Saturday, December 01, 2012

"A raving thing" - Praising PSYCHO (1960), Bashing HITCHCOCK (2012)


This year's MY WEEK WITH MARILYN is clearly HITCHCOCK (2012), a transparent Oscar courtier whose commercials alone infuse me with dismay.  I've seen PSYCHO a trillion times! I own it! Saw it again just last night, at home, safely avoiding the shower --for other reasons! The water.... it's fluoride inhibits my pineal gland's full third eye functions. I can only use branch water now, Mandrake. And as a result I see deep into the black eye pupil of the dying Crane... sometimes.

But this tawdry bourgeois Hollywood self-praise, oy! Now, ED WOOD and SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE, these were great in that they went to weird places. If you were going to make a movie about Hitchcock making SABOTAGE, or even SABOTEUR, that would be great, maybe, because they're more obscure. But PSYCHO? Making showers safe for the whole family? And the best the commercials can do is have a mildly portly Hopkins saying "Try the ladyfingers... they're made with real fingers," like if your mom got way into Kurt Cobain.

There's a reason PSYCHO should stay off the Academy-self-congratulatory Oscarbait table: as the bloody mile marker between 50s repression and 60s drive-in liberation it needs its disreputable patina, what Pauline Kael would call it's 'dirty kick' to stay relevant, and the makers of HITCHCOCK have turned it into a family-friendly "aren't we being naughty" pasteurizing. Give it a few more years and Hollywood will be nominating films about the importance of the Oscars as an American institution, eventually strangling itself to the point where it can only award Oscars to films about the awarding of Oscars to films about the award, and then finally it will crash through the mirror screen floorboards and behold its hideous heart!

You can't buy off unhappiness with pills

I understand the need for vainglory and idolatry and don't judge so much as sympathize because it's universal. Anytime there's a Zen master pointing a finger at the moon, Hollywood makes a film about a finger... on an incredible journey! The finger gets paid millions and the moon is forgotten. Or at the very least, the beauty of the moon as seen by the Zen master is forgotten. The moon is way up there and doesn't take direction so they hire a young actor named Tyler Zachary to wear a moon head. He's such a hit that his moon make-up and angular face are how people think of the moon from then on. They don't look at the moon anymore at all. Why would they? They have Zachary. The moon is just so.... I don't know, Zacharyless? They try to project Zachary's face on the moon but it's just too far away. Is there somehow we could block the moon from the sky, sue it for copyright violation?

'...they all cluck their thick tongues...'

But then they make a movie about the beautiful dreamers who made this movie about the moon all those years ago, and in it Hollywood celebrates itself in a showcase galleria setting, in search of the desired Oscar nominations that will boost their careers incalculably, like politicians whose biggest concern is always to get re-elected. Who needs anything to say about the actual moon, the one that started it all, when the finger, in its trajectory of upwards pointing, is so perfectly lit?

We're all trapped in our private prisons

The process of shooting movies may be fascinating but it's hardly relevant to the final product and its effects on our national psyche. Would Mona Lisa still be a masterpiece if we learned it was painted in some haphazard way? We'd have to watch the artist through every step to adequately judge the final result, to make sure Da Vinci wasn't on steroids, or ergot. If we forget that need to analyze the making of vs. the need to experience the film as a film in and of itself, then we forget PSYCHO was a lot more than a shower scene. We forget the movie and just think of the one image, the one iconic shot that makes it to the postcards, T-shirts, Oscar montages and DVD reissue covers. You can shoot the shower scene all you want, over and over--and they have--but it won't mean a thing without the surrounding scenes, and the movie as a whole. Without the slow weird fake-out embezzlement afternoon tryst build-up, the shower scene is nothing. It's like you're half asleep watching TV's ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and suddenly a phantom TV signal (from Samara's art film repertoire in THE RING, or the VIDEODROME channel, or the eye-slitting sections of PERSONA, LA CHIEN ANDALOU) comes through, shattering the peaceful broadcast and ensuring entertainment will never be the same. That's what the shower scene should be, not a ride, damnit. It defeats the whole purpose!

"You can't buy off unhappiness with pills" Marion says to Pat Hitchcock early on, and isn't that what the makers of HITCH are doing, trying to buy off Oscar and anonymity with pills? Better they should remake LA CHIEN ANDALOU as a color Hitchcock film, starring Naomi Watts... and with liquid pianos oozing from the bullet holes


As always with the great films, no matter how many times you see them, my recent viewing of PSYCHO brought new things to my attention, namely the way the events of the film's progressive diegesis are encoded throughout its framework. What, is that kind of talk too fancy for reductivist Oscar? "PSYCHO's about Addams Family-style ghoulish delight in sadistic killing, but it's okay because the ghoul is portly and thus sexually unthreatening." - that's the HITCHCOCK promotional subtext. I can bring diegesis encoding down to earth too. Zachary, get ready!

You know how, in VERTIGO, you get the feeling that Stewart is somehow always still on the ledge, all through the events of the rest of the film, that it's all a nether region between life and death, that his hanging corresponds to an ancient alchemical realization about the true nature of life and death? From the skull-like shades of the Charon-like cop gatekeeper, who wakes up Marion from her nap by the side of the highway (into the dream!), to the shower curtain-like bars on the hotel headboard behind Marion in the opening sexy scenes, or the way Marion goes through a whole shot without blinking while driving, Hitchcock's every shot reflects the whole like fractals.  Every pattern and motif repeats, encoded throughout. A story of murders and crime is revealed as an example of kaleidoscopic genius, about so much more than "the ladyfingers.... made from real fingers." It's about the impossibility of linear time, and how if you're going to die sometime over the course of your life--even if only at the very, very end--then you are dead already. You can take as many MULHOLLAND DRIVE pictures as you want, Jake-- it's snake eyes.


In the end, PSYCHO is less about murder and more about how guilty squirming inexorably transcends its own worst fears, how dreading arrest can put you right into the hands of a killer, and how that dread can be transferred onto characters, and sacrificed, like burning your cares under the looming shadow of an owl. Marion's resolution to return the money dooms her body but transfers the guilt itself, in a mutated form, to Norman --the guilt becomes immortal --so long as it is 'real' guilt, over theft or murder, we can feel it in our naughty schoolboy/girl hearts. We only have to look at Hitch's less successful exercises in guilt, like THE PARADINE CASE and I CONFESS to see how bourgeois morality-based guilt (infidelity, codes of conduct, priest or barrister ethic violations) doesn't carry the same alchemical current (as murder, sabotage, embezzlement). So a priest schtupped some hot-to-trot schiksa in a barn on a rainy night (I CONFESS)? So a barrister schtupped some hot-to-trot красива вдовица while defending her for her husband's murder (PARADINE)? Big whoop. (I use the Yiddish and Bulgarian to prove a point about cross-cultural barriers - murder and embezzlement cross all cultures; fidelity to predominantly Catholic mores does not.


Dear Oscar, please don't hold this post against me, and for god's sake next year don't bore us with yet another easy homage. We already have way too much idolatry of past filmmakers: ME AND ORSON WELLES, MY WEEK WITH MARILYN, THE ARTIST, THE CAT'S MEOW, HUGO, CHAPLIN, UNDER THE RAINBOW, RKO 281: THE BATTLE OVER CITIZEN KANE, LIZ AND DICK etc. Do we really need future titles like MEETING BUSTER KEATON, I WORKED ON CASABLANCA, I ONCE MET JOHN HUSTON, THE LITTLE D.P. THAT COULD, or COOKING DUCK SOUP (2016 - dir. Woody Allen)?

If you must be self-referential, go for something outre, or still-controversial: RICHARD CUNHA AND THE MAKING OF SHE-DEMONS; THE RISE AND GLORIOUS FALL OF JOHN AGAR; MAE WEST VS. THE CATHOLIC LEGION; THE CRUCIFIXION OF CLARA BOW; OF COURSE YOU UNDERSTAND LAST NIGHT WAS ONLY A COMEDY, something genuinely transgressive or genuinely ambitious or at least subversive and eccentric, with a real message of some sort, like FRANCES, or I'LL CRY TOMORROW or ED WOOD. Keep it controversial and not so much this weeping with joy over the magic of the movie makers. Exhume new gold rather than polishing the stuff already so polished we've forgotten the moon and only see the polish bottle and rag, preserved at MOMA. Don't just flatter yourself by aping an established master in twilight-of-their-career; don't try for associative glory in portraying the making of a film firmly established as a canonical yet accessible work of genius! Make your own, little brother, stop copying me! That cop up there with the skull eye shades, ask not for whom his siren tolls! Whoop Whoop!

1 comment:

  1. If my "Nothing Men" is ever made into a film, I want you to write the definitive piece on the film versus the book versus cannibalism in popular culture.

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