economy has gone to hell, but you can still afford to splurge on the
latest in High Definition treats. The CHUD Home Entertainment Team has
taken upon themselves to draft the Top 25 Blu-Rays released in Region A
thus far. From the 1st of December until Christmas, we’ll count down to
the greatest Blu-Ray release of all-time. Join us and marvel at the
treasures of the 1080p set.
LIST POSITION: #22
Directors: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, Martin Balsam, John Gavin and Janet Leigh
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WHY IT’S ON THE LIST
Over the course of the last year, Universal really started getting aggressive with their Blu-Ray promotions on-line. They posed a question to their Facebook followers and asked them to pick what previously unreleased Universal title should make its Blu-Ray bow in 2010. There was a near 2-to-1 vote in favor of Psycho over a variety of other films including The Blues Brothers. While Psycho is easily the most famous Hitchcock film, one wonders how the usually grainy film would play in High Definition. Hell, would the film even resemble its original 1960 presentation? DNR be damned, Universal was determined to meet the audience’s demands.
I grew up with Hitchcock crammed down my throat. I didn’t come from a family of film fanatics. I didn’t even know the difference between widescreen and pan & scan until my senior year of High School. TV edits, VHS tapes and cinematic revivals were how I got to experience Hitchcock and most older works. As a younger film enthusiast growing up on a diet of Lucas, Spielberg and Milius…I couldn’t understand why people put up with this slow dialogue shit. No arms were getting cut off and nobody got to hang out with Indiana Jones. It was just some bullshit about a tranny that like to slice up women.
Time spent watch more cinema, as I grew older helped to shake out some truth. Psycho was the first real attempt in American cinema to implicate the audience as a participant in the crime. When Marion Crane embezzles money and flees, you cheer for her. She’s going to be with the man she loves and everyone else can just go fuck off. When she’s pulled over by a state trooper, you stop and worry. You shouldn’t be worrying. That’s the problem with wanting to make heroes out of cinema figures that break the rules. Society dictates that Marion is a criminal and that she must be punished.
A lot has been said about the film’s role in American Cinema History. What’s worse is that people still pass over Peeping Tom and its looming influence on Hitchcock’s film. While Powell & Pressburger played the sexual aspects of their Peeping Tom closer to the surface, Hitchcock had to hide the sexual psycho-drama from delicate American eyes. Norman is not a well-kept man. When he meets Marion, he can’t read basic human cues. Norman doesn’t see a frightened young woman that’s obviously hiding something. The young innkeeper sees a potential replacement for his mother. Bates desperately tries to impress Marion with his curious hobbies and then entices her to take the best motel room.
Watching Marion through a conceal peephole, Norman becomes confused by his feelings. He sees an attractive young woman getting ready to wind down, when he starts to realize that he can replace his mother with a newer model. Not sure what to act upon, Norman retreats to the only identity that’s strong enough to exist in his fragile mind. That leads us to the famous shower murder scene that has become so iconic that it’s one of the defining images of Cinema. Still, what does it all mean? What is so groundbreaking about having a mental deviant stab a young crook to death in the shower?
This past six months has seen the Home Entertainment scene dotted with a lot of releases tied to Psycho‘s 50th Anniversary. What I have noticed about this onslaught is the new material being dug up about Perkins and his approach to Norman Bates. Perkins spent the remainder of his career in the shadow of Norman Bates until he finally agreed to embrace the character in participate in three sequels. Directing the third one, Perkins began to try and reclaim the identity of the creation and hammer out a back-story and a new future. The kicker is that nobody cares about the future of Psycho, they keep flocking back to the original.
Excerpts from Truffaut’s classic interview with Alfred Hitchcock appear on the disc and I’ve got to give Universal credit for not shying away from it. Truffaut’s questions about the shower scene being cinematic rape are spot-on and Hitchcock doesn’t know quite how to answer it. Hitchcock’s misogyny and sex politic issues are well-known. Truffaut isn’t trying to be antagonistic when he asks Hitchcock to defend the scene, he wants to know what was going through the auteur’s head. Going back to my previous statements about the lead-up to the shower scene, we see that the murder is sexually motivated by an individual with Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Watching the film in its High Definition debut has only awakened new questions in me. How did such an angry film get released in 1960? The white-coat explanation of Bates’ psychosis at the end seems to be an effort to appease Universal, but there’s so much left to answer before that finale. When Dr. Richmond works out his explanation of why Norman killed Marion, he glosses over a lot. A boy’s best friend might be his mother, but it takes a fucked-up boy to become a woman in order to fight arousal. Hitchcock and screenwriter Joseph Stefano were toying with some truly fucked up issues, as they wanted to make America and the World embrace a character that tried to redefine sex and violence.
Worse than that was that Hitchcock hit you this nearly an hour into the film. As Marion lies dead, the audience becomes the camera. We search across the empty room, as we look at the money. Hell, the stolen money means nothing now. Marion’s dead and nobody knows about the cash. The audience becomes panicked by the sudden act of violence. Who killed Marion? Why do we care? She was a bad person, but she didn’t deserve to die. It’s only after we hear Norman scream and try to fix the crime scene that we find solace. Hitchcock wants you to redefine the horror/suspense film in terms that must’ve been horrifying in 1960. The audience is involved in the crime and you’re left desperately having to hope that there is someone that is going to make it all end.
Issues like that are what Gus Van Sant ultimately missed in his near frame-by-frame 1998 remake. Nobody cares about how cool it was when Arbogast got his face slashed open. The audience wants to start the adventure and end their involvement in cinematic crime with a shred of dignity. In real life, there are no Dr. Richmonds to hold your hand at the end of the day. Sometimes, bad things happen to semi-good people. There is no black or white. There is no right or wrong. There is only the strange things that await you in the company of strangers.
There was one special feature that rubbed me the wrong way. Hell, it was the only new featurette created for this Blu-Ray release. Running somewhere around 10-15 minutes, the Blu-Ray production team explains why they created a DTS-HD 5.1 master audio track. Original audio purists shouldn’t worry, as the mono track has been remastered into a DTS-HD 2.0 mono track. The DTS-HD 2.0 mono track is my preferred way to watch the flick, as it gives the soundstage more room to breathe and to move the dialogue further away from the Herrmann musical cues.
WHY DIDN’T IT RANK HIGHER?
The transfer was probably the best that we’re going to get in this current home theater generation. Until the home audience can get a near 4K image, we’re going to have to deal with slight digital noise and artifacting. Most of the transfer problems come early on in the picture from Marion stealing the cash and leading up to her fateful night at the Bates Motel. There are moments in the film that have never been clearer. When Arbogast gets his face slashed, you almost see how the shot was set-up via carefully laid FX. It’s just that the uneven transfer leaves me wondering if a trip to Lowry Digital should’ve been in the works for the team at Universal.
THE BEST SUPPLEMENT
The best special feature on the disc has to be a two-part segment where we see the Shower Scene constructed from pre-visual material to the final shoot. Then, we get to see how Bernard Herrmann’s score was worked into the scene and how the multiple cuts played out without the legendary score. I love this sort of supplement, as it allows arm-chair filmmakers to take a chance at deconstructing cinema and finding what works.
Brittany Murphy is Ravage 2099.
Ed Hocken’s in the fruit cellar again.