Editing and Sound in Alfred Hitchcock’s - Psycho
We know that Hitchcock’s purpose in his very famous shower scene in Psycho was
to shock us with not only the event of the murder itself but also the brutality of
Mary’s murder. He dramatically switches the pace of the scene from the slow
entrance of the dark figure to the quick cuts of the murder. (Hitchcock used 78
cuts in 45 seconds.) It’s as though Hitchcock’s exaggerated use of cutting was an
intentional reference to the cutting of poor Mary.
In any case, the slow entrance and quick cuts is still a very effective cinematic
jolt to an audience.
The noise of the shower drowns out any sound. The door is then slowly
and carefully closed. And we see the shadow of a woman fall across
the shower curtain. Mary's back is turned to the curtain. The white
brightness of the bathroom is almost blinding.
Suddenly we see the hand reach up, grasp the shower curtain, rip it
MARY - ECU
As she turns in response to the feel and SOUND of the shower curtain
being torn aside. A look of pure horror erupts in her face. A low
terrible groan begins to rise up out of her throat. A hand comes into
the shot. The hand holds an enormous bread knife. The flint of the
blade shatters the screen to an almost total, silver blankness.
An impression of a knife slashing, as if tearing at the very screen,
ripping the film. Over it the brief gulps of screaming. And then
silence. And then the dreadful thump as Mary's body falls in the tub.
The blank whiteness, the blur of the shower water, the hand pulling
the shower curtain back. We catch one flicker of a glimpse of the
murderer. A woman, her face contorted with madness, her head wild
with hair, as if she were wearing a fright-wig. And then we see only
the curtain, closed across the tub, and hear the rush of the shower
water. Above the shower-bar we see the bathroom door open again and
after a moment we HEAR the SOUND of the front door slamming.
Representation of Gender through POV
One of the most important questions to answer when discussing writing on the body
in film is how the spectator interprets the sequence of events on the screen and
identifies with the characters. The following discussion of the two murder scenes in
Psycho will explain how the film situates the spectator through point-of-view shots
and direct address and will address, first, how the murder of the protagonist inscribes
licentious sexual behaviour onto her body, and, second, how we may inscribe gender
onto a body because of misperceptions.
When a shot's framing prompts us to take it as a character's vision, it is called a point-
of-view (POV) shot. Camera movement can be a powerful cue that we are watching a
POV shot because the camera eye acts as a surrogate for our eye and our attention.
The point-of-view shot is important because it allows the spectator to identify with
that character through a system of cuts or glances. In other words, because the POV
shot most often cuts between the character and his or her view, the shot constructs the
spectator's awareness of space. For example, the first shot below from Psycho shows
the protagonist, Marion Crane, looking through her motel room window. The second
shot shows Norman's house behind the motel, which Marion was looking at. The third
shot cuts back to Marion to close the cinematic statement: subject of the gaze / object
of the gaze / subject of the gaze.
A second style of editing is direct address, the instance that the character looks directly into
the camera and acknowledges the presence of the spectator. Direct address editing performs
two functions. First, it establishes identification with the spectator by making eye contact.
Second, it objectifies the spectator. In other words, the editing causes suspense or anxiety
because the character appears to have discovered that he or she is being watched. For
example, the shots below show Marion and Norman looking directly into the camera with
nearly the same expression, as if implicating the spectator in the action: into Marion's crime
of stealing money from her employer (which is why she escapes from Phoenix and ends up at
the Bates Motel), and into Norman's mother's homicidal tendencies.
How does sound set the scene? What types of sound are used for this?