director Alfred Hitchcock
I’ve been a bit late to the game in queueing up good horror film fare for October, the month of Halloween, but that’s not to say that I haven’t been planning some. Somewhere in the more subversive parts of my mind, I decided that it was prime time to introduce the kids to Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, Psycho.
Is it appropriate for every 8 year old and 11 year old to watch these films? Not necessarily. Frankly, Poltergeist is the one that they still talk about. It could be a lot worse.
When I ended up watching The Birds on my lonesome last year, I made the realization that I hadn’t seen a Hitchcock film in the years that I’d been keeping this diary. Which is kind of odd. Because when a friend of mine in film school mentioned that he was writing about Hitchcock for his thesis and I suggested that at least made for a topic for which there was a good deal of reference material, he was surprised. Really? A lot written about Hitchcock? Are you kidding me?
Maybe it is me and my odd journey toward film studies that I think one of the first books that I ever read related to film studies was Truffaut’s Hitchcock (1985). Somewhere in the back of my brain ever since has lingered Truffaut’s analysis of films like Psycho. In fact, I think that even in this current watching of the film I was reminded of “bird” imagery in Hitchcock’s films, how they represented “chaos” and how symbolic it was for Norman Bates to have a multitude of taxidermy birds in his “parlor” and that his first victim is named Marion Crane.
It’s all part of why I wanted to introduce the kids to Hitchcock and one of the world’s most famous films. It’s part of having a background of experience of originary material. Being familiar with a source of cultural reference and having first-hand knowledge of what “Hitchcock” is.
My last viewing of Psycho was in film school. I think someone was showing the first part of the film as an example of something, perhaps “the male gaze” but what struck me so intensely was the utter control of the viewer by the director. While you can set up a camera anywhere and film and capture things more or less “by accident”, there is nothing accidental in Hitchcock, particularly so in Psycho. The viewer is keyed into what Hitchcock wants you to be focused on, drawing the viewer along not unlike a ride in an amusement park, prepping one for the shocks and plot twists as they come round the bend.
The inherent morbid humor and Freudian innuendo comes to the fore. From Norman suggesting that “mother isn’t herself today” to his absolute cower in the face of entering Marion’s room, where the bed is clearing sitting. The nuance of that ride is as pleasurable as ever, especially for those who enjoy such frightening things, particularly the black comedy therein.
What’s funny is how un-shocking it is by today’s standards. In fact, to keep the plot twists in place, which is key to enjoying the film for a first-timer, I had to keep dissuading the kids from asking too many questions and repeatedly said, “just watch it!” And that would be my advice to the novices out there who have never seen Psycho. Sadly enough more are born every day and more unlikely to appreciate it. For those who have seen it, most likely you saw it in a place and time when it had the power and ability to shock and surprise you, reason enough not to delve into plot detail here.
The kids both enjoyed it. It will be interesting to see how it sits with them over time. And less so whether I catch some hell over showing it to them.