Psycho analysis


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Psycho analysis

  1. 1. AS Film Studies: FM2 British & American Film Psycho Case studyAS Film StudiesBritish & American FilmSection C: American Film ComparisonCase Study 1: PSYCHO1
  2. 2. AS Film Studies: FM2 British & American Film Psycho Case studyPsycho, 1960Director Alfred Hitchcock,Studio Universal, US,Budget $807, 000Gross $32, 000, 000Written by Joseph Stefano (Based on Robert Bloch’s book)Cast:Anthony Perkins Norman BatesJanet Leigh Marion CraneJohn Gavin Sam LoomisVera Miles Lila CraneMartin Balsam Milton ArbogastPlot summary:Marion Crane is a Phoenix, Arizona working girl fed up with having to sneakaway during lunch breaks to meet her lover, Sam Loomis, who cannot getmarried because most of his money goes towards alimony. One Friday,Marions employer asks her to take $40,000 in cash to a local bank fordeposit. Desperate to make a change in her life, she impulsively leaves townwith the money, determined to start a new life with Sam in California. As nightfalls and a torrential rain obscures the road ahead of her, Marion turns off themain highway. Exhausted from the long drive and the stress of her criminalact, she decides to spend the night at the desolate Bates Motel. The motel isrun by Norman Bates, a peculiar young man dominated by his invalid mother.After Norman fixes her a light dinner, Marion goes back to her room for ashower....2
  3. 3. AS Film Studies: FM2 British & American Film Psycho Case studyPsycho notesSome key points…• Psycho is a very different type of horror picture.• Rather than have the antagonist be that of a visual monster, NormanBates is attractive, “normal”, and welcoming.• Horror of human psychology and the realistic terror associated with theprobability of meeting a disturbed individual allowed this picture toachieve new heights of terror and suspense.Pre-production• The film is based on the novel by Robert Bloch, which was in turnbased (although very loosely) on the crimes of Wisconsin serial killerEd Gein. Hitchcock acquired the film rights anonymously through anagent for $9,000.• Hitchcock embraced Psycho as a means to regain success andindividuality in an increasingly competitive genre. He had seen many Bmovies churned out by William Castle such as House on Haunted Hill(1958), and by Roger Corman such as A Bucket of Blood (1959) thatcleaned up at box offices despite being panned by critics. With Psycho,he seized on it not only for its originality but also as a way to retake hismantle as an acclaimed director of suspense.• Hitchcock himself said in an interview with French critic and directorFrançois Truffaut that "I think the thing that appealed to me was thesuddenness of the murder in the shower, coming, as it were, out of theblue. That was about all.• Hitchcock chose to film Psycho in black and white, keeping the budgetunder $1,000,000. Other reasons for shooting in black and white wereto prevent the shower scene from being too gory.Shower scene• The films pivotal scene, and one of the most famous scenes in cinemahistory, is the murder of Janet Leighs character in the shower• It features between 71 and 78 angles (the exact number is unknown).The scene runs 3 minutes and includes 50 cuts.• Most of the shots are extreme close-ups, except for medium shots inthe shower directly before and directly after the murder.• The combination of the close shots with the short duration betweencuts makes the sequence feel longer, more subjective, moreuncontrolled, and more violent than would the images if they presentedalone or in a wider angle.• The soundtrack of screeching violins, violas, and cellos was an originalall-strings piece by composer Bernard Herrmann entitled "The Murder."• The blood in the scene is in fact chocolate syrup, which shows upbetter on black-and-white film, and has more realistic density thanstage blood.3
  4. 4. AS Film Studies: FM2 British & American Film Psycho Case study• The sound of the knife entering flesh was created by plunging a knifeinto a melon.• The knife I never seen to actually penetrate Leigh’s skin• Although Marions eyes should be dilated after her death, the contactsnecessary for this effect would have required six weeks ofacclimatization in order to wear them, so Hitchcock decided to forgothem.Promoting the film• Hitchcock did most of the promotion on his own, forbidding Leigh andPerkins from making the usual television, radio, and print interviews forfear of them revealing the plot. Even critics were not given privatescreenings but rather had to see the film with the general public, which,despite possibly affecting their reviews, certainly preserved the plot.• The films original trailer features a jovial Hitchcock taking the viewer ona tour of the set, and almost giving away plot details before stoppinghimself..• The most controversial move was Hitchcocks "no late admission"policy for the film, which was unusual for the time. Hitchcock thoughtthat if people entered the theatre late and never saw the star actressJanet Leigh, they would feel cheated. At first theatre owners were up inarms claiming that they would lose business, but after the first day theowners enjoyed long lines of people waiting to see the film.• The film was so successful that it was reissued to theatres in 1965.LegacyPsycho is a prime example of the type of film that appeared in the 1960s afterthe erosion of the Production Code (i.e. censorship).• It was unprecedented in its depiction of sexuality and violence, rightfrom the opening scene where Sam and Marion are shown as loverssharing the same bed. In the Production Code standards of that time,unmarried couples shown in the same bed would be taboo.• In addition, the censors were upset by the shot of a flushing toilet; atthat time, the idea of seeing a toilet onscreen - let alone being flushed -was taboo in American movies and TV shows. According toEntertainment Weekly, "The Production Code censors... had noobjection to the bloodletting, the murder theme, or even the showerscene—but did ask that Hitchcock remove the word ‘transvestite’ fromthe film. He didnt."• Psycho is widely considered to be the first film in the slasher film genre.Interpretation and themes• The film often features shadows. The shadows are present from thevery first scene where the blinds make bars on Marion and Sam asthey peer out the window.• The stuffed birds shadows loom over Marion as she eats, and Motheris seen in only shadows until the very end. More subtly, backlightingturns the rakes in the hardware store into talons above Lilas head.• There are a number of references to birds. Marions last name is Craneand she is from Phoenix. Normans hobby is stuffing birds, and hecomments that Marion “eats like a bird”. This makes clear his morbidintentions and Marion’s grisly fate.4
  5. 5. AS Film Studies: FM2 British & American Film Psycho Case studyDIALOGUE AND SCENE ANALYSIS:Bates Motel/Marion’s arrivalRain drops begin to splash on the windshield, as oncoming headlights blindMarions tired eyes (she has been traveling for almost 30 hours with nothing toeat and an uncomfortable Friday nights sleep in her car). The rainstormbecomes more violent, and the windshield wipers slash back and forththrough the water across her window, accentuated by the soundtrack. [Aperfect visual metaphor for the celebrated shower scene to come!] Althoughthe rain has a cleansing, climactic effect and her inner monologues cease(and the music dies down), her vision is blurred and obscured - literally - andshe becomes lost and driven off the main road. Glaring car headlights (frombehind or ahead) disappear. The side road she has been derailed onto is dark- suddenly up ahead, a neon "BATES MOTEL VACANCY" sign appears (seenfrom her point of view) - almost conjured up like all her other interiorimaginations. Her escape is aborted. She pulls in to the out-of-the-way,deserted, and downbeat roadside motel - a modest but seedy looking place.The parlor is decorated with his birds mounted on the walls or on stands - anenormous predatory, nocturnal owl with outstretched wings, a raven (an iconof horror stories/gothic horror movies) and paintings of nude women. As hesits straight up and leans forward while she nibbles on a sandwich he lookson, fondles a stuffed bird, and talks about his "uncommon" and "cheap" hobby"to pass the time" - his interest in bird taxidermy.He dutifully confides that he doesnt have other friends - his "best friend is hismother." Their conversation leads to speaking about how human beingsbecome imprisoned "in our private traps" - in a narrow and minimal existence -in the course of their private lives. Marion sees parallels in her own life - she iscaught in a degraded and draining relationship with a weak-willed Sam,similar to how Norman is debilitated by his enforced caring for his mother.Assertively, Marion insists that he can free himself from the traps that he feelshave possessed him since birth - in actuality, she is in the process of healingherself and ready to renounce her own madness. She cant believe that he istraumatized so harshly by his mother - and suggests he should break awayfrom her. According to Norman, he was raised by his widowed mother afterthe age of five. He was the central focus of his mothers attention until she fellin love with a man who talked her into building the Bates Motel. When hismothers lover died under unusual circumstances and she was bankrupted, "itwas just too great a shock for her" and she went insane.Norman: “She had to raise me all by herself after my father died. I was onlyfive and it must have been quite a strain for her. She didnt have to go to workor anything like that. He left her a little money. Anyway, a few years ago,Mother met this man, and he talked her into building this motel. He could havetalked her into anything. And when he died too, it was just too great a shockfor her. And, and the way he died. (he smiles broadly at the thought) I guessits nothing to talk about while youre eating. Anyway, it was just too great aloss for her. She had nothing left.”5
  6. 6. AS Film Studies: FM2 British & American Film Psycho Case study• Watch the sequence in the parlour. What do we learn about Bates interms of representation? Provide examples from the following:o Dialogue:o Cinematography (lighting, camera, framing)o Mise-en-scene (props, location, set)Theorist Syd Field suggests that successful narratives require a ‘three act’structure. These break down as follows:Act 1: Set-up where the action takes place; introduce characters; suggestwhat might happen in broad termsAct 2: Key confrontation involving the main character facing a series ofobstacles that he/she will need to overcome to restore orderAct 3: All plots and sub-plots are resolvedTheorists interested in narrative suggest that all stories are structurally thesame. Tzvetan Todorov suggests that all narrative structures have thefollowing:1. Equilibrium is established (balance in the narrative ‘world’)2. Disruption occurs3. Equilibrium is re-establishedIn filmic terms, this translates to:1. We are introduced to the world of the hero/heroine2. The normality of this world is disrupted3. The hero/heroine sets out to restore orderIn other words, film narratives can often be boiled down to good versus evil, or6
  7. 7. AS Film Studies: FM2 British & American Film Psycho Case studyorder versus chaos. Some films take this approach more literally than othersbut most follow this structure to a greater or lesser extent.• As we have established, the first act of the film sets up a conventionalthriller narrative. This sequence sets out to significantly alter thenarrative of the film. How does this scene achieve this?DIALOGUE AND SCENE ANALYSIS:Shower scene and body disposal…Walking back into the shadowy dark parlor and shutting the door behind him, motel managerNorman listens at the wall for sounds in the adjoining Cabin Room 1. Then, he removes one7
  8. 8. AS Film Studies: FM2 British & American Film Psycho Case studyof the nude paintings from a hook (a replica of Susanna and the Elders - in which a nude isassaulted by two males) revealing a jagged hole chipped out of the wall with a brightpeephole in its center.When he leans down to peer at Marion through the hole, his eye, in profile view, is illuminatedby the light from her bedroom. The camera angle shifts and from Normans point of view, hesees her undress down to her black brassiere and slip in front of her open bathroom door [asubjective camera placement implicates the audience in his peeping voyeurism].A gigantic closeup of his large unblinking, profiled eye fills the screen - at precisely the sameinstant that he is lustfully watching Marion undress. At the door to the office, he again glaresup toward the house (in profile) and then begins bounding up the steps to his hillside home.Inside the house, he pauses at the carved staircase, places his hand on the banister post -and then with his hands in his pockets, retreats to the kitchen and sits hunched over the tableat an odd angle. He twirls the cover on the sugar bowl. [The schizophrenic camera - or hisMother - voyeuristically watches him - and he appears to sense and realize it.]In her motel room, Marion begins to reconsider her crime.To hide all evidence, she decides not to use the wastebasket and flushes the shreds downthe toilet in the gleaming white bathroom - the noisy flush is emphasised as she watches thepieces circle around the bowl. [This was a convention-breaking taboo - to show a toilet andflush in a mainstream American film. This drain and flushing imagery foreshadows the one ofher own blood circling down the shower drain following her death. She closes the lid on thetoilet bowl, shuts the bathroom door, removes the robe from her naked back, drapes the robeover the toilet, steps naked into the bathtub (the camera displays her bare legs), pulls acrossthe translucent shower curtain and prepares to take a shower before retiring - a final soul-cleansing act.[In the next scene, the classic, brutal shower murder scene, an unexplainable,unpremeditated, and irrational murder, the major star of the film - Marion - is shockinglystabbed to death after the first 47 minutes of the films start. It is the most famous murderscene ever filmed and one of the most jarring. It took a full week to complete, using fast-cutediting of 78 pieces of film, and 70 camera setups, in a 45-second montage sequence. Theaudiences imagination fills in the illusion of complete nudity and fourteen violent stabbings.Actually, she never really appears nude (although the audience is teased) and there is onlyimplied violence - at no time does the knife ever penetrate deeply into her body. In only onesplit instant, the knife tip touches her waist just below her belly button. Chocolate syrup wasused as movie blood, and a melon was chosen for the sound of the flesh-slashing knife.]The infamous scene begins peacefully enough. She opens up a bar of soap, and turns on theoverhead shower water - from a prominent shower head nozzle (diagonally placed in theupper left) that sends arched needles of spray over her like rain water. There in the vulnerableprivacy of her bathroom, she begins to bathe, visibly enjoying the luxurious and therapeuticfeel of the cleansing warm water on her skin. Marion is relieved as the water washes awayher guilt and brings energizing, reborn life back into her. Large closeups of the shower head,that resembles a large eye, are shot from her point-of-view - they reveal that the water burstsfrom its head and pours down on her - and the audience. She soaps her neck and arms whilesmiling in her own private world (or "private island") - oblivious for the moment to theproblems surrounding her life.With her back to the shower curtain, the bathroom door opens and a shadowy, grey tall figureenters the bathroom. Just as the shower curtain completely fills the screen - with the camerapositioned just inside the tub, the silhouetted, opaque-outlined figure whips aside (or tearsopen) the curtain barrier. The outline of the figures dark face, the whites of its eyes, and tighthair bun are all that is visible - she wields a menacing, phallic-like butcher knife high in the air- at first, it appears to be stab, stab, stabbing us - the victimized viewer! The piercing,shrieking, and screaming of the violin strings of Bernard Herrmanns shrill music play a largepart in creating sheer terror during the horrific scene - they start screaming before Marionsown shrieks. [The sound track resembles the discordant sounds of a carnivorous bird-likecreature scratching and clawing at its prey.] Marion turns, screams (her wide-open, contortedmouth in gigantic close-up), and vainly resists as she shields her breasts, while the large kniferepeatedly rises and falls in a machine-like fashion.The murderer appears to stab and penetrate into her naked stomach, shattering her sense ofsecurity and salvation. The savage killing is kinetically viewed from many angles and views.She is standing in water mixed with ejaculatory spurts of blood dripping down her legs fromvarious gashes - symbolic of a deadly and violent rape. She turns and falls against thebathtub tiles, her hand clawing and grasping the back shower wall for the last shred of herown life as the murderer (resembling a grey-haired woman wearing an old-fashioned dress)quickly turns and leaves. With an unbloodied face and neck/shoulder area, she leans into thewall and slides, slides, and slides down the wet wall while looking outward with a fixed stare -the camera follows her slow descent.8
  9. 9. AS Film Studies: FM2 British & American Film Psycho Case studyIn a closeup, Marion outstretches her hand (toward the viewer), clutches onto the showercurtain and pulls it down from its hooks (one by one) upon herself as she collapses over theedge of the bathtub - her face pitches forward and is awkwardly pressed to the whitebathroom floor in front of the toilet. She lies bleeding on the cold, naked floor, with the showernozzle still spraying her body with water [the soundtrack resembles soft rainfall].The camera slowly tracks the blood and water that flows and swirls together counter-clockwise down into the deep blackness of the bathtub drain - Marions life has literally gonedown the drain. The drain dissolves into a memorable closeup - a perfect match-cut cameratechnique - of Marions dead-still, iris-contracted [a dead persons iris is not contracted butdilated], fish-like right eye with one tear drop (or drop of water). The camera pulls back upfrom the lifeless, staring eye (freeze-framed and frozen at the start of the pull back), spiralingin an opposite clockwise direction - signifying release from the drain. [The association of theeye within the bottomless darkness of the drain is deliberate, as is the contrast betweenNormans peeping tom eye and Marions dead eye. Her eye is slightly angled upward towardwhere Norman was positioned.]On the soundtrack gushing shower water is still heard. The camera pans from Marions facepast the toilet and into the bedroom for a zoom close-up of Marions folded-up newspaper onthe nightstand. The bedstand also supports an empty ashtray and erect lampstand with acircular base. The camera continues to pan over along the flowery wall-papered wall to theopen window where the house is visible. From there, Normans voice is heard crying:Mother! Oh, God! Mother! Blood! Blood![From a common-sense point-of-view, how could Norman have known?]Norman scrambles down the hill to the scene of the crime in Cabin one, accompanied by theshrill music once again. At the bathroom door after viewing the curtain-less shower and thedead body, he turns away and cups his hand to his mouth, revulsed and nauseated by thehorrific scene and possibly stifling a scream - and knocking off a bird picture from the wall[Norman has literally knocked off a bird].He regains his composure, closes the open window, sits shaking in a chair, and then closesthe cabins door - camera angles often include the newspaper. He turns out the light, leavesthe room, pauses outside, enters his motel office, and then shuts off the lights after closingthe door behind him. [Hitchcock lingers on a view of the closed and darkened motel officedoor from the outside - note that the shadow of the roof overhang on the doors window formsthe deathly silhouette of a guillotine blade-wedge!]Dutifully, he re-appears from the office, carrying a mop and pail to methodically clean-upfollowing the murder. [The audience is left with sympathetically identifying with the devoted,dutiful, automaton son who is once again cleaning up the mess and covering up for hismisguided, insane mothers behavior. Clearly, the murder is not motivated by a lust formoney.] He enters the bathroom, turns off the shower water, and then spreads out the showercurtain on the floor of the bedroom. He drags Marions limp/nude corpse to the curtain andafterwards shows off his dirty hands to the camera on this "dirty night." [Subjectively, hishands are really the audiences hands.] He washes his hands in the sink - blood and wateragain swirl down the drain. He rinses the sink clean of blood and then obsessively swabs andwipes up every trace of the bloody murder in the bathroom with the mop, after which he drieseverything with a towel. He drops his towel and mop into the empty bucket at the conclusionof the laborious, ritualistic process.Norman tiptoe-edges around her body as he goes outside to back Marions car (and trunk)closer to the rooms door. Then, he wraps her up in the plastic curtain [rolling and bundlingher up like the money in the newspaper in the make-shift shroud], carries her over the doorsthreshold (!) and onto the porch, and places the corpse in the trunk of her car. He straightensup the bird picture that had fallen to the floor, packs up her few belongings, and also tossesthem in the car. The final lingering trace of Marion and another crime - her folded newspaperconcealing the money - is the last thing found in the room. Without looking inside, he non-chalantly tosses it into the car trunk and slams it shut. He drives off - a camera closeup of thecars rear end reveals its license plate - NFB 418 [signifying Norman F Bates - the Frepresents Francis, a reference to St. Francis, patron saint of birds] and drives to a nearby,bordering swamp-hole filled with quicksand.He gets out and pushes the light-toned car into the dark thick morass of waters to submergethe evidence, watching nervously and nibbling as it slowly gurgles lower and lower into themuck. He cups his hands in front of his chin, fearful that it wont sink entirely. The car sinksonly part way in - and then halts. Norman, looking remarkably like a scared bird, darts hishead around anxiously. Then he grins approvingly when it is finally swallowed up - againdown a drain of sorts - by the blackness. He is relieved that the evidence is covered up.9
  10. 10. AS Film Studies: FM2 British & American Film Psycho Case study[Audience identification shares Normans relief.] The scene fades to black.• Using the passage above to help you, explain how would this scenecome to be a key reference point for more formulaic slasher movies?Consider both representation and narrative. Include film language(micro aspects) in your answer.DIALOGUE AND SCENE ANALYSIS:Lila’s discovery in the Bate’s family home…• What technical methods does Hitchcock employ in creating tensionand, ultimately shock?10
  11. 11. AS Film Studies: FM2 British & American Film Psycho Case study• What elements make this sequence particularly disturbing? Considerwhat we discover about Bates’ childhood. How much of this is typical tothe slasher sub-genre?• Using Syd Field’s three act structure, explain how the film is concluded.11