Top critical review
37 people found this helpful
on January 5, 2010
I get a kick out of books with grandiose subtitles anymore - there are so many of them! And the subtitles hardly EVER deliver what they claim they will deliver if only you'll shell out the bucks for the book - in this case $22.95 for 167 pages (how much is that per page?). The subtitle: HOW ALFRED HITCHCOCK TAUGHT AMERICA TO LOVE MURDER is gimmicky and catchy and a publisher's and author's dream. But in this case, David Thomson offers next to naught in edifying us as to HOW Hitch TAUGHT we Americans to LOVE murder. It just isn't there, folks.
What is there, in this trifling effort to seemingly make a fast buck, is 19 pages of extremely sparsely detailed back-story followed by 69 pages - 69, count 'em! - of SYNOPSIS of the film that had me reaching for my DVD and wondering why I was reading what I already knew when I'd rather be watching it. This is then followed by a chapter cheaply entitled "HITCH-COCK" that runs for about 24 pages and tells us about the Maestro's career post PSYCHO - and then, the real low-point of the book, is 20 pages listing films influenced by PSYCHO but not going into any real depth at all and coming across as what it actually is, and that's filler, a listless laundry list. Then a few chapters about critical reactions, loneliness and what it is like to drive across America. This book is about as skeletonized and desiccated as Mrs. Bates herself.
During the synopsis sequence, Thomson constantly returns to the theme of his never buying into the plotline that Norman's Mother overtakes him "psycho"logically. He calls it "fanciful," and guesses that Hitch himself never "believed in this idea of a character taking over another." He also writes, regarding Mrs. Bates' corpse: "It's impossible that the mother's corpse sits up as a living person." Why not? She's been stuffed! He goes on: "Above all, I mean that I don't credit half a second of this rigmarole about Mother having taken over Norman." Those are outrageous and ill-informed jabs. Had Mr. Thomson spent some time on researching the source of the Robert Bloch novel, he'd have found that reality is much more outrageous than film: Ed Gein, Norman Bates' inspiration, was a real man, a true "psycho" with a submissive relationship with his own dominant mother, killed other women,dug up the corpses of many others, used their bones to build furniture out of...and wore their skinned and preserved faces and breasts to BECOME them! So why is Norman Bates' psychic submission to the mother he murdered "rigmarole'? I think Thomson feels that Anthony Perkins is too likeable in the role to go as bonkers as the script makes him - and yet Ed Gein was a well-liked member of his own little town...yet no one knew what was really in his psycho head - or in his barn where he had his last victim hung upside down like a steer, naked, gutted, head cut off. When the townsfolk wondered where this well-liked lady had vanished to, Gein told them she was in his barn - but people took him to be kidding, because he was wacky and fun to be around. And what about Ted Bundy? He had wit and charm and a "killer" smile - literally. When he saw young, lovely women he didn't see them in "bed" - he saw them..."dead." Who could have guessed, such a handsome, articulate chap!
Anyway - there are other bizarre critical points Thomson makes regarding the film (especially about its second half) that really don't wash. He feels that Arbogast's killing evokes no sympathy for him - "He is just the figure in a tour de force execution." I don't agree: as we follow Arbogast down the stairs in a physically impossible backwards fall, it is precisely THAT which makes his killing so tragic and makes us travel to Death with him. We've first seen him as the big head entering the hardware store a few scenes earlier - and now we are seeing that same extreme close-up on Martin Balsam's face as his blood squirts across it. It is a very moving scene - and the overhead shot which distances (and disguises the killer's identity out of story-telling necessity) is actually what makes the scene all the more tragic: we had a God's eye view of the killer's approach to an unsuspecting Arbogast and then a sudden cut to the shocked and blood-spattered face - and we stay with that face, feeling his every amazement at his own agony as he careens down the stairs he just so carefully and silently climbed. Thomson feels that the "virtuoso crane shot" is "baroque and decadent" because it conceals information. Although he finds it "very beautiful" he also brands it as "style for style's sake." I think that Thomson falls into his own trap and offers up criticisms for criticisms' sake, he being a "critic" and all. Thomson also feels that Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony (which Lila finds an LP of in Norman's room) is a clue to "the source of some of the Herrmann music." How and why he feels this way is not further explained. I'm familiar with both pieces of music and hear no similarity in them whatsoever.
Another reviewer on this board rightly wrote that this "book" seems more like an extended magazine article, or something to that effect. In fact, it does. Very much so. And not a very interesting one at that. I can hardly wait now to pick-up and read what looks to be a much more informative, exciting book - PSYCHO IN THE SHOWER - another Christmas gift from...my loving mother!
ADDENDUM: I have just finished reading the best book I've ever read dealing with "Psycho" and recommend it so highly that I've gotten a nose-bleed ("Blood! Mother, Blood!"). I've reviewed it here on Amazon - and it is written by Joseph W. Smith, entitled THE PSYCHO FILE: A COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO HITCHCOCK'S CLASSIC SHOCKER. It is a page-turning gem!