I have, until now, never kept a film journal of any kind; all I have ever considered is sitting down and watching movies. I mention this because I know that I have probably had a half-dozen viewings of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, the most previous views of all the films on this list. What separates Psycho from the other movies that I have watched over and over again is that it stops me in my tracks. While I typically play a film in the background while working on something else, Psycho always catches me with the score and grabs ahold of me as my sole focus of attention.
On the off chance that you have not watched the movie, it is about Marion Crane, played by Janet Leigh, a woman who has absconded with forty thousand dollars from her real estate-selling employer and beats a hasty trail out of town. As she flees, she happens across the Bates Motel, which is managed by Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins, and settles in for an overnight stay before continuing on her way. As you may likely imagine, she is not able to move along after what is likely the most famous shower scene to ever be filmed. The story plays out with Marion’s boyfriend and her sister, along with a variety of ancillary characters, looking for any information on the missing Crane.
I earlier mentioned Bernard Herrmann’s score. There is a very short list of symphonic film themes that I recognize, tunes that with only a handful of notes can drag your memory through the mud of thoughts in order to, in some cases, mentally take a moment off and watch the entire film quickly from memory. Psycho’s score is so incredibly jarring and suspenseful that it increases my heartbeat and anxiety levels. It is a perfect film score, unless you are the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but that is not my business.
Also, perhaps as important when it comes to filmmaking, Psycho is a great place to consider opening titles. There are a few instances that trigger memories before a film even starts – perhaps the MGM lion roar, or the shimmering Toho pictures logo – but that is not really what I mean. In most cases the title sequence happens, then the film starts, but sometimes a director or producer will hire someone like Saul Bass. There is only one Saul Bass, even though many people try, but when his hand is involved with the titles, you know it. Well, I know it. The opening credit sequence on Psycho consists of a series of horizontal and vertical lines streaming back and forth, almost dancing and delivering the credits. It does not sound like much but when you accompany the lines with Hermann’s score, you are already sitting on the edge of your seat before you even have a chance to settle in.
I enjoy Psycho from the first beat to the last. It is engaging and, while I have said this several time among these films, masterfully crafted. Hitchcock is one of the few directors that has never truly disappointed me. Now, I have not watched all of Hitchcock’s films so I suppose it could still happen; but I know that if it happens, I will always be able to fall back on Psycho.