psycho


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Universal Studios presents the 1960 film “Psycho” by Alfred Hitchcock, adapted from the Robert Bloch novel by Joseph Stephano, and scored by Bernard Hermann. The film stars Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Janet Leigh, and a very creepy house. This film falling under the horror genre was based loosely on the novel of the same name which drew inspiration from real life serial killer Ed Gein, who has been the motivation for two other popular movies, “The Silence of the Lambs” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. The budget for “Psycho” ran under one million dollars and was the last film on Alfred Hitchcock’s contract with Universal. The film was shot entirely on set at Universal studios except for an early shot of Marion Crane’s (Janet Leigh) vehicle parked on the side of the road when she was too tired to continue driving, as well as the car dealership. Due to the budget constraints the films crew were made up of mostly people who were working on the, “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” television show. The film is about a man named Norman Bates, who runs a motel owned by his family. Norman is a victim of his ill mothers love. His mother becomes violent when Norman’s attention has been detracted from her needs. This film is a study of character, suspense, and storytelling; all reasons this film is considered an American classic. This film is unique due to several factors: its presentation, it contained two different point of views (with an interpreted third point of view), and it has some of the most impressive camera work for its time.
     “Psycho” contains many symbols and techniques that pushed the limit of acceptable filmmaking in the 1960’s. The violence had to be tamed in such a way that the audience would not be robbed of the experience. Hitchcock accomplished this by making the film in black and white. Not only did it aid him on the monetary front, but he felt the studio and the audience would be able to handle the graphic nature of the film with this technique. I’ve interpreted the use of black and white as a tool as to not draw attention away from the focal point of the scenes. Without visual distraction, the viewer becomes more attached to each character.
Another visual technique is the continuing motif of taxidermy. The characters discuss it briefly, there are some cutaway shots of the animals, but it is mostly left up to the viewer to infer the purpose of the visuals.

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The taxidermy is used to both foreshadow and symbol towards “mother”, and also a metaphor for Norman’s life. The blatant foreshadow is almost excused in the film because we are so infatuated with the dialogue in the parlour scene, which adds to its effectiveness. Meanwhile Norman is discussing in detail with Marion the tediousness of his life; he describes his daily routines about the bed sheets, and even admits to her that it is a routine that is hard to shake. He is empty inside as Norman Bates, much like the lifeless birds hanging on his wall. In comparison when he is “mother”, he isn’t lifeless but rather an overabundance of jealousy greed and dependence. A symbol that I think is extremely overlooked is the money wrapped in the newspaper. Clearly symbolizing an escape for the Marion Crane character, it is brilliant the way that Norman overlooks it. He is so driven by his mother that he discards his way out to please the other half of his personality.
All stories are developed first based on the point of view it is told from. Hitchcock has managed to tell the story from no less than three points of view. He first hired an established movie star to play the lead role. Janet Leigh captured the sly innocence of the Marion Crane character. The movie begins with her view of the predicament she is in and her opportunity to change that predicament. Hitchcock and Stephano purposely created the Crane character to lead the audience down a false path to enhance the shock value for the upcoming events. By dutifully grinding a slow moving story around the character, by the time Norman Bates comes along, the audience is so caught up in Marion’s dilemma; the Bates character seems dull and uninspired. I felt that the Bates character was uninteresting, just as Hitchcock wanted the audience to believe. Once the infamous shower scene took place, the films point of view changed forcing the audience to realize that the story they are watching is actually about the Bates character. It was a shocking and imaginative way to begin the first act of the film. The last two thirds of the film are dominated by Norman’s point of view but underneath that obvious layout was again the re-occurring taxidermy theme. An interpreted viewing of the film will suggest that present within the film is a real “bird’s eye view”; the third point of view being discussed. Although acting more as a symbolic point of view rather than a storytelling tool, this essentially narrates the theme of the entire film. The taxidermy within the film has already been defined as a symbol of mother, therefore shots involving the birds, or scenes in the film such as Norman taking his mother down the stairs in his arms, or the death of Arbigast on the stairs, can be concluded as mother is always watching.
The main star of the film is the camera angles. It is widely known that Hitchcock doesn’t get involved with character development. He believed that the hiring of a good screenwriter would compensate for this and that responsibility would lie with them. Hitchcock would storyboard his films and detail the shots he wants in the film. He basically instructed his actors where the camera would be and to get out all of their “troublesome” acting into the camera angles provided. Huge crane (no pun intended) shots such as the opening scene swooping through the hotel window, and the oblique camera angle panning out from Marion Crane’s eye, then focusing on the money, then finishing up on the house to eavesdrop on Norman’s dialogue with mother are just two scenes that provide awe inspired pauses to reflect on what was just seen. A few camera tricks have been included in this film as well. The infamous “psycho house” still located on the back lot of Universal studios in Hollywood, California, was built to a smaller scale. Upon driving a few feet from the house, it looked almost two-thirds the scale that is projected in the film. What Hitchcock did to develop the character within the psycho house, was film it from the base of the motel only, giving it a larger scale to the audience. One of the more subtle camera angles in the film is that often Norman Bates is shot from slightly low angle giving Norman the same imposing presence as the home he lives in. This adds to the already chilling depiction of the Bates family.
Although many of the ideas presented here are interpretations, each person watching this film will make many different conclusions. A good filmmaker leaves that privilege for any admirers of their work and this film is no different. When I watched “Psycho” again in preparation for this paper I felt that the last scene of the film gives an insight to what Alfred Hitchcock thinks about his body of work. I feel that instead of Anthony Perkins giving me the creepy smile and telling me that he wouldn’t hurt a fly, it is Hitchcock himself smiling at the audience because he knows he made the scariest movie of all time.
     


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