I've never seen Psycho


There's a popular BBC Radio series called I've never seen Star Wars in which celebrities admit to missing out on various popular cultural experiences, they then do them, and give marks for the experience. My equivalent of this is I've never seen Psycho. This is actually quite odd. I'm a huge Hitchcock fan, and have seen every one of his 50 feature length talkies except for Psycho.

I'm not quite sure why I became so set against it; but I did and have only ever seen excerpts from it. Until last night, and this was largely thanks to the film Hitchcock, which was an entertaining look at the story behind the production of Psycho, and the relationship between Hitchcock and his talented wife, Alma Revill - a top movie editor in the British film industry of the '20s and '30s, Hitchcock's right-hand woman, and (allegedly) the hidden writer of Psycho.

So.....Psycho the film. What did I think? Well, it didn't blow me away, I don't think it was the best thing that Hitchcock ever made, but.....it's an incredible bit of film making, and it really does represent Hitchcock in a nutshell. All the elements that make his films uniquely his are here, but more-so.

For a director who specialises in thrillers, Hitchcock is well-known as being the director who doesn't make Whodunits. You always know early on with Hitchcock films exactly who did the deed. Oddly with Psycho this could be reversed. You shouldn't realise till well through the film that Anthony Perkins is probably the murderer; but.....when Hitchcock publicised the film, he made it very clear from early on that the story was based on Ed Gein, the serial killer. I wondered about this as he didn't need to make this so obvious, but the murderer is as much of a McGuffin in this tale as the $40k stolen by Marion Crane.

(A McGuffin for non-Hitchcock nuts is something that's essential to move the plot along, but is not really what the film is about, so the $40k is essential, but is incidental to the central themes of madness and family loyalties)

In Psycho Hitchcock subverts the accepted norm of the genre. With crime the innocent or at least those who are repentant should be avenged or emerge triumphant, while the guilty are of course punished. But in Psycho this is reversed, mad Norman is cited by the psychologists as innocent of his actions while repentant thief Marion dies, with her intention to return the stolen money unknown to everyone except the viewer. It's clever stuff.

As with all Hitchcock it's brilliantly tightly edited. The use of black and white film neatly sidesteps any problems that the censors might have with blood, but also harks back to Hitchcock's time with UFA and German expressionist cinema. It's also darkly funny with a fantastic performance from a young and surprisingly handsome Anthony Perkins, while Janet Leigh gives a wonderfully understated performance.

Hitchcock also turns the film back on the viewer. Look at the photo of Anthony Perkins. Is he hiding behind his hands? Or is he actually the director sizing up a shot of the viewer?

One of the very best things about Psycho though is Bernard Herrmann's score. Yes, we all know the shower scene, but it's so much more than that. It's a spare score, but wonderfully well written with little leitmotifs that etch themselves into the viewers' consciousness.

So, if you've never seen Psycho, do. It's dead good...


Popular Posts