Thursday, 9 October 2014

Dial M For Movies: Psycho (1960)

Hello all,
In what may be one of my most unintelligent ideas ever, I’ve decided to try and introduce the world of film to my boyfriend. Ever since I learnt he couldn’t even remember if he’d seen The Wizard Of Oz or not (the one film I thought everyone must be able to act out), I have seen it as my duty to try and make him slightly more film literate. This is probably me just being paranoid and controlling, but if I make a pop-culture reference (like EEE! EEE! EEE! While making a stabbing motion) it’d be nice to have my boyfriend understand it. So, this task was probably flawed from the start, but whatever.
   Considering the fact that it’s Halloween, I decided to introduce my boyfriend first to some of my favourite classic horror films. For an avid Hitchcock fan like myself, I couldn’t possibly go past Psycho (1960, US, d. Alfred Hitchcock) as the first film to show to my lovely boyfriend. I also took notes while viewing, so I could record his reaction here. So, let the recap begin!

   As the thrilling opening credits start, I notice Finn start to dance oddly. I join in before asking;
   “What are you doing?”
   “Voguing,” he replied, referencing Paris Is Burning (a documentary about drag I’d forced him to watch only a few weeks before).
   “I am so proud of you,” I said, grinning.
   As the end credits conclude and we launch into the main character Marion’s life, I spot ‘ol Hitchcock making a cameo in his film. He asks me who that is. So I, ignoring my shock, explain to him that Alfred Hitchcock had a cameo in every one of his films and that it’s something to watch out for. He nods, as if I’ve just explained why plants are green (Actually, why are plants green?). Meanwhile, Marion tells her boss that she is “going to spend this weekend in bed.” Cue innuendo stares between Finn and I.
   He guesses that Marion is going to steal the Ke$ha, long before it’s explained.
   “Ke$sha”, he asks.
   “Yeah, that’s what I call cash,” I explain. “So, I’ll just be like, ‘oh, got to check how much Ke$ha is in my bank account’.”
   He smiles.
   “Oh, that reminds me. I’ve got to give you some Ke$sha a bit later.”
   “Oh, cool.”
  “Yeah. She’s released this new song and I think you really might like it.” Cue him patting me softly on the head.
    While I face my embarrassment, Marion is greeted by a cop. Finn looks to me and says that this doesn’t make sense as the filmography of a person moving right to left would suggest that they are going back home, something he knows because of his own storyboarding. He then goes on to say that the police officer’s glasses are so impersonal. While I’m sitting in this bubble of super awesome pride, he upon seeing her number plate ANL-709, shouts out “Anal!” Oh, my perfect silly boyfriend.
   After we recover from laughter, Marion is trying to trade her car for a new one. The mechanic says to her, “I’ll just shoot your car in the garage.”
   “Pew!” says Finn holding his hand up as a gun, before reflecting on Marion’s character. “She’s not very smart about it.” As he goes on about her possible motives, I struggle to write it all down.
   “I wish I could do this on Youtube. The two of us reacting to Psycho.”

   “But you don’t have Youtube. Or the internet. Or a camera. Or good lighting.”
   “You have good lighting,” I retort cleverly.
   “Thank you,” he says, smiling.
   Later, Marion has pulled up to the Bates Motel, a building Finn seems to recognise. As I start to explain that it’s a famous set used in many films and TV shows since, he says, “I think I’ve seen it!” He goes on to explain that it was on a tour at Universal Movie World
   “So”, I say, “while you have not seen Psycho and only know of the shower scene, you have seen the actual house? Life is so unfair.”
   As Norman Bates, manager of the creepy hotel, and Marion have lunch, Finn’s plot speculation goes into overdrive. “He has this crazy, restrictive mother who won’t let him leave. His trap is his mother. He’s gonna kill his mother!” Knowing what was to happen, it was interesting to note how cleverly Hitchcock works the audience to keep the twists hidden.
   Marion says to Norman, “Why don’t you go away?”
   “That seems blunt,” says Finn, laughing as he realises that she was talking about Norman leaving his mother.
   However, as Norman states, “We all go a little mad sometimes”, Finn’s speculation continues.
   “He goes a little mad. He kills Marion because he thinks she’s going to take his mother away from her.” Well, sort of.
   Marion leaves and goes to her room to get changed, and Norman stares at her through his…
   “Pee-pee hole,” says Finn.
   “I do believe that’s actually a peep hole,” I laughed, before stating rather emphatically, “I don’t want to think about Anthony Perkins’ pee-pee hole!” He looks at me strangely before we both laugh.
   But not for too long, because next is the shower scene. My excitement is barely contained as Finn says, “Ooh. It’s his mother!”
   I explain to him how shocking the death of Marion was back in the 60s. “She was the main character. And she’s dead.”
   “Movie over,” he replies sarcastically, before coming up with a theory. “There is no mother. The mother’s already dead. He couldn’t cope with it, so he’s gone mad.” I was a little shocked at how quickly he’d guessed the big twist, but before I can say anything, Norman Bates starts mopping up the blood.
   “Mop is a fun word,” I say, leading both Finn and I to shout mop randomly throughout this scene. We are so mature.
   “He’s gonna cover up for his mother. But he’s really covering up for himself,” he says. I reflect that this is the way to dispose of a body. Just simple and uncomplicated, but he debates me on this.
   “In today’s C.S.I.ety, there would be ways of finding it out.” Oh, boyfriend, I love your new words.
   Later, Marion’s boyfriend and sister turn to a private investigator in the hopes of catching her before she “gets in too deeply.” Cue innuendo stare.
   With Finn’s theory decided, he remains quiet for much of the rest of the movie until the local policeman confirms that Norman’s mother died many years ago. He can’t wipe the ever widening smile off his face, not even as we reach the exciting climax.

  Norman talks to his mother before carrying her down the stairs. “It’s a dead body,” Finn says grimly.
  Soon after, Marion’s sister and boyfriend walk into the hotel. “I was expecting you,” says Finn, pretending to be a master villain stroking a cat. Unfortunately no. It’s just the freaky Norman. While Marion’s boyfriend distracts the killer, the sister goes into the house and discovers that the mother’s bed hasn’t been “sleeped in. Slept in,” Finn corrects himself, but too late. I have it all written down. After engaging in a short fight which threatens to ascend into a make-out sesson, the sister and I notice a strange record in the player.
   “Erotica?” I ask, shocked.
   “Eroica,” he says.
    But no matter, Norman is soon captured and examined by a psychiatrist who works out that he’s pretty much insane.

   As the film ends, I turn to Finn and ask his opinion.
   “Well, the plot was predictable because of future movies. I can see it’s a masterpiece because it was the first film to do it but it’s hard to relate to it having seen so many modern versions.”
  “Did it scare you?” I ask.
   “It didn’t scare me. At all.”
   “Well, was it well directed?”
   “[Filmic techniques] develop more strongly later. The directing then seems different to the practices now. But I didn’t mind it. It’s still a good movie. I didn’t get bored.”
   “I think the music has a lot to do with that,” I suggest.
   “Yeah, the music is really good. Much of the film is scored which adds a lot of the suspense to it.”
   “So, what was your favourite scene?”
   “I actually liked the nuance in the conversation between Marion and Norman in the parlour.”
   “Yeah, me too. A possibly controversial question now. Do you, as a GLBTQ person, think that the film is transphobic?” This was a thought that had occurred to me on this viewing of the film and it was something I wanted Finn’s opinion on.
   “For their time, [trans] was an unusual concept. The psychiatrist suggests that Norman isn’t transgender, it’s multiple personalities. The film doesn’t really seem transphobic.”
   Somewhat upset to Finn’s reaction to the film, I ask that if the film has no relevance to a modern day audience, if it’s directing is stale and its plot twists ruined by later films, should it be forgotten?
   “It’s understood as a classic. It’s a great movie, of its own time. The shock value is lost. The narrative and plot development seem cliché and unexciting to a modern audience. So, it shouldn’t be forgotten, it’s a classic, a masterpiece. It shouldn’t be forgotten but it’s not relevant and doesn’t hold up to a modern audience. It’s not really for everybody.”
   After much debating, he gave the film 3/5 stars.
   This proved to be an incredibly interesting experience for me. As a person who loves movies, and in particular this film (which rated 3rd in my list of favourite movies), I can’t deny that I was a tad upset by Finn’s reaction. While I didn’t expect him to love this movie, it was shocking to see how some of the film’s most famous set pieces had little to no effect on him. He guessed the ending soon after the shower scene because of exposure to many other texts which feature similar endings. This raises an interesting idea.
  Does Psycho still have worth if we understand it merely because of the impact it has had on our popular culture? More concerning, is it this exposure that limits its effect on a modern day audience? These are questions that aren’t simply answered and I think it’s going to be something I continue to grapple with as I show Finn more and more classic movies. We shall see.
   Anyway, the next film I’m planning on showing Finn is another Hitchcock film, the 1963 nightmare-inducing classic, The Birds. As an avid animal lover, how will he react to this unsettling classic. Join Finn and I next time on Dial M For Movies to find out!

Finn: 3/5
David: 5/5
David Gumball-Watson & Finn

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