7/13/04

Psycho Squared

From a_film_by (http://movies.groups.yahoo.com/group/a_film_by/):

> Van Sant's Psycho

It's actually an interesting exercise. I was involved in a kind of performance piece titled "Psycho Squared," where my identical twin brother and I sat down and dissected the original and Van Sant's remake as they played on a pair of video screens. I thought the results were rather illuminating, even if maybe the gimmick with the twins was a bit much.

Some of our observations:

- The remake may be a mostly shot-by-shot copy, but the length of the scenes varied, sometimes considerably. There were times we had to pause the original to let the remake catch up, times we had to pause the remake. You notice Van Sant unconsciously (or consciously) trying to vary the pacing of different scenes, as if trying to avoid a studiously faithful copy of the original.

- Mort Mills' patrol officer was far more anonymous and insectlike and ultimately frightening than James Remar's (who, after all, is a known character actor doing a cameo).

- Chris Doyle captures the grimy airlessness of American motel rooms, using what looks to be dimly available light. It's an admirable achievement, but it only points up Hitchcock's tendency to brightly light his sets, particularly the motel bathroom where every tiled and porcelained surface was spotlessly clean. Hitchcock, it seemed to me, demanded this unnervingly hygienic presentation, all the better to desecrate it with blood and fear.

- The crucial talk between Norman and Marion goes by far more swiftly in Van Sant's than in Hitchcock--as if Van Sant, though he knows how important the scene is, knows we've already run through it again and again , and wants to get it over with. A mistake, we thought. Anne Heche holds her own, though, against memories of Janet Leigh in the scene.

- We thought Vince Vaughn's Norman's masturbating to Marion Crane undressing was a big mistake--sexual release suggests a release of tensions, a partial satisfaction of desires, and hence one less motivation to do what he eventually does. Of course in one sense it wasn't him that does it--but you get what I mean.

- Overall Perkins captures Norman's vulnerability far more successfully, while Vaughn emphasizes his infantile creepiness. After all is said and done, we preferred Perkins' approach--it made his downfall all the more horrific.

- On the other hand, we thought Vaughn's vamping William Macy's Arbogast was a hilarious success: tall sweatered young man pressing close to dilapidated milquetoast, who doesn't like it one bit but has to smile, nevertheless.

- Simon Oakland as the psychiatrist delivers what has famously been called Hitchcock's worse ever scene; what's interesting is that Hitchcock and Oakland handles that scene better than Van Sant and Robert Forster does (in other words, it's possible to make a 'bad' scene worse). Oakland treats it like a pitch, delivering dry facts that we already know with all the energy and gusto of a used car salesman, in a pace calculated to keep us from falling asleep. Forster mulls over every word and syllable as if it was his only chance to make an impression in the picture (which in fact it was and he does--a bad one).

Worst scene or no, we did conclude that the scene had an important function: it gave us the conventional wisdom, the pat answers, the what's-supposed-to-be final solution; it comforted us with the impresson that everything has been resolved and accounted for. Then we meet Bates one more time.

2 comments:

cutefurrybeast said...

i - We thought Vince Vaughn's Norman's masturbating to Marion Crane undressing was a mistake--sexual release suggests a release of tensions, a partial satisfaction of desires, and hence one less motivation to do what he eventually does. Of course in one sense it wasn't him that does it...but you get what I mean...

It's not even just a mistake - it's creepy and shows Norman's hand before the big shower scene and so you already know something bad is going to happen, original film notwithstanding, and, Norman should bug you in a way you can't quite put your finger on (like in the original when he shows her his taxidermy and starts to get a little too effusive).  Nice guy, but there's something off somewhere.  Vaughn you'd peg as a psycho right away if you were a woman traveling alone, at least that's how I read it.

I don't remember Vaughn vamping Macy's character but that would seem to be giving away Norman's hand as well, and doesn't he want to avoid suspicion at all costs?  Heche is fine, as is Macy.  Surprised you didn't mention Viggo M. but maybe the large tattoo on his back has had enough print time.  I don't that he surpasses anything Gavin did, but back then of course that scene with the two of them meeting to screw in the afternoon was much more shocking.

This movie didn't work for me, homage or not.

noelbotevera said...

Come to think of it, I suppose Vaughn's Norman wouldn't manage to even get two words in with a woman, while Perkins' has a fighting chance.

David Ehrenstein does point out that's a straight man playing a gay or bisexual character who is a remake of a straight character (funny enough, the Norman in Robert Bloch's novel IS a transvestite) played by a gay man, opposite a straight woman who is played by a bisexual or gay actress in the remake.

No, much of it doesn't work, but the interesting thing is that we can see how it doesn't work all the more clearly, thanks to the existence of this movie. Maybe they should have included something like our Psycho Squared schtick as part of their promotion.