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The Moment of Psycho: How Alfred Hitchcock Taught America to Love Murder Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (November 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465003397
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465003396
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.8 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,002,459 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In this compact book—extended essay, really—the arguably most provocative and acerbic of major film critics (see the plethoric Have You Seen . . . ?, 2008) concentrates on a single work, Alfred Hitchcock’s influential Psycho. The 1960 film was groundbreaking not just for bringing sex and violence to the fore and eschewing the expected happy ending but also for its efficient, low-budget production. It was shot in just three months in the expedient fashion of Hitchcock’s television series. After an introductory passage on the film’s genesis, Thomson offers a close reading distinguished by insight and illumination, particularly about the problematic second half. He concludes with an analysis of Psycho’s impact, including an annotated list of films it influenced, especially in its treatment of sex and violence, from James Bond flicks to David Lynch’s and Quentin Tarantino’s bloodbaths. Thomson doesn’t blame Hitchcock for touching off the subsequent wave of emotionally detached movies predicated on gory special effects but says Psycho opened the door to ignoring consequences “if the end product is thrilling enough.” --Gordon Flagg


“[A]uthoritative…. Thomson’s detailed and insightful primer is the perfect book for Hitchcock aficionados and general film fans alike.”

The Weekly Standard
Psycho’s impact on the movies is undeniable, a key moment in Hitchcock’s oeuvre that has had as lasting an impact as anything the great auteur ever directed. David Thomson’s rereading of Psycho a half-century after its release shows us just how far we’ve come. And in some ways, how far we’ve fallen.”

“Thomson offers a close reading [of Psycho] distinguished by insight and illumination, particularly about the problematic second half.”

Film Comment
“[I]lluminating…. [T]he book’s pleasures arise from reverent insights into the film’s labyrinth of detail and moral math…. [T]he note Thomson closes on resonates beautifully, conveying a keen understanding of the things great movies hold for us, either in their historical moment, or some 50 years later.”

Buffalo News
“[A] virtuoso piece of movie criticism…. [A] truly great piece of film criticism by our finest living film critic…. It tells the story of ‘Psycho’…in such an original and brilliant way that you’re almost hearing about a film you’ve either never seen before or only dimly and inadequately remembered.”

SF Weekly
“[A] slender, clever volume, with its deceptive breeziness, its confident scarcity of photographs, its sportive blood-red endpaper, and a general sense that Hitchcock’s most famous movie should be an ideal subject for the tirelessly observant local cinema essayist to write about.”

The Week
“Thomson captures the film’s milieu in such a ‘brilliant way’ that you’ll feel as if you’re seeing it for the first time.”

Kansas City Star
“Just in time to please the picky movie buff on your shopping list: David Thomson’s The Moment of Psycho. I love this book…. Thomson is one of our best writers about cinema, combining intellectual rigor with snappy, entertaining prose. No film-professor stuffiness here.”
“Critic and historian extraordinaire David Thomson’s slender new book…is a delicious and incisive commemoration of the film’s golden anniversary. Thomson spans the negotiations that gave Hitchcock creative control (and a financial windfall), drops in nuggets from the production and delivers a brilliant analysis of the film’s structure, scenes and shots.”

New York Times
“[Thomson] makes a powerful – and sometimes surprising – case for the movie’s importance in film and cultural history.”

The Boston Globe
“Thomson takes a kaleidoscopic perspective on his subject, surrounding ‘Psycho’ from all sides after carefully treading every length of the film itself. But as he astutely grasps, the story of ‘Psycho’ is as much about the moments that followed as the film itself. ‘Psycho’s’ bombshell has been continually going off for half a century; every time we leap out of our seats with fear – or fail to be similarly moved by genuine horror.”

Austin American-Statesman
“Slim, daggerlike…. [Thomson’s] prose never does unnecessary backflips as much as it moves with skill and confidence, wit and vigor, the gymnast in command of his routine.”

The Morning News
“[Thomson] wields an impressive erudition, offering an analytical point of view in the most useful kind of commentary – placing the objects of his investigation in their cultural contexts.”

Oxford America
“Opening gently with a history lesson, Thomson sets up the ‘making-of’ with some juicy backstory regarding the pre-production and casting of the rule-breaking film.... [A] bright and informative resource.”

New York Times book Review
“[Thomson’s] vast storehouse [of knowledge] is on full display here, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the release of ‘Psycho.’ (It opened in June 1960.) He skillfully locates the movie in Hitchcock’s oeuvre, linking its theme of the dangers of loneliness to ‘Rear Window’ and ‘The Birds’ and its voyeurism to ‘Strangers on a Train’ and others.”

The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles
“Thomson has all of the qualities one would want in a film writer: breadth of knowledge, unpredictable prose, humor. His off-the-cuff responses to ‘Psycho’ are provocative and offer much to argue with.”

Palm Beach Post
“Thomson is at all times a delicious, stimulating writer, and the book is particularly interesting as he shifts between admiration for the director’s technical skills, and a stark dismay at Hitchcock’s customary evasion of reality.”

Curled Up With A Good Book
“In this small but effective study, [Thomson] gives us a stark, fascinating behind-the-camera look at Alfred Hitchcock and his legendary black-and-white film Psycho.”

Cineaste Magazine
“Thomson’s knack for eye-catching phrasing and casual penchant for penetrating observation remain vivid strengths, and there are lines to quote and insights to savor galore in this brief book.”

“Film historian David Thomson’s anniversary tribute to the breakthrough movie of the ‘60s unspools with insight and affection…. The Moment of Psycho makes you want to revisit the landmark shocker.”

“Thomson’s writing is punchy and concise…. The Moment of Psycho shows how pivotal the ‘moment’ of Psycho truly was.”

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Customer Reviews

It consists mostly of the author's impressions of what might have been, could have been, etc.
Thomson's "Psycho" demostrates that Hitchcock's instincts were almost always right and for "Psycho" they were perfect.
Wayne Klein
It is also the climax of Thomson's book of essays, which is fairly critical of the way the film resolves.
R. Hardy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Richard Masloski on January 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Hardcover
The movie business was suffering. Attendance was down in movie theaters and the only movies that truly seemed to be making money were low budget horror flicks aside from the occasional event movie. Hitchcock assembled the team from his TV show "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and decided to make the ultimate horror thriller--one that would change all the rules. Made for $400,000 "Psycho" grossed $11 million which, at the time, would make it the "Star Wars" of its generation.

David Thomson's book gives us an extensive history of the production of "Psycho" from conception (Hitchcock did an anonymous bid on Robert Bloch's book of the same name knowing that he could get it for a lot less money); Hitchcock's collaboration with writer Joseph Stefano (the trendsetting and brilliant writer/producer of "The Outer Limits")through the process of negotiating with censors (Hitchcock would deliberately plant stuff in the script that he planned on shooting or shoot things he knew he would never use to do a bait and switch with them)and carefully rolling out the big surprise of killing off his star less than half way through the film. For example, one day Hitch and Stefano were brainstorming and Stefano told Hitchcock (Stefano was undergoing psychoanalysis at the time and used filled any imagery he would suggest with the meaning from it)he'd never seen a toilet flushing in a film before. Hitchcock realized that it could have visual meaning, unsettle the audience, unsettle the censors (giving him something else to argue with if he needed it to keep something far more important)and recognized the symbolism in the sequence as brilliant and quickly agreed it should go in just as Marion Crane needed to appear nude in the shower sequence.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Brad Baker VINE VOICE on December 11, 2009
Format: Hardcover
David Thomson's new "The Moment of Psycho: How Alfred Hitchcock Taught America to Love Murder" revisits Hitchcock's most popular, influentual, and arguably, best film. Hitchcock's first horror film was a sadistic black comedy shot in shuddery black-and-white. The thriller is based on Robert Bloch's novel "Psycho", upon which television screenwriter Joseph Stafano("The Outer Limits") provided the script. Bernard Herrmann added the eerie musical score. "Psycho" is a meandering trip throught the dark mind of a young demented motel inn-keeper. Multiple personalities lead to gruesome murder. Fortunately, Hitchcock's rapid-fire editing of the shower-scene murder escaped the censors. What emerged was a new platform for movie nudity and 1960 film violence. In "The Moment", for the first time, finally, Thomson reviews the exacting irony of "Psycho(1960)" versus Orson Welles' 1958 classic "Touch of Evil", filmed just two years before, at the same studio, Universal. One of "Touch of Evil"s central scenes involves a solitary young woman, alone, in a desolate, decrepit motel, just like "Psycho". More. Both films show the young woman being violently attacked. In both films, a bizarre, predatory motel-custodian patrols outside. Finally, in both films, the woman is portrayed by actress Janet Leigh. Coincidence? Hmmm. Today, you can visit the old Bates Motel and the family mansion. It's been moved, but it's still there, on the Universal City Studio back-lot tour in Hollywood. The author of "The Moment" is David Thomson, a London-born film critic and historian. He's written more than 20 books, and lives in San Francisco, California with his wife and two sons. for further reading, see Thomson's "Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles(1997)". Not a biography, "Rosebud" is an incisive, riveting, irreverent series of essays; elegant commentary that martyrs the myths, and cherishes the genius. The genius that was Welles.
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