Book: Understanding contemporary art

Only the first twenty-six minutes: Hitchcock’s Psycho [1960]

Marion Crane and her madness

Jakob Zaaiman
11 min readFeb 22, 2023

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Movie poster from 1960.
Advertising poster from the time (1960). (Wikipedia) Even here Marion rightly gets star billing.

I came to Psycho very late in the day. It had been around for decades, and all my arty friends had seen it as teenagers. It was one of those you ‘have-to-have-seen’ cultural events that gave me the vague feeling other people knew something I didn’t. And as this was long before the days of video and DVD I really only knew the title, and perhaps that Hitchcock was the director. And as often happened before video, Psycho had all but disappeared from screenings, hardly ever turning up on TV or in arthouses. As far as I know, it never graced the Scala in King’s Cross— the go-to repertory cinema I visited more or less every week — in the 1980s and 1990s. And as I knew nothing of the plot, nor any of the actors — I doubt I’d even heard about the shower scene — I was full of expectation when my time finally came.

A Saturday midnight movie on TV, with Sunday as a cushion. The rest of the house in darkness. Do your worst, I said to myself to Hitchcock, hoping for him to throw me off a narrative cliff.

I well remember snatches of my initial response, and even after repeated later viewings — and a close study of the remastered DVD — I still find myself watching one film which will inevitably — and disappointingly — turn itself into another. If I could, I would want to go back to watching the earlier film — the one that seemed to be unfolding — and watch it in its entirety, but it was never there to begin with, and so doesn’t really exist. The film I had started to watch was transforming itself into another film entirely, and this silly secondary development was not worth a fraction of its elder. I remember feeling vaguely cheated. Because I knew from the start who the real ‘psycho’ was, and it certainly wasn’t the absurdist twerp Norman Bates. So why did Hitchcock throw away the glorious Marion, for godsake?

It didn’t make sense, and still doesn’t, and never will. But let’s go back and take a look, and see if we can find out what went so badly wrong.

First the Paramount logo, then, for a split second, we cut to black. Then the opening titles, in a sanserif font, driven by the opening Bernard Herrmann…

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