I rewatched Psycho last night. It might be my favorite Hitchcock – up there with Notorious and Vertigo for me. I like Psycho for some classic Hitchcock reasons, but also because he’s got a few moments in here that seem a bit anomalous for him, at least in 1960. I’d be curious to hear if anyone has any comparables.
My take on Hitchcock’s greatness stems largely from his penchant of alternately hiding information from his audience and characters. Some of these are pretty famous scenes (see his scene in The Birds, which I wrote about briefly HERE).
SMALL SPOILERS HERE
But some moments are much smaller, and in less celebrated scenes. You could make some of the same points I’ll make below for the well-documented shower scene, but I want to concentrate on Arbogast’s (Martin Balsam) murder.
Arbogast enters Mother’s house, looks up the ominous steps-
-and starts climbing:
Hitchcock then cuts to a high angle of him. I don’t know the production history here, but this looks rear-projected to me. Probably because it’s the same effect used for post-murder. Arbogast looks to his right-
-and Hitchcock cuts to a door opening a crack. This is where he gets tricky. The classic POV, and one that Hitchcock uses quite a bit, is a three shot sequence: a shot of the person looking, a shot of what they look at, and a shot of them reacting. Here, Hitch has 2 of 3…or so it seems. So, Hitch is telling us that Arbogast sees the door opening:
But when the director cuts back to Arbogast he’s oblivious and looking ahead. There’s no third shot in that POV sequence. Also, in hindsight, the railing would/should have been in the foreground of the door opening-shot to make it a true POV. Suddenly, our fear changes (increases). Arbogast doesn’t know that someone else is there! He’s in danger!
Hitchcock then cuts to a pretty famous overhead shot. It exceeds the limits of the set – it’s an impossible shot. But what I really like about it is how the sudden change in angle is actually what is as frightening as Mother charging out with a knife. It’s such a dramatic cut, such an inflected shot, that the change in view is overly jarring:
It’s this next shot that seems different to me than other Hitchcock. It’s simple, but really beautiful. As Sam (John Gavin) comes looking for Arbogast, Hitch cuts to Norman (Anthony Perkins) at the bog. It make sense for the narrative: Norman is hiding evidence and he hears Sam; it’s not like this is just an aside. Still, it seems odd for Hitchcock. The slow dolly in (which is absolutely gorgeous) to the (possible) protagonist/antagonist character feels more internal than what the great director would usually prefer:
Watch it HERE.
Something else that I noticed this time through, is how important Sheriff Al Chambers’ (John McIntire) line “If the woman up there is Mrs. Bates, who’s that woman buried out in Greenlong Cemetery?” It’s such great misdirection, made all the more important that it’s what the scene ends on. What a great transitional beat – at that point, anyone who confidently “knows” what’s happening has to rethink their guess.
The Secret of the Grain
More small SPOILERS:
I figured I should write about this film since Blue is the Warmest Color is getting a ton of hype, and I think that this is Kechiche’s best film.
The Secret is odd because the premise doesn’t seem super suspenseful: a family opens a couscous restaurant. But Kechiche gets such beautiful performances (Hafsia Herzi as Rym, the young girl who helps her father, is particularly fantastic) from many non-actors, his technique of mostly close-ups really works for the family dynamic, and the ending is perfect.
For all of the plot synopses you can read for the film, it’s actually a thriller! There’s an ending crosscut that drags the suspense for ages and gets such mileage out of simple problems. And that’s the name of the game with The Secret: simplicity. In classic screenwriting form, Kechiche takes the most mundane of problems and puts interesting obstacles in the way left and right.
The ending is sort of like the anti-closure, closure. Majid (Sami Zitouni) is nowhere to be found, Slimane (Habib Boufares, the man character) is probably dead…but things still work because of the tension to that point. As a side-note, Slimane’s final scene reminds me of something from contemporary and 90s Iranian cinema.
The best part of the film, however, is that with 20 minutes left, it still all seems so unpredictable and impossible to wrap up. When watching it the first time I actually asked aloud, “how the hell is he going to finish this thing.” There are so many balls in the there and possibilities. Even with 10 minutes; with 4 minutes…Kechiche just keeps all of his characters moving – and that’s what’s so key.