Few directors have become so closely associated with a particular genre in film that the name of the genre itself immediately brings back to mind memories of their films – characters, shots, music, and dialogue. Alfred Hitchcock is certainly one of them. He’s done to thrillers what Woody Allen later did to romantic comedies. He made it his own.
|Top: Close-up of the cop. Bottom: The same cop, lurking on the other side of the road|
Hitchcock knows how to use every element of cinematography and mise-en-scene to his benefit in creating a creepy intensity for Psycho’s atmosphere. Take the policeman in the beginning of the film for instance. His introduction, with this powerful close-up, the dark glasses and his sombre tone couldn’t have been more intense. If this shot doesn’t make us suspicious enough, Hitchcock gives us another glimpse of him when Marion stops to change her car. Even though it’s obvious why the cop is observing Marion from afar, Hitchcock’s setting makes us as suspicious of him as he is of Marion.
|Top: The bedroom door sliding open. Bottom: Arbogast shot from above as he walks up the stairs. Notice the door on the right.|
Many of the film’s more elaborate shots are taken inside Norman Bates’s house. My favourite is probably the scene of the murder of Arbogast, the private detective who’s looking for the 40000 dollars. The camera shoots him from above as he walks up the stairs to get to the bedroom. We still don’t know who the murderer is at this point in the film and the camerawork hides the identity so masterfully, I couldn’t leave it unmentioned.
My favourite shot in the film however, comes a bit later. When Arbogast doesn’t return from the Bates motel, Lila, Marion’s sister convinces Sam, her boyfriend, to go on his own detective mission to find him. When he arrives at the motel, he calls for Arbogast but can’t find him. The camera cuts to Norman, alone in the dark of the woods, who looks in the direction of the voice, but doesn’t move. This is his last moment of solitude before Sam and Lila’s return to the motel and the eventual exposition. He listens hopelessly to Sam’s voice, as if he’s pondering his next move. The confused and scared look in his eyes and the smirk on his lips make for a perfect combination of menace and vulnerability, and heighten the suspense that ensues.
If you have never seen Psycho before, put it all the way up your list. It’s easily one of the best films ever made.