last 55 years. I have a couple of comments to make about the film making itself but first some story telling about last nights event. TCM and Fathom have been screening classic in regular theaters for a few years now. I’ve seen “Double Indemnity” and “Jaws” at TCM/Fathom screenings this year alone. It’s a nice way to get to see classic films on the big screen with other fans. At last nights screening though, there were some fans that I doubted had seen the movie before. A group came in that consisted of two adults and four very young ladies. I was a little surprised that the girls who seemed quite young would be seeing this film. Even though it is older, the subject matter is very mature and the movie still is pretty scary. The women had sat a few rows behind us and the girls chose seats in the last row of the theater. I decided i should ask them what brought them to see the film, so I approached what I assumed were their mothers and asked if it would be alright to speak to the girls. I proffered a business card for my blog and they saw that I was there with my wife and daughter so they appeared to feel secure in giving me permission to talk to the girls.
The first question I asked of the girls was whether or not they had seen the movie before. Three said they had never even heard of it before and the fourth said she had seen a clip or two. I asked their names and ages and even though you are not supposed to speak to a women about her age, they shared that they were 11, 11, 10 and eight. I know that when I was ten, I’d have loved to see “Psycho” but my parents would not have allowed it. It was not until I was thirteen that I started seeing anything other than the classic Universal Horror films or a late night TV run of “Godzilla”. The world has changed a great deal and maybe kids are more sophisticated than they once were. I asked the girls if they liked horror movies and they all were very enthusiastic. Two of the girls had seen all of the “Scream” films, and they listed off several recent supernatural thrillers as favorites as well. I heard “The Conjuring”, “Annabelle”, “Paranormal Activity” and “Insidious” all being listed. One of the young ladies also mentioned that she had recently seen “The Gift” and she said that while it is not a horror film, it was very suspenseful and that was what she liked. I told them that this movie is scary and that it was a slow building suspense film and that I hoped they would enjoy it. One of them asked if it was in Black and White and when I said yes, she cooed in delight because she thought B&W films often had more tension because of the shadows and light. So, thank you Genevieve, Juliet, Athena and Eliza, I enjoyed talking with you and watching the movie with you as well. I’ll tell you what they told me after the movie down below.
As for the screening, there was definitely a technical problem because the film did not start on time. A couple of folks went out to prompt the employees and when the movie did start, it was with the credits and no Ben Mankiewicz introduction. His coda comments were included at the end but that was a bit frustrating to say the least. However, the fantastic Bernard Herrmann score kicked in on the credits and almost instantaneously, I was over being miffed and absorbed in the film. Janet Leigh in her underwear is pretty exciting stuff and that’s the first scene in the movie. There are always little things that you will notice on a big screen that escape your attention on video; for instance some of the billboards and highway signs on Marion’s road trip are much more noticeable. My wife jabbed me with her elbow when she saw that Norman Bates was eating candy out of a bag labeled “Kandy Korn” (it is a treat that I only indulge in during October and November).
The two things about the film that I want to make special mention of both occur before the first murder. Tension has been slowly building in the movie as Marion makes the fateful decision to abscond with the bosses money and run to her lover in the middle of California, but the movie has not gotten creepy yet. When the night driving strains her and we see her car is pulled over in the morning and a Highway patrol officer stops to investigate, that is when the weird vibe arrived for me. The highway cop keeps his sunglasses on the whole time he speaks to her, and he and Marion both are shown continuously in facial closeups during their conversation. It is unsettling in just the way being pulled over by a cop might be. Hitchcock’s timing and camera choices are setting us up for some similar unsettling close ups to come.
From my point of view, however bravado the shower scene in “Psycho” is, the most compelling scene in the movie takes place right before that. The conversation that Marion and Norman have as she nibbles on a cheese sandwich and he describes the world he lives in with his mother is the heart of the movie. Later on, a psychologist tries to explain events from a technical point of view, an anti-climactic expository of oedipus complex that is mostly unnecessary except as a set up of the last shot of Norman. Everything we need to know about the two characters is contained in this scene. Marion recognizes her own foolish desire to run away by listening to Norman take her words and spin them back to her. Norman reveals his fragile relationship with society, his mother and his own sanity with the small pieces of dialogue and facial tics that he shares. Janet Leigh was rightly nominated for her performance by the Academy in the supporting actor category, but how Anthony Perkins missed not only being nominated but also walking off with the top prize is another one of those great mysteries of Academy lore. This ten minutes of quiet madness mixed with tragic pathos is an amazing piece of film performance. The shock that comes from the murder will be exacerbated by these moments of human compassion the two felt during this impromptu meal. Later in the story, as the truth emerges as to who the killer is, we are even more aware how deep the “psychosis” must be to produce this effect. It would all mean nothing, and it would be as shallow as a “Friday the Thirteenth” film, if it were not for this scene.
As the cadaverous visage of Mrs. Bates deaths-head fades into the car being dragged out of the swamp, we are given that last minute to scream in horror at what we have witnessed. The nearly subliminal face transposition is a final shock to elicit a shudder from us as we make our way home, what a movie!
I saw the four girls in the lobby after the show and they all said they loved the movie. When i asked if they saw the twist coming, one of them said she did because she had seen a clip of the end of the movie but the other girls did not see it coming. One said she laughed at the reveal, I suspect because the appearance of the killer is so odd that laughter might be a good coping skill. I still have my doubts about the need for kids to be exposed to a film with themes and images like this, but the four girls seemed to hold out the promise that good film making will work for all of us. I did speak to the theater supervisor about the problem with the film and our missing the introduction, he apologized and provided a re-admit voucher to the three of us in our party. Exactly the right response for a customer, regardless of where the fault lies.
You have another chance to catch this classic on the big screen this Wednesday. Follow this link if you are interested in experiencing Alfred Hitchcock’s biggest screen success as it should be seen, in a theater with other appreciative movie goers.