Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #035 on the list,. For a longer introduction to this series and a look at the full list, just click here. And if you want a heads-up on what I’ll be watching for next week in case you want to watch along, just head on over to the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are in the sidebar) where I’ll generally be posting that info later in the day.
Once again, with Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, we hit one of those movies that everyone knows, or thinks they know, but that I wonder how many have actually sat down and watched the entire thing, or perhaps how recently? That, of course, is one of the problems with some films. They become so much a part of the popular conversation, so much a part of our shared cultural heritage, that even people who have never seen them can discuss them (or at least certain aspects of them) can have an opinion of them (or at least of their impression of them) or even think they have seen them (or “as much as they need to” of them) without having ever had the full experience of actually sitting down and watching the entire film, much less having actually had the chance of seeing in an actual theater with a crowd of people around them.
And yes, there are some films that I will take the position that if you haven’t actually seen the movie on the big screen, if your only experience with it is seeing it on home video or in some other situation, then you haven’t actually seen the real movie, because you haven’t been able to really see whole thing, to have the full experience of the movie the way it was intended to be shown. Lawrence of Arabia is one of those films. 2001: A Space Odyssey is another. I’m sure there are quite a few more, and I’m sure there are some films that you might put into that category that I am either unaware of or wouldn’t recognize as such because that has been my only experience with them. I wouldn’t go so far as to include Psycho on that list, but I will say that if you haven’t actually sat down with the movie and watched it from the very beginning until the very last frame, then you really haven’t experienced the full impact of the movie.
As a matter of fact, in some cities, that was part of Mr. Hitchcock’s marketing for the film: that no one would be seated after the start of the movie, because if you came into it later then much of the impact of what was to come would be lost. Clever marketing, definitely, but in this case, I think, also very apt.
Of course, it’s also that very same cultural familiarity that can make Psycho in some ways very easy, but at the same time, very difficult to write about or discuss.. Because for those who haven’t see it all the way through, there are actually surprises to be found in the actual viewing. Even if you know “the big twist”, there are other scenes, other turns that the movie takes that one really doesn’t want to spoil. And one also has to remember that even though it is a movie that we are coming to at a fifty-plus year remove, there are those who actually don’t know the movie, who haven’t had it “spoiled” for them, and who can come to it perhaps with high expectations, but without any real foreknowledge of the wonderful mystery film that is about to unspool before them. This is actually the experience that I had relatively recently watching it with my youngest daughter who, though she had heard some about the movie really hadn’t paid that much attention to it and had was able to be surprised by the end of it.
So yeah, in the end, this is one of those movies that I’m not going to go into a whole lot. I’m not going to attempt any kind of plot summary, or analyze any particular scene or aspect of the film. Not only because there are books and books and essays and essays that can and have been written about it, but because in the end what I really have to say about it is this. Psycho is one of those movies that, if you haven’t, or even if it’s just been “a very long time” since you have, you really owe it to yourself to sit down and watch. No matter how well you think you know it, it’s definitely worth the time it will take. I’m willing to guarantee it. And so was Mr. Hitchcock.
Here’s the original trailer for the movie which, in and of itself, is actually a masterful short film that not only focuses on some of the great set-pieces of the film but also showcases Hitchcock’s wonderfully dry sense of humor:
And here are a couple of extras: First, a fan-made trailer that shows what it might look like if the studio were releasing the film today
and secondly, an a capella version of the great theme song, as performed by Petra Hayden
So what are your thoughts on Pshycho? Is it a movie that you’ve seen or would like to? If you have seen it, is it one that would make your own Top 10 list? Or would it not even crack your Top 250? Also, I’m curious about what you think about my argument that some movies simply have to be seen on the big screen before one can even really judge them. And if you agree with it, what films you would put into that category. Let me know in the comments below.