Saturday, October 31, 2009

Thoughts About 'Psycho'

Last night, I watched Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" on Turner Classic Movies.

I didn't intend to. I've seen it many times over the years. But it's one of those movies that, if I sit and watch it for even a minute or two, I'm hooked. Might as well resign myself to the idea that I'm going to sit in front of my television until the bitter end. And I did.

The problem is, though, that there is no time like the first time with a movie like "Psycho."

I can watch some comedies and enjoy the jokes over and over again. It doesn't matter how many times I've seen them.

And I can watch some dramas and marvel at the performances or the cinematography or the writing.

But suspense movies lose a lot when you know what's going to happen. The acting may be great, the cinematography may be remarkable, the writing may be brilliant. But without that deliciously uneasy sense of anticipation, a suspense movie almost loses its reason for being. There may be many things about the movie to appreciate, but I already know the story. So, while I watched "Psycho," I found myself paying little attention to the plot as my thoughts drifted to related subjects, such as ...
  • The first time I saw that movie. I was finishing my junior year in high school. In fact, school had just let out for the summer. One of the area's TV stations was going to show "Psycho" as the midnight movie on a Friday night, and my best friend's mother said we could watch the movie in her living room as long as we kept the sound low enough that she could sleep. So that Friday night, my friend and I, along with two other friends from our high school, turned off the living room lights and watched "Psycho" for the first time.

    When that knife started slashing at Janet Leigh in the shower, I jumped just as I have the first times I've seen the best suspense movies. But, no matter how good it was, it's never completely the same experience to watch a suspense movie once I've seen it.

  • Then I began to think about the fad several years ago in which classic black–and–white movies were "colorized," presumably to appeal to those modern viewers who won't watch a movie that isn't in color. That was something I never really liked. Black and white was a part of some movies. Like any new innovation, color was expensive at first. Some studios chose to use color, others didn't. In those early days, it was as much a financial decision as it was an artistic one.

    Sometimes, of course, the story demanded color. Can you imagine watching the Munchkins sing about the Yellow Brick Road or Judy Garland and the other stars sing about the Emerald City in black and white? "The Wizard of Oz" wouldn't have been the same experience if the Oz segments hadn't been in color.

    And the burning of Atlanta wouldn't have had the same impact if "Gone With the Wind" had been in black and white.

    But "Citizen Kane" is a black–and–white classic. So are "Casablanca" and "The Maltese Falcon."

    As the years went by, the cost of color film production became less of a consideration. It struck me last night that "Psycho" could have been filmed in color. The cost wasn't as prohibitive in 1960 as it had been 20 years earlier, and Hitchcock certainly had made other films in color. But I'm not sure "Psycho" would have been as powerful in color. Black and white was as much a part of the story as the acting or the writing.

    I don't think color would have added anything to it.
Incidentally, if you want to see some of Hitchcock's best color films, I recommend that you switch on Turner Classic Movies on Monday night. "Vertigo" is on at 7 p.m. (Central), followed by "North by Northwest" at 9:15 p.m. (Central). James Stewart followed by Cary Grant. It doesn't get much better than that.