Manny Farber on “Psycho”

Why is taxidermy necessarily a ghoulish hobby? Are stuffed birds in a motel’s back parlor dead giveaways of an aberrant mind? First, a passing motorist, then a wily detective, takes one glance at seven stuffed heads and becomes either queasy or intrigued by the psychological significance (“What kind of a warped personality is this?”). The great suspicion is that the haunted house, California Gothic, is going to scare people. Having picked such a Casper-the-Ghost, turretted antique, a cliché before Charles Addams stamped it to death, his choice isn’t justified by anything more daring, unexpected, against the grain than the Abbott-Costello rudimentary Eeeeek. Forget the faky mother-mummy down in the wine cellar, a-rocking with one hand on each knee, a stock old-lady wig on a stock skull (the viewer is supposed to faint), the most contrived scene is the head-floating-backward of a stabbed detective falling downstairs. Hitchcock and his devoted auteurists have sewed and sold this time-expanded scene a dozen times.

Taking this “classic” apart, scene by scene, is pointless because the horror elements have dried up (with the exception of the shower scene) like a mummy’s skull in the cellar. The most striking material is the humdrum day-in-the-life-of a real estate receptionist: Godardlike, anonymous rooms, bare, uncomfortable. Except for the World War II armor-plated brassiere, the opening of a girl having only her lunch hour to be in bed with hardware swain is raunchy, elegant. The scenes later are even better: packing the bags (there’s something wonderful about the drabness) and the folks from her office, off to lunch, passing in front of the embezzler’s car: the little smile and wave, and then, nearly out of the camera’s range, the doubletake.

1 comment:

  1. hey thank you so much, alan.
    Yeah I want it wider.