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The European release of a spiffy new version of the film—one that I cannot, as yet, properly watch, still!—spurs some personal reflections. A Very Special Foreign Blu-Ray Disc Report, at The Daily Notebook, as ever.
Posted at 09:10 AM in Appreciation, Housekeeping | Permalink
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Thanks for this, Glenn. I'm with you, and fell in love with this film the night I caught it one late night on WOR (complete with that black band to mask Janet Leigh's cleavage). Ended up taping it off the TV with a dinky cassette player, even buying the Richard J. Anobile frame-by-frame book ('cause that's what we used to have to do in the old pre-VHS days, never mind pre-foreign-region DVDs).
Just a programming note that the wonderful Bruce Goldstein at the Film Forum has booked PSYCHO for a whole week later this year -- including screenings on Halloween....
Stephen Whitty |
August 17, 2010 at 09:53 AM
Nice post. Given that Psycho is 15 years older than me, it's hard to imagine a time when it was actually brand new and audiences were watching it for the very first time without knowing what was coming. What a thrill opening night must have been.
Stunned your TV still isn't fixed. Stunned! I was looking forward to reading about the transfer. Never mind, I shall find out for myself when I get my hands on it, in a steelbook case no less.
Owain Wilson |
August 17, 2010 at 09:55 AM
Such a treat to wake up and read this. PSYCHO holds a special place in my heart as my longest running "favorite" film. It's also the first film that made me want to, in the words of Truffaut, "get closer and closer to films."
I read Stephen Rebello's book at least once a year and every-time I do I love PSYCHO a little bit more.
August 17, 2010 at 10:39 AM
It's even MORE perfect now that you can see Martin Balsam's make-up.
Chris O. |
August 17, 2010 at 12:02 PM
Do you really like the second half? Aside from a few moments - the car being dredged out of the water, Arbogast walking up the stairs, Perkins's monologue at the end - I don't think the movie has anything to say, any real purpose, once Leigh is dead. Most of it's not much better than a bad episode of Hitchcock's TV show. I'm particularly thinking of would-be spooky scenes like, "if that's not Mrs. Bates buried in the graveyard, who IS buried there???", and John Gavin's unintentionally comical dialogue with Perkins, in which Gavin sounds like he walked out of some D-list noir, unaware that Perkins inhabits an entirely different universe. The first half, of course, is a masterpiece.
Asher Steinberg |
August 17, 2010 at 12:25 PM
Not a big fan of the film, for reasons not limited to Asher's comments above. Probably wouldn't even make my Hitchcock Top 10. I understand what he was doing, but I just don't like it very much.
Having just seen Peeping Tom for the first time about a month ago, it saddens me that Powell's superior (and far more daring) work essentially ended his career, while Hitchcock's took his to another level.
August 17, 2010 at 01:09 PM
With the possible exception of Strangers on a Train, the best Hitchcocks (39 Steps, Lady Vanishes, Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest) are romantic films, so that is why I agree with Asher and lazarus. Psycho is a lot of fun, but it's missing what makes Hitchcock the master.
Michael Adams |
August 17, 2010 at 01:30 PM
In college I had to do a paper/presentation, per my professor's requests, on "Psycho"; edited clips together and everything. And of all the violence, the themes, the idea of vulnerability (in the bathroom where you're pretty darn vulnerable), the references to "M" or "Le Corbeau," all the iconic shots of the film, the music, et al, for some reason the thing that sticks with me the most then & now is the cop peering into the car window with his blank expression and mirrored sunglasses. Brr. His following her right before and after this moment gives me chills as well. And if I channel surf and it's on, I hope to catch it around this time just to be re-creeped out. (Do you think Kubrick was inspired by this sequence for "Lolita" when they're being followed? It gives me the same feeling.)
Looking forward to this Blu Ray and (as mentioned in the earlier thread) Criterion's "Night of the Hunter". Just got the Preston Neal Jones "Hunter" book and I'm enjoying it. Time to save some pennies.
Chris O. |
August 17, 2010 at 03:15 PM
The cop is indeed chilling---part of what makes the first half of PSYCHO so riveting is its vision of a pretty lady's world in which every man is a threat, and the one man who's a nice guy is the worst of them all.
Fuzzy Bastard |
August 17, 2010 at 05:23 PM
I don't really have much of a problem with the film's second half, although I fully admit it simply cannot, by definition, play as powerfully as the first. Robin Wood, in his "Hitchcock's Films Revisited," defends it, or rather contextualizes it (he sees no reason to defend it, at least not in the sense of special pleading with respect to some of the specific objections raised above) far better than I could. Here's one bit that does, obliquely, address some of those objections: "The other characters (Sam, Lila, Arbogast), perfunctorily sketched, are merely projections of the spectators into the film, our instruments for the search, the easier to identify with as they have no detailed individual existence." It's worth remembering that there was a time during "Psycho"'s existence when not everybody knew what the ending was. Hitchcock's nods to narrative convention in the second half were, one is obliged to admit, necessary, and I don't think poorly or inaptly executed.
Glenn Kenny |
August 17, 2010 at 05:33 PM
"The cop is indeed chilling---part of what makes the first half of PSYCHO so riveting is its vision of a pretty lady's world in which every man is a threat, and the one man who's a nice guy is the worst of them all."
Well...she HAD just stolen a bunch of money.
I can see having certain issues with Sam and Lila, but where can the objection to Arbogast possibly come from? Perfunctorily sketched, maybe, but Balsam brings such everyday authenticity to the role, and such doomed intelligence. He's smart enough to know something's up, and that's why he dies.
August 17, 2010 at 06:39 PM
I just re-watched Peeping Tom last week, after first seeing it about a decade ago, and my reaction was that it really doesn't hold up well (to me). Hitchcock weaves his ideas firmly into a gripping narrative and a subtle yet forceful visual scheme, and Powell tends to be blatant with his statement-making ("Get it? He literally kills them with a camera!")
I'll also stand up for the second half of the film. Yeah, Vera Miles doesn't have anything to do and John Gavin is a big old piece of wood, but the whole second act feels to me like the echoing repercussions of the first half - as Wood said, a search for meaning in a universe in which the protagonist is dead, the narrative has become undone, all stability is undermined. In other words, whereas the first half of the movie is full of tension, for me the second half is full of mourning.
Jeff McMahon |
August 17, 2010 at 06:59 PM
PSYCHO was actually the first DVD I ever looked at. When I bought my first player, around 1997-98, I also bought several discs of all-time favorites I'll never forget -- A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, 2001, GOODFELLAS, CASABLANCA, and PSYCHO.
And it was the Hitchcock that I chose to put into the machine, not so much to watch it, but to try out all the buttons, figure out what they did or could do, the details of whatnot -- "learning to drive" the machine, as it were. As a result, I think I spent a whole evening "watching" not much more than the opening scene.
Victor Morton |
August 17, 2010 at 07:07 PM
In addition to what Mr. McMahon said, here's the other thing about the second half of PSYCHO. The first half and the shower scene have so shaken the foundations that everything, even the most banal activities, is now fraught with tension and menace.
Hitchcock famously described "suspense" (not speaking specifically of PSYCHO in that context) with the image of the audience knowing about the ticking bomb under the table. Under such circumstances, he said, even the most rote conversation -- "let me go back inside to get an umbrella," I think was Hitch's example -- becomes suspenseful.
The whole second half of PSYCHO has a ticking bomb placed under the table.
Victor Morton |
August 17, 2010 at 07:19 PM
A pleasure to read, and unlike some of the above, I do think the second half stands up, granted on the foundation of a much stronger first half...
But that said, I wonder why this is in the foreign region DVD report? Okay, this European edition might have preceded the American release by a few weeks, but this is basically a port of the upcoming US version in every way. Might this section be better served by bringing attention to those release that don't enjoy identical release in the states?
Mike Mazurki |
August 17, 2010 at 07:26 PM
yes, perfect film. i love the 2nd half of PSYCHO as much as the first. hitchcock's audacity to pull out the rug and leave the audience stranded (more or less), still exhilarates me. so does janet leigh's performance in general and 'not inordinately' in particular.
also groundbreaking: a toilet!
August 17, 2010 at 09:26 PM
@ bp -
"hitchcock's audacity to pull out the rug and leave the audience stranded (more or less), still exhilarates me."
I don't want to be the pedant of this thread, but it does always bug me when Hitchcock gets the full credit for this. The same thing happens in Robert Bloch's novel. It may be that Hitchcock/Stefano built up Marion Crane a bit more than Bloch did (I honestly can't remember), but she still dies, early on, unexpectedly, and in the shower.
August 17, 2010 at 10:19 PM
Oh, never mind. I just checked the book, and she doesn't last very long there, in comparison to the film, so there's clearly a big difference in the way she's presented in the two versions.
August 17, 2010 at 10:32 PM
Aw dang---the comments on SCOTT PILGRIM are closed?!?!? Damn you, LexG! I just saw it, and was going to say how thrilled I was to see a movie that was both formally inventive *and* genuinely thoughtful. I was expecting a couple hours of sugar rush, and got it, but the way the film sets up and then subverts the Shy Guy Meets MPDGirl scenario---exposes the whole Michael Cera character, really, as not sweet but just weak (*not* Cera himself, who seems to be a very smart, funny guy)---makes it both the best-directed and the smartest teen movie in quite a while.
Fuzzy Bastard |
August 17, 2010 at 10:32 PM
Balsam's questioning of Perkins is one of Hitchcock's finest collusions of image, metaphor and performance.
August 17, 2010 at 11:09 PM
Let me address Mike Mazurki's question: "Why why this is in the foreign region DVD report? Okay, this European edition might have preceded the American release by a few weeks, but this is basically a port of the upcoming US version in every way. Might this section be better served by bringing attention to those release that don't enjoy identical release in the states?" Yes, it might. Except I think I would be doing a disservice to releases that don't enjoy identical releases in the States a disservice based on reviewing them after watching them on a computer, which is the only way I can watch foreign-region discs with my plasma display being currently on the fritz. Yes, the "Psycho" notice is a write-around, such as it is. I apologize. But next week, there's probably going to be no Foreign Region DVD Report. And the week after. And on, and on, until the goddamn part comes in from Japan, gets shipped to the TV repair lab, etcetera, and so on.
Glenn Kenny |
August 17, 2010 at 11:16 PM
Thanks Glen, I wasn't trying to be assy about it, I just look forward to your reviews of new releases from labels like BFI, MOC, Second Run, Carlotta, etc..releases that I'm not always sure whether to go the extra mile and check out for myself. In any case, I hope Japan comes through for you soon.
Mike Mazurki |
August 18, 2010 at 09:28 AM
@ Mike, I don't think you were being assy. Did I sound like I thought you were being assy? Now that I've been accused, in a private e-mail from the very unpleasant real person behind Lex G (a contact I idiotically initiated, hoping to find a common thread of humanity...talk about the abyss staring back!), of being unfailingly condescending to my readership, I"m kind of paranoid about that.
Anyway, my tone was meant to reflect my frustration at the situation, not any irritation with you. Believe me, I'd like nothing better than to get back to what I'd been doing with the Foreign Region Report. There's a Blu-ray of "Paranoiac" sitting on my coffee table, mocking me. And a lot of other cool stuff, too.
Glenn Kenny |
August 18, 2010 at 09:52 AM
Glenn, if you were unfailingly condescending to your readers, I think you would have been called on it long before Lex's e-mail. Just consider the source.
August 18, 2010 at 10:19 AM
Shucks no, Glenn! I re-read my own post and thought I came off as a bit of an ass is all. Nothing to do with your tone, which has never struck me as condescending in the least!
I meant to post a comment after your Abbey Lincoln tribute a few posts back, but sadly it's now closed, no doubt due to LexG's pissing in the swimming pool and spoiling it for everyone. Just meant to say thanks for highlighting the passing of a great jazz talent (I'm a big fan of her work with Max Roach & Booker Little), as well as great performance in "Nothing But a Man".
Mike Mazurki |
August 18, 2010 at 10:25 AM
LOL, while you're at it why not mail LexG copies of your apartment keys and some travelling money, tell him he's welcome to pop round for a chat anytime?!
Oliver C |
August 18, 2010 at 10:32 AM
Glenn, one of lex's favorite bizarro tacts is to accuse everybody of being "condescending" -- after he's scrawled a paragraph on why you're a douchebag and everybody is stupid etc. A right-wing bully trick.
August 18, 2010 at 11:39 AM
Oh, man, a Blu-Ray of PARANOIAC? I feel your pain (especially since I have yet to acquire an HD TV). That flick has one of the most amazingly lurid plotlines ever, and it looks great. Hang in there, Glenn. Cover it with a magazine or something so it doesn't mock you too much.
August 18, 2010 at 11:50 AM
Christian, give the "right-wing" thing a rest, why don't you? I don't see how it applies here. I know Lex claims to lean that way, but he also clearly has no political POV whatsoever, since he doesn't care enough about anything.
August 18, 2010 at 12:30 PM
I agree, it's pretty clear Lex is apolitical and just claims to be right-wing because he knows it'll annoy people.
Jeff McMahon |
August 18, 2010 at 01:52 PM
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