Psycho

Alfred Hitchcock is renown as a master cinematographer (and editor), notwithstanding his overall brilliance in the craft of film. His choice of black and white film for 1960 was regarded within the film industry as unconventional since color was perhaps at least five years the new standard. But this worked tremendously well. After all, despite the typical filmgoer’s dislike for black and white film, Psycho is popularly heralded among film buffs as his finest cinematic achievement; so much so, that the man, a big name in himself, is associated with the film, almost abovehis formidable stature. Imagining it in color, Psycho would not appear as horrific, and maybe it would also not be, as a whole, as unified as it now stands, nor memorable. Black and white has a quality of painting things starkly, showing plainly truths about character, the emotional determination or mood, as in vulnerability, and other inexplicable, purely artistic elements. Regular among his works, Hitchcock opens the film with a hovering crane shot coasting over the setting of Phoenix, Arizona. Even without the mysterious, chilling soundtrack, the shot itself watched in silence evokes a timid passage into danger. In a long take it sweeps across the cityscape to build initial curiosity in the viewer, and then surpasses a curtain-drawn window into the presence of a hotel room’s trysting occupants. Immediately the viewer is called into confronting his/her discretion regarding those things we are not customarily meant to see, in such ideas as privacy and good taste. How far should the law step into a man’s world before he is discovered with reasonable certitude for engaging in illegal activities? This question can still come to mind about Norman Bates when he’s interrogated by Arbigast, even though it follows his murder of Marion Crane. Norman obviously growing in tension, the camera sadistically watches him from a low angle, bearing its aim on his throat as he feverishly chews and swallows candy corn bits. He’s suggested as a victim in a way, despite the viewer’s (probably, (in moral optimism)) routine support of the law. One can feel sorry for him. And how much do we question Norman’s character as he spies Marion undressing through the parlor wall peephole? Particularly today the viewer would likely question it less than one watching Psycho during its first, theatrical release, what with modern films’ overwashing of the senses in gore, mechanical sex and violence to program unconscious indifference in viewers. Maybe it doesn’t come to mind as readily because right after seeing the profile shot of Norman hiding in the peephole light and shadows, there’s a cut to the camera’s -- or the viewer’s -- voyeuristic assault on Marion’s privacy. This lessens Norman’s culpability. But noticing him in the act brings wonder to uncovering peoples’ secrets. Maybe these examples suggest engrossment of passive violence or wrong to such a modest intensity that the horror of the murder scenes still shock today’s viewer. Of course those scenes are further dramatized by Hitchcock’s fast editing; indicative of how wild and dangerous events occur within a trice of time in real life. And the awe is preserved by not mulling over the active violence in any indulgence, or further screen time. Mastery of just a few core elements in film apparently intensify its experience; of all, a compelling synergism for even an ordinary story.


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