Robert Kolker

in Cinema and Media Studies

ISBN: 9780199791286
Published online January 2013 | | DOI:

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Psycho (1960) is an endlessly intriguing film. At the height of his powers and having made his greatest film, Vertigo, two years previously, Alfred Hitchcock tried his hand at a low-budget horror film that would be made in the manner of his popular television series. Shooting quickly, decisively, and in black and white, he wound up not with a simple horror film but with a work that reflected the darkest recesses of the 1950s and even earlier. Psycho is formally and thematically astonishing. Each scene of the first part of the film builds, in the mind of the viewer, a growing discomfort that is released in the shock of the shower murder. The rest of the film is a slow descent into the mind of a madman, into the darkness of unknowable, malevolent violence. Psycho is a shocking experience for the viewer because of its explicit (very explicit for its time) violence, and it constitutes a treasure trove for the film scholar because of its formal economy. Every camera setup and every sequence expresses the anxiety of discontent, the bubbling up of incipient and actual violence. In collaboration with graphic designer Saul Bass, Hitchcock developed an abstract grid of horizontal and vertical lines and of circles and diagonals that sets up a visual template that locks his images in place. Bernard Herrmann’s score helps push the images into the viewer’s consciousness (and unconsciousness). No wonder, then, that there is a wealth of commentary and analysis about the film, including psychoanalytic, gender, cultural, and musicological approaches, that has touched the critical nerve as much as it has the nerve of the culture at large.

Article.  3847 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies ; Film ; Radio ; Television

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