My brief notes on the Psycho-themed documentary, screening at the Fantasia International Film Festival. A fuller review will follow when it’s released.
Alexandre O. Phillippe is cornering a market for feature-length genre study documentaries which aspire to be a great deal more than jumped-up DVD extras – he’s also upping his game from mainstream cult stuff like Star Trek (Earthlings: Ugly Bags of Mostly Water) and Star Wars (The People vs George Lucas) or even zombie movies (Doc of the Dead) by tackling not only a stone classic of cinema (Psycho) that’s been raked over by more critics and fans than anything else in the horror field but narrow-focusing to one single scene in it, the murder in the shower of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). In 1960, this was an shocking scene (if not quite unprecedentedly shocking – as clips from The Leopard Man and Les Diaboliques attest) for mainstream audiences who weren’t used to being so affronted by horror … but it also instantly displaced the Odessa Steps sequence from Battleship Potemkin (also glimpsed here) as the single most academically analysed scene in the cinema. Later, it became the most influential and parodied sequence too – as Phillippe demonstrates by editing together a version composed entirely of clips from other films (High Anxiety, Lego Psycho, Dressed to Kill, The Funhouse, Looney Tunes:Back in Action, Scream Queens, etc). The never-quite explained title refers to the number of cuts (52) in the number of seconds (78) the murder takes up … so, a feature film about a single minute and 18 seconds of screentime? Amazingly, there’s a sense that this isn’t quite enough, though individual segments focus on the principle actors (Jamie Lee Curtis and Oz Perkins represent and reflect on their parents), storyboard man Saul Bass (slightly downplayed – perhaps because he tried once too many times to claim he actually directed the scene, which he blatantly didn’t), composer Bernard Herrmann (Danny Elfman, who arranged the score for Gus Van Sant’s remake, is very insightful) and editor George Tomasini (Amy Duddleston, who edited the Van Sant film, is similarly smart), while Walter Murch focuses on Hitchcock’s direction and Leigh’s body double Marli Renfro (a Playboy nude model) gives the real inside dope as the only survivor of the actual shooting of the scene.