Friday, December 30, 2011

Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock

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halloween;


bats..........


witches.....


Psychos......?


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Halloween seems to be the favoured time of year for directors to release yet another saga of tacky and uninspiring horror movies, each as laughable as its predecessor. However, this year we have been promised different; in the long awaited Cannes Film Festival - ‘true horror will be bought back to our screens.’ The three day festival is expected to display ‘the best of the horror genre’ giving it the opportunity to portray true horror. Will choosing the films a difficult task? Maybe, perhaps there will be arguments about what to show on the last day. But surely the choices are otherwise obvious. There are some films, one or two, over which there can be no debate; namely Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’.


How can one of, if not the greatest horror movie of all time, not be included, in such a respected film festival? This would be sacrilege!


First screened in June 160 Psycho took box-office records by storm, its controversial content shocked its audiences, and the brilliance of Hitchcock’s editing and cinematography was bound to make it one of the best films of all time! However, it wasn’t just these qualities that made ‘Psycho’ such a renowned horror movie. One must not forget Hitchcock’s skilful, yet quirky usage of black and white film, even


when colour was available. The usage of black and white enabled Hitchcock to play with light and dark. Shadows, sillouhettes and reflections are created with ease, adding to dramatic effect creating a feeling of suspense and unease. The clever usage of lighting is particularly apparent in Lila’s discovery of the skeleton of Norman’s mother. She flings her hands back in shock, hitting the low hanging light bulb causing it to sway, creating a mass of dancing shadows, as though there is another figure in the room about to pounce on Lila.


This creative and effective form of suspense works in parallel with Hitchcock’s highly convincing and exceptionally crafted camera shots. Throughout ‘Psycho’ Hitchcock uses numerous different camera shots, each one creating its own effect. For example, he uses long distance shots to create an atmosphere, and to encourage the viewer to want to get closer to the picture, anxious to discover what is to happen in greater detail. This is used when Bates Motel is framed giving the viewer a sense of horror that is to come. This shot has become a classic image of cinema, being used in all modern horror movies. Dolly shots are also used to this effect in the very opening scene, when Hitchcock zooms into the apartment building where Marion and Sam are. Hitchcock uses subjective shots to allow the audience to empathise with the character. These shots enable us to experience the drama that the character is going through, we become part of the action. Another shot that Hitchcock uses to the same effect is close-up shots, we are forced to take in the characters’ facial expression and how they are feeling. The most obvious scene in which he uses this is when Marion is driving down the highway, after having just stolen $40,000. She has the clear emotion of distress on her face, and we are forced to see that, and sympathise with her. Hitchcock also uses repetitive camera patterns to express the most important parts of the movie. For example he almost always has a bird in the shot when Norman is there, suggesting another presence; that someone else is watching them/him hence his split personality. He also does this with the money, although this is to ‘put you off the scent’ and believe that Marion’s fate will have something to do with money.


‘The Shower Scene’ is one of the most famous scenes in the history of film. I bet if you asked anyone who is involved in the film industry, they would be able to give you a perfect summary, of the beautiful blond being murdered by the twisted psychopath, a scene in which Hitchcock’s true skill as a director really becomes obvious.


Hitchcock is able to catch Marion’s vulnerability at being caught naked and exposed, and at the same time capture the horror that she is about to encounter. The camera angles at which he shoots this scene forces the audience to feel sympathetic towards the character, and put ourselves in her position. For example shots of her neck, and her with her mouth open reinforce her vulnerability and defencelessness. And even though we are aware of the dark approaching figure, we are still surprised to see the actions that it takes; drawing back the curtain and fatally murdering Marion. Again the ingenious camera work that is used, is able to avoid any glimpse of nudity or the knife coming into direct contact with her skin. This allows the viewer to give their ‘own view’ on the scene without Hitchcock having to show every little detail. Another great aspect of this scene is the dark and chilling score that is used by the composer, Bernard Herrmann. The contrast of the low, shallow sounds from the cellos and the screeching, high-pitched, fast-working violins, really express Marion’s emotions, and the music really displays to the audience how she feels. Towards the end of the scene we view a close-up of Marion’s hand slowly slipping down the tiles of the shower, as though it is her last chance of life. As she lies motionless on the floor, Hitchcock focuses on her eye, a tear slowly dripping from it, the last tear she shall every cry. This brings a finality to the scene, indicating to the audience that Marion is ‘finally’ dead.


In ‘Psycho’, Hitchcock’s ability to manipulate the audience by giving them subplots to follow, intensifies the horror that is to come. The opening scene of ‘Psycho’, gives the impression that it is a romance movie, as two lovers are our first image. It then changes to a plot of stolen property, when Marion steals the money and is pursued by the policemen, we imagine that the danger is coming from the law. It is not until we see the horrific murder of Marion, that we realise it is a horror film, and we are immediately put on the edge of our seats. Hitch cock is able to make his viewers, believe what he wants them to, this is what makes him such a great director, and a profound master of manipulation.


As a viewer of ‘Psycho’, we are again, manipulated by Hitchcock, to sympathise with the characters and allow them to lead us in a different direction. We become especially attached to Marion, even though she has stolen money. She gives the impression that she is a exposed character, and this makes us feel sorry for her. This is an important aspect of the film because if we didnt care for Marion, and weren’t emotional involved with her character, then the death would be pointless. This is important because if we did not feel anything for Marion, her murder would be pointless and the beautifully crafted shower scene would be ruined. We are also forced to feel the same way towards Norman. Even though we have the inkling that he is Marion’s murderer, as the car begins to sink, and suddenly pauses, we urge the car to continue, because we do not want him to get caught. Hitchcock has masterfully manipulated us into sympathising with a murderer and a thief. Hitchcock also uses certain aspects of the movie to relate the audience to the characters, and the film itself. For example , the most obvious being the name Norman. The name Norman, sounds like normal; implying that he is a ‘normal’ guy. This ‘freaks us out’ slightly that someone we know who is ‘normal’ could be like Norman, and have a different side to them. Hitchcock uses subjective shots, so we are forced to get into his character as a psychopath. We find ourselves in his position, looking through a small peep hole into Marions room, whilst she is getting undressed. It makes us feel uncomfortable, and starts to show us the other side of Normans personality.


‘Psycho’s’ Oedipal theme had been used in earlier films, however the way in which Hitchcock constructs ‘Psycho’ is significantly different compared with regular horror movies of the time, which just involved aliens and out of space creatures. The theme shocks audiences, it gets inside us, confuses us to think that a son could love his mother so much, that he can be possessed to act as her, and think the way she might have. The film explores how people who have such extreme illnesses can be so incredible dangerous.


When we sit down to watch ‘Psycho’, we notice the strange cracked lettering that is displayed in the opening credits. One immediately thinks that Hitchcock must have used these to create a felling of eeriness, although it is not until we meet, and find out a little more about Norman, that as a viewer, we realise a true meaning................. Norman Bates is caught in his own private trap - obsessed with mother love, he refuses to let go of his deceased mother and clutches on to her feelings and thoughts. The audience realise that Norman is the Psycho, he is the source of the cracked title. Norman Bates is the split personality.


However, this film will be remembered for Hitchcock’s flawless directing skills. Like many of his other movies he has the ability to change the pace superbly. He makes us feel comfortable for the first few scenes, but once we ‘get past that mark’ he frightens the hell out of you, and puts us on tenterhooks for the rest of the film.


So...... The 160’s classic that broke box office records by miles, and earned over fifteen times as much as it took to make, gave audiences shower phobias and brought Motel sales down by 15%, and still is one of the great, or even the greatest horror movie of all time, and do I still have to ask........ why should they include it?





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