Sunday, November 11, 2012

Psycho '98

I wasn't outraged or insulted as others about the desire to remake Psycho, even though I consider myself a Psycho-phile who just adores the film. I also didn't think Gus Van Sant, fresh off the heels of Good Will Hunting (I was 18 at the time the film was white hot..), was some wise-ass director who thought he could waltz into Universal Studios and make Psycho a better film. He seemed serious in his intentions about using this remake as a template to encourage younger audiences to pursue the Hitchcock classic. Whether the intentions were beneficial to the classic in regards to others actually seeing the original is I guess up to those younger audiences of the time the remake came out. To tell you the truth, the remake doesn't really leave me feeling sick to my stomach nauseous, but I didn't really feel it did anything of any consequence to rival the classic besides using color and quirks appropriate (I guess) for 1998. At any rate, I revisited the remake after a few years absence. Interesting enough, I actually caught this on AMC and watched it with the volume down and Rob Zombie's music as background for it. No reason, just messing around.
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I was kind of wondering about all the color; I realize this is a color remake of the Hitchcock classic, but to such an extreme? Lots of greens, pinks, oranges, all types of wild patterns (floral patterns, definitely) in the clothing attire, set decoration, there’s a kitsch to it all (I guess that’s the point, right?)






Anne Heche has that Joan of Arc haircut going. I must admit that I’m attracted to petite blond girls so Heche fits the bill in that regard, and she doesn’t annoy me. She communicates how her character feels through facial gesture and expression. It is all beats, really. I never really respond to her on emotional level, not particularly invested in her performance enough to really get hit in the gut when mommy buries a knife in her multiple times, but I do find myself aroused by her presence. Not sure that was the intention, but Gus Van Sant seems to shoot her in ways that wish to establish her as a fetching figure to find arousal for. But in the screenplay, Marion Crane must be desirable so that when Norman peeps on her he’s smitten with lust providing incentive for mommy to emerge.

Well, mother is, umm, what’s the phrase? She’s not quite herself today.

Regarding Vince Vaughn, he has the awkward, nervy, rather chatty qualities (while talkative, he still tries to be careful in how he approaches conversation with Marion Crane) the character of Norman needs, but he’s stuck in a losing situation. He is just placed in a role that has Anthony Perkins so entrenched in our minds, that anyone else trying to emulate or give a different take/voice to the character of Norman Bates simply pales in comparison.

I did find Heche’s moment when Norman is talking about his taxidermy and “boy’s best friend is his mother”, fighting off a repulsion and “boy, is this guy in need of a life” response to his odd foray into the bizarre form of conversation rather amusing. Leigh in the Hitchcock classic was more subtle in how her Marion responds to this odd topic of taxidermy and how it occupies a lot of his time, but how Heche is about to eat a sandwich and is so turned off by what Norman is saying she sits it down rather did tickle my fancy. Heche’s approach is show Marion as very uncomfortable, with a demeanor that cries out, “How on earth do I get out of this room, from this weirdo?”

Here’s my problem with Vaughn: He just doesn’t feel comfortable in the role. When he gets a bit angered when Marion comments on how he might should put mother “someplace”, the emoting seems “actor’s studio” instead of natural. Perkins really gives an authenticity to Norman that doesn’t feel like a performance; again, this is not a slight against Vaughn, who I think is aces when in his comfort zone, like slacker comedies or comedies that place adult characters in odd situations that elicit a response of laughter. That’s the problem with a film like Psycho where he seems desperate in attempts to make Norman more than some lonesome dork, but is just futile. I actually feel bad for the guy. Vaughn uses a type of Woody Woodpecker laugh that his own personal touch to the character (well, hell, it’s something, isn’t it?) when talking with Marion and his eyes look away at times, as if he’s that kid who has finally met the gal of his dreams and is a bit nervous.

The entire time they have *the conversation*, Heche never seems to imbue Marion with a sense of sympathy or any particular interest in Norman’s welfare: to me, she speaks of just wanting to get out of there. Maybe, that is the direction in this film: in 1998, Norman would be looked at this way, whereas in 1960, Marion might have been a bit more susceptible to Norman’s plight, his need for an ear to listen. I felt that Leigh was invested in what Perkin’s Norman had to say, while Heche seems to convey a woman trying to conjure up an excuse to flee from the parlor room for the hotel room.

Gus Van Sant’s film goes a bit overboard with the birds, stuffed and hanging or sitting perched all over the parlor room. I think he goes a bit over the top while Hitch had a way of implying without gratuitously banging us across the face with a sledgehammer Norman’s fixation with taxidermy and the need for stuffed birds around the place. The squishing sound of Norman masturbating as Marion undresses is so 1998; I’m sure purists groaned at this scene.

Van Sant does shoot the shower scene close to the vest (except for the strange crystalline shower curtain and the fucking thunderclouds), except he adds a notch of savagery to match the times. The way the knife stabs. The blood in the water. When Marion falls over, you see her ass and three slices on her back, one, in particular, bleeding a little stream. But, overall besides some needless squeaking as Marion’s body slides down the tiled wall (that sounds oddly like bird peeps), it didn’t bother me all that much. Those thunderclouds, though, man, that addition just sucks. A couple additions I did like is the close shot of Marion’s eye’s iris enlarging while the final stab comes and the echoing sound of the blood and water draining in the tub as the camera spirals into position on her face lying splat on the floor.

While the clean-up is clinical in how Norman gets rid of the evidence due to “convict mother”, I did like how Vaughn’s hands quiver with the blood as he keeps them at a distance, completely revolted, washing them in the sink.

I love William H Macy in this movie, as Arbogast, but his hat nearly eats his head it’s so friggin’ big. He is kind of that rather likable but pesky character that kind of needles the truth out of you, resilient at attempts of evasion or avoidance towards his questions. His size and face don’t exactly strike fear in those he questions but the method behind his interrogation is more than enough to get some inkling of possible guilt or criminal act. Once again, Van Sant can’t help himself during that crucial scene where Arbogast talks to Marion’s sister, Lila (played by a motor-mouthed Julianne Moore) inside a phone booth (God, I miss phone booths, such devices are so cinematic to me for some reason) and the box is located near a bar, I guess, because you can hear wailing and rowdy roars in the background (this and the scene in the Phoenix motel room where Marion and Sam are in bed and you can hear a couple in the next room gettin’ ziggy with it..). When Macy’s time in the film is over and he gets a couple of gashes on the face from mommy’s knife, Van Sant places the image of a naughty woman with a mask and a cow in the middle of the road as inserts, really pissing a ton of Psycho fans off in the process. This is the kind of crap that brought such vitriol to the remake.

Let me get my walkman.
Oh, brother.



When Lila and Sam pretend to be a couple needing a room, there’s this odd moment where she winks at Norman and her returns the favor…quite an unusual touch. There’s also this interesting addition to Lila where she simply doesn’t like being touched, as Sam tries to put his arm or hand around her for either consolation or in pretend when trying to trick Norman. Not sure what’s up with the checkerboard long sleeve but she’s got enough attitude (I like a little attitude in a woman, but she kind of acts a bit anal..) and feisty all-speed-ahead aggressiveness in finding out what happened to Marion that the truth is hers for the taking…that is if she can avoid getting a taste of shiny steel from Mama Bates.

The ending is perhaps the most updated in its difference to Hitchcock’s classic, with the birds in a glass cage, the spider crawling around the rotted face of Mama Bates’ corpse, Sam hitting Norman upside the head with a pot, and Lila kicking him in the face. The work of Robert Forster gets the job done in delivering the message to the police, Lila, and Sam regarding the personality disorder of Norman, his mind’s devoured by Mother. I can’t really think of a better actor to articulate this any better, to tell you the truth, and he gives the psycho-babble a needed respectability so it wouldn’t sound hokey/phony.


Regarding Christopher Doyle’s DP work, it was rather flawless to me, I never thought he tried to become intrusive with the camera, and he mimics most of the original film’s techniques, although his steadicam work is fluid, not surprising considering his skill behind the photography is exemplary. Chad Everett, as that lascivious, devil-may-care grin oil tycoon who turns his $400,000 over to Marion’s boss for “safe keeping”, is probably my favorite bit of casting. He’s got that less-than-subtle tongue that doesn’t much as imply as he purposely points out what he thinks and feels. He would be considered by most a rather bluntly offensive, rather incorrigibly sexist alpha male. I think he’s a hoot. Oh, oh, and James Remar as the highway patrolman that sends a cold chill into an awakening Marion, he’s quite sinister, with a voice that was similar to Lurch (“You rang?”) in its dark foreboding. And, James LeGros who plays the sprightly salesman, hippity-hoppity towards Marion, his saleman’s speech all practiced, prepared, and ready although he’s in for a surprise when he encounters a customer with her mind already made up. The casting, I never had much of a problem with..well, the supporting parts seem swell, although Heche and Vaughn quite caught fire with me.


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I spent about a $1.40 for the movie and I have to say that this was worth the purchase more for the accompanying document of the film’s making as we get a sense of the bewilderment at even touching Psycho, the actors involved and how they see performing the roles in their own way, Gus Van Sant’s process of trying to stay close to the shooting script of Hitch’s film, and the approach all take to the material. Heche’s performance made even more sense to me as she speaks candidly about how she would respond to Norman, jokingly but truthfully. I personally like when others look at a scene and respond exactly as they feel: some simply didn’t care for the Arbogast down-the-stairs death in Hitchock’s film (I flat love it, but I’m a bit biased so sue me.), like Macy whose gut response was dismay. Gus mentions that he wanted to make this movie if just to call a newer generation to Hitchcock’s film. I appreciate that sentiment—it seemed sincere to me—so if the film does that then maybe it was worth it.

The Shower

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