Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ Essay Sample
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Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ Essay Sample
The fiction film which I am going to use to compare and contrast is the original Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’. I have chosen to use this film as I know that Alfred Hitchcock is famous for his use of sound and camera techniques in his films and so I believe that ‘Psycho’ is a good choice of film to compare to a documentary.
The documentary that I am going to compare ‘Psycho’ to is called ‘Jack the Ripper’ which is one of a collection of documentaries on ‘London Legends’. The documentary is filmed on location in London and is presented by Richard Jones.
Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ is about a motel owner, Norman Bates, who lives in a big, old house on top of a hill near the motel. He gets very few customers since the main highway was moved but one night a lady called Marion Crane who is running away from her previous life after stealing a lot of money, stumbles upon the motel after being forced to stop driving by the heavy rain. Norman Bates gives her a room next to the office after giving her some food and telling her about his mother who lives in the big house with him.
Marion ends up being stabbed to death by the ‘mother’ in the famous shower scene and from then on the story turns into an investigation as Marion’s family hire a private investigator to find out her whereabouts. The investigator is soon killed and then Marion’s husband and sister set out to find her. They then discover that Norman’s mother died along time ago and that he has been lying. It turned out that he murdered his mother and his mother’s lover and he then had a split personality with his mother controlling him part of the time and Norman Bates at other times. In fact it was not Norman’s mother who killed any of the victims, it was Norman dressed up in his mothers clothes.
The documentary on ‘Jack the Ripper’ is an investigative documentary which takes viewers back to the year of 1888 step by step to join the police in their hunt for the ripper. It details all of the murders and the victims involved and delivers all the evidence and possible suspects. The documentary re-constructs the autumn of 1888 and tells the story of ‘Jack the Ripper’ in an un-biased way so that viewers can make their own minds up as to who committed the murders.
The main scene I am going to look at from Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ is the famous shower scene. However, I may refer to other scenes in the film if they are relevant. As far as the documentary is concerned I will be looking at all of it as there are no scenes that can demonstrate different aspects of film language so I will pick out parts to compare and contrast.
Hitchcock decided to make ‘Psycho’ in black and white because in colour it would be too gory, and that is not what he aimed to achieve. He wanted to make the film as effective as possible using camera angles and sound, not trying to scare the audience by using colour and gore so decided to try and keep ‘Psycho’ to a 15 certificate.
The ‘Jack the Ripper’ documentary uses colour and black and white. Colour is used to represent the present day of the east end of London where all is peaceful and fine. Black and white is used to take viewers back to 1888 and to make the re-constructions as real as possible so the viewers feel as if they really are watching ‘Jack the Ripper’ carrying out his crimes.
In the shower scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ the set that it was filmed in was a mere 12ft by 12ft and the shooting time for the scene was 7 days out of the total of 3 weeks that the victim in the shower scene ‘Janet Leigh’ spent making the film.
The audience is made to believe that the person who enters the room with the knife in the scene and who is obscured by the shower curtain is Norman Bates’ mother. Alfred Hitchcock makes good use of the shower curtain to blur the ‘mother’ in this scene so that the audience is made to believe it is her and not Norman Bates dressed up as her.
The camera switches between the victim and ‘mother’ when she is being stabbed as it would in a conversation. The audience is made to believe that every time we see the mother raise her knife and then see the victims face screaming in agony that she has been stabbed. In actual fact what has happened is that Janet Leigh (the victim) was filmed screaming in many different shots, and the ‘mother’ was filmed raising her knife many times and then these sequences were put together so that every time the camera cuts the victim is stabbed.
Hitchcock is famous for his close up camera shots and he shows this skill in the shower scene. After the initial stabbing she falls half out of the bath and her head hits the tiled floor. The next camera shot shows a close up on her eye and it slowly zooms out. Another example of zoom shots in this scene is a close up on the plughole in the bath as we see the blood being washed down the drain.
In ‘Jack the Ripper’ quite a few different camera techniques have been used. One for example is split screen. The camera is split into two screens showing artists impressions of the people who were murdered and in the other the presenter explaining their deaths. This is very much like how split screens are used in ‘Carrie’. Within these split screens is another technique. In one screen the camera is zooming in to the victims portrait, and in the other the camera is zooming out away from the presenter. Other uses of the camera in this documentary are cameras following the presenter when he is walking down the back streets of London, and also as the presenter walks towards the camera the camera slowly moves away. There are also shots taken from inside moving vehicles to give the realistic affect that they are moving. Apart from many still shots not many other camera techniques are used, as there are no interviews and so no juxtaposition of shots between interviewer and interviewee. This is very different to ‘Psycho’ as Alfred Hitchcock has made the movie revolve around conversation. Most scenes involve two or more people whereas with ‘Jack the Ripper’ we rely mainly on the presenter delivering the information to us.
The shower scene makes very good use of high key lighting and we see this when the blur of the ‘mother’ by the curtain is finally taken away when the ‘mother’ pulls it back to reveal herself and her intentions to the victim. However, the audience are still under the impression that it is ‘mother’ holding the knife even though it is actually Norman Bates’ dressed as her. The reason that we see ‘mother’ but still believe it really is her is because of the lighting. There is a light on the wall behind mother which is very bright and I think this conflicts with the camera to produce what could be described as a shadow, as the focus on the light behind her makes her very dark and her face cant be seen in detail, only her outline. This is very similar to the way lighting is used in Michael Jackson’s music video for his song ‘You Rock My World’ where the cameras have made his face very dark by using bright lights behind him.
In the ‘Jack the Ripper’ documentary the lighting is very low key as the effect that the presenter is stood in an old dark back alley is the aim and so often only half of the presenters face is lit. This is completely opposite to Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ as the lighting in that is very high key with lots of fill lights and few shadows.
Hitchcock’s films make very good use of sound, and that is why ‘Psycho’ was given a 15 certificate because it doesn’t use gore or extreme nudity to scare, the music and clever camera work create the fear factor. Apparently melons were used in the stabbing sequence, and every time the camera switched from the ‘mother’ raising the knife to the victim a knife was stabbed into a melon to simulate the sound of a stab into the victims body.
All the sound used in the ‘Jack the Ripper’ documentary is non-diegetic and the sounds used are very mysterious and spooky as the camera moves through the back alleys of London to create an atmosphere of what it used to be like.
Both the documentary and the film use sound in a similar way. Virtually all the sound in ‘Psycho’ is non-diegetic and is used to create an atmosphere which may scare or spook the audience.
In the Mise-en-scene in the shower scene, the audience are shown things before some characters are. This way we are able to work out in our head what is going to happen. For example when the victim is standing in the shower with her back turned to the shower curtain we see a figure enter the room. As the figure moves closer to the intended victim we can see that the figure is ‘mother’ and that she is holding a knife. The victim is still unaware that ‘mother’ is in the room let alone what she is planning to do. The audience though, not only have figured out in the minds who they think the person is, but also from her holding the knife have figured out what she is planning to do. The fact that the audience know what is to come yet the victim doesn’t adds significantly to the suspense and the audience await her reaction when she finally realises ‘mother’ is in the bathroom with her.
In the ‘Jack the Ripper’ documentary we are mainly shown just the presenter in the streets telling the story and delivering the facts. However, often we see re-constructions of the Rippers murders and we see how he takes his victims away and then when they are not looking takes out his knife and slits their throat. This is an example of how the mise-en-scene lets the audience see what the victim can’t just as it is in ‘Psycho’.
Some of the characters in ‘Psycho’ seem to be highly stereotypical. For example the first person to be killed was a white female, who had come across the motel on her own and could be seen as very vulnerable right from the start. Norman Bates is what people would think of as the average everyday psychologically perverted man who smiles to himself when he sees a lady undress. Most people have the idea in their head that perverts or paedophiles are very nervous social outcasts. When Questioned Norman Bates is very nervous and unable to answer questions by the victims husband in a way that would be believable. The audience does not know until the very end of the film that ‘mother’ is in fact Norman Bates but the impression we get when watching is that mother is very stereotypical in the way which she is very protective over her son and does not want him associating with other women.
The private investigator hired to find the Marion is also very stereotypical especially with the voice/accent which we have come to recognise from most detectives or private eyes. He also carries a note pad and is able to find things which ordinary people perhaps would not see.
In ‘Jack the Ripper’ the presenter dresses in the same clothes the ripper would have worn, and prostitutes in the reconstructions are all very stereotypical wearing revealing clothing, lots of make-up and red feather boa’s. These are different to ‘Psycho’ as the characters in that are stereotypical because of how they act, whereas ‘Jack the Rippers’ characters are stereotypical because of what they wear.
The main stars that appeared in ‘Psycho’ were Janet Leigh who was murdered in the shower scene who audiences would have probably gone to watch just because of her looks and the role she plays (shower scene). Anthony Perkins played the character of Norman Bates and was a famous actor at that time, however the reason most people flocked to watch ‘Psycho’ was because it was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and that reason alone was enough to go and see it.
‘Jack the Ripper’ has no characters in it which can be considered famous and people wouldn’t watch it because of the people in it so the only reason people would watch it is because of the story line and the investigative documentary into the famous ‘Jack the Ripper’. This is slightly different to ‘Psycho’ then because it is not the director or the stars that are the reason for viewing the film, it is because of the genre and story behind it.
Much editing was done for the shower scene to become as famous as it is today. I explained earlier how every time ‘mother’ raised the knife it cut to the victim screaming. Many cuts were made to achieve this. If the whole shower scene was played without any sound it is likely that it would be a fairly tame scene because the sound is needed for the tension. Hitchcock has used only a string orchestra and to achieve the type of ‘Jaws’ music that we hear in the shower scene can’t have been easy. It was made by taking lots of cuts from tunes played by the orchestra and joining them altogether so that a very scary sound which dominated the scene was created. The sound accompanied by the rhythm of cuts between ‘mother’ and the victim makes for a terrifying scene, even today.
Lots of editing is involved in the ‘Jack the Ripper’ documentary and there is usually only a few seconds between shots. There are however some scenes which last for up to thirty seconds where none or little editing is done. The music generally continues throughout the different shots and is not noticeably edited. This is different to ‘Psycho’ as that has many different cuts of sound put together which produces the frightening effect.
The juxtaposition of shots is important in the audiences understanding of ‘Psycho’ and is important for Alfred Hitchcock to trick the audience into thinking they are seeing something which they really are not. The shower scene is a great example because we think we are seeing ‘mother’ when we are not.
After the shower scene we see Norman Bates clearing up the mess and putting the victims body into the boot of her car. The camera constantly switches to the newspaper on the side of the bed which is full of money but Norman Bates has not seen it. The audience are given the impression that Norman Bates wont ever see it and it will be a vital clue later in the film. However, Norman finally spots the newspaper on his last voyage into the cabin and the juxtaposition of shots shows us he is relieved to have seen the newspaper and shocked that he left it so late before he saw it. This is good proof that Eisenstein’s theory on montage is correct.
Eisenstein’s theory is proven once again in ‘Jack the Ripper’ as the juxtaposition of shots cuts from the dead body to the person who found it, then to the body again, and then back to the person again followed by a loud scream which tells the audience the person is very shocked and scared. This is a better example than ‘Psycho’ which does not prove Eisenstein’s theory particularly well and has less examples.
There is very little intertextuality in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ apart from the obvious that the idea for the film came from the book ‘Psycho’. The only other type of intertextuality I can think that may be related is the fact that all the murders are carried out in a ‘Jack the Ripper’ type way with a knife and continuous stabbing.
There isn’t much intertextuality in ‘Jack the Ripper’ either apart from the fact that it may show resemblance to some films made in the style of 1880’s – 1890’s era.
Todorov’s narrative theory of equilibrium – disruption – restored equilibrium does fit in with ‘Psycho’ however there can be two disruptions to be found, a minor and a large. A disruption is created right at the start of the film when Marion Crane steals the forty thousand pounds and heads away to start a new life. This may be considered to not be much of a disruption considering what is to come. The major disruption is when Marion Crane is murdered in the shower scene and the restored equilibrium returns at the end when Norman Bates is locked up and the true story about the murders is told. The restored equilibrium is never quite the same as the original equilibrium as two people have been killed and other characters will always remember what has happened.
The binary opposites in ‘Psycho’ can only really be Norman Bates seen as the bad person and Marion Crane’s husband and sister who are seen as the heroines because they solve the mystery and capture the bad guy.
The ‘Jack the Ripper’ documentary does not really support Todorov’s narrative theory although there is equilibrium to begin with and the murders can represent the disruption there is no restored equilibrium because ‘Jack the Ripper’ was never found and we are still none the wiser at the end of the documentary as to who the culprit was. Vladimir Propp’s theory however may fit the bill. The heroine could be the presenter seeking the truth which is the object. The evidence is the donor and the presenter is the receiver of the evidence as he tries to find out the truth. The helper could be the police or whoever he got his information from and the villain is none other than ‘Jack the Ripper’. This is slightly different to Hitchcock’s film because that could support Todorov and Propp but ‘Jack the Ripper’ could only really support Propp’s theory.