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The UnPopular Opinion: Psycho (1998)

Jul. 3, 2013by:

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
 
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

Douglas Gordon created an art installation in 1993 called 24 HOUR PSYCHO which slows the frame rate of Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece to 2 frames per second, making the movie last 1440 minutes instead of the original 109. Aside from the slowed projection, Gordon has not altered the film in any way. It is the 1960 classic, just really slow. Gordon claims this is meant to convey "recognition and repetition, time and memory, complicity and duplicity, authorship and authenticity, darkness and light." To the average viewer, 24 HOUR PSYCHO sounds like a waste of f*cking time.

When Gus Van Sant set out to remake PSYCHO in 1998, he was not planning a bold reimagining of the Hitchcock film. There were no aspirations to reboot it like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, SPIDER-MAN, FRIDAY THE 13TH, or the countless other studio sponsored remakes of films both old and recent. No, Van Sant wanted to try an experiment and see if a shot for shot recreation of a movie could be done while maintaining the integrity of the source film. For many, PSYCHO is a failure on all fronts. But, like Gordon's art installation, I think Gus Van Sant's PSYCHO is an artistic triumph.

So close and yet so far.

How many of you have actually watched the 1998 version of PSYCHO? I would be willing to bet there are more people who assume the movie is awful based on impressions from critics or others who have seen the movie. Like a rumor, word of mouth can spread and doom a film without actually benefiting from being viewed. The two versions of PSYCHO are simultaneously different and the same despite almost 40 years between them.  This is what makes the movie so damn intriguing.

Van Sant's PSYCHO takes a shot for shot approach to the cinematography, which is a challenge in it's own right.  Costume and set design are integral to achieving this and making the two movies look and move the same way.  The remake wants to contemporize the story and setting while maintaining the integrity of the original shots and composition.  Even Danny Elfman's score is similar to the classic Bernard Hermann.  But, similar is not identical.

That stuffed duck was actually alive during filming of the original movie.

Alfred Hitchcock was a fan of the MacGuffin, a plot device used to advance the story.  In many of his films, the MacGuffin is never explained or identified. Think of the Rabbit's Foot in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III.  That is the modern example of a MacGuffin.  In PSYCHO, the MacGuffin is everyone around Norman Bates.  Gus Van Sant has said that the only fully realized character in the Hitchcock version was Norman Bates himself while everyone else just existed to advance the story.  Van Sant decided to allow his cast to delve into their roles and change them as they saw fit.  This meant changing voice, attitude, and physical demeanor.  William H. Macy kept his role as detective Milton Arbogast almost exactly the same as Martin Balsam in the 1960 film.  Viggo Mortensen's portrayal as Sam Loomis was close to John Gavin's take on the part but Viggo brought his trademark cool delivery of the dialogue which makes Loomis seem more imposing and less of a caricature.  Even Anne Heche's interpetation of Janet Leigh's iconic Marion Crane is spot on. Heche and cinematographer Christopher Doyle had never seen the original PSYCHO when they made this movie so Van Sant continually referenced a copy of the Hitchcock film so they could make sure everything was perfect, even keeping errors that Hitchcock may have missed.

But, that is where the similarities end. Vera Miles character of Lila Crane always felt like a sister determined to find Marion and the money she stole, a relatable character.  Julianne Moore turns Lila into a bitch which aids in feeling sympathetic for Norman.  While Anthony Perkins played Norman Bates as a nice young man who shockingly becomes the villain, Vince Vaughn did not have that element of surprise.  Instead, Vaughn relies on playing Norman as an the creepy and odd killer with a veil of normalcy barely masking his insanity.  Vaughn is so adept at playing variations of himself in comedies that his Norman Bates still feels like Vince Vaughn playing Norman Bates instead of being a wholly unique character.

Do not want!

A big deal was made regarding the change that has masturbation sound effects added to the scene of Norman watching Marion through a peephole in that it was unnecessary or vulgar. Yes, changes like this and changing the word aspic to Jell-O, the amount Marion stole from $40,000 to $400,000, and more are minor, but Van Sant also was able to achieve the long opening tracking shot that was not possible in Hitchcock's time. Hitchcock's daughter even commented at the release of the film that making a shot for shot remake of a film would have been something her father would have done as an experiment.

All experiments are valid. When I consider 24 HOUR PSYCHO, I think that it doesn't do anything unique or special aside from slowing down a movie. I respect the experiment even if I don't personally like it. Gus Van Sant's PSYCHO is a glorious failure critically but also a vital page in the history of film. It shows us that just because you can, it doesn't mean you should. That is a rule that all filmmakers considering a remake or reboot should consider. But, just because we didn't need a remake of PSYCHO, is that a reason to doom an entire film? I don't think so. If anything, it gives us an opportunity to revisit Hitchcock and try to figure out what made his interpretation so much more powerful than the remake.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to alexmaidy@joblo.com, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!
Source: JoBlo.com

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5:52PM on 07/06/2013
An artistic triumph? I call it lazy filmmaking. I call it "announced plagiarism."

If I were to copy Ebert's review on Psycho, tell everybody it's Ebert's review and then post it as a review here, would that be considered an artistic triumph? Personally, I think it would only be considered a sad pathetic waste of time.
An artistic triumph? I call it lazy filmmaking. I call it "announced plagiarism."

If I were to copy Ebert's review on Psycho, tell everybody it's Ebert's review and then post it as a review here, would that be considered an artistic triumph? Personally, I think it would only be considered a sad pathetic waste of time.
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7:29AM on 07/05/2013

.......

FUCK YOU
FUCK YOU
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11:05PM on 07/03/2013
Gus Van Sant's PSYCHO is like a kid tracing an image off of a comic book cover, and being called an artist for it.
Gus Van Sant's PSYCHO is like a kid tracing an image off of a comic book cover, and being called an artist for it.
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9:34PM on 07/03/2013
Perhaps Alex Maidy continues to write these UnPopular Opinion articles under the assumption that he is either a) some kind of minor internet celebrity whose opinions actually matter, or b) that he can somehow string together some kind of cohesive intellectual argument in which an opinion is actually related in a sensible intelligent manner. Neither of which are true.
Perhaps Alex Maidy continues to write these UnPopular Opinion articles under the assumption that he is either a) some kind of minor internet celebrity whose opinions actually matter, or b) that he can somehow string together some kind of cohesive intellectual argument in which an opinion is actually related in a sensible intelligent manner. Neither of which are true.
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1:03PM on 07/05/2013
The next time you take a shot at one of our writers, you will be BANNED from the site. Normally we'd do it right away, because everyone should know this BASIC RULE by now. This is a website. We write our opinions. It doesn't imply anything like you implied. It's a man with an opinion that differs from yours. DEAL WITH IT.
The next time you take a shot at one of our writers, you will be BANNED from the site. Normally we'd do it right away, because everyone should know this BASIC RULE by now. This is a website. We write our opinions. It doesn't imply anything like you implied. It's a man with an opinion that differs from yours. DEAL WITH IT.
2:38AM on 08/15/2013
@JoBlo

This is a rare time where I agree with Mr. Maidy on his opinion and his points. I don't see why VanHogTrio said such things about this article.


However most of the time when Alex's unpopular opinion is he "dislikes" the film, he comes off cynical and rarely presents good points. It is a turn off for fans of this site.

I pretty much only enjoy the unpopular opnions where someone liked a movie that everyone hated. That way they're trying to unearth the good instead of making up
@JoBlo

This is a rare time where I agree with Mr. Maidy on his opinion and his points. I don't see why VanHogTrio said such things about this article.


However most of the time when Alex's unpopular opinion is he "dislikes" the film, he comes off cynical and rarely presents good points. It is a turn off for fans of this site.

I pretty much only enjoy the unpopular opnions where someone liked a movie that everyone hated. That way they're trying to unearth the good instead of making up things that aren't bad just for the sake of writing the article. Just my 2 cents.
1:36PM on 07/03/2013

Pile of Crap

Despite being in color, an ensemble cast, the open helicopter tracking shot, and Anne Heche's spread cheeks, I fail to see the artistic integrity here. This film shouldn't even exist.
Despite being in color, an ensemble cast, the open helicopter tracking shot, and Anne Heche's spread cheeks, I fail to see the artistic integrity here. This film shouldn't even exist.
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12:30PM on 07/03/2013

I don't even know how to approach this argument

I've seen the original multiple times, including as part of a film course, and watched the remake in the theater with my full attention. Regardless of whether or not I liked it, I don't understand if this article is advocating it or not. "I think Gus Van Sant's PSYCHO is an artistic triumph" is pretty unambiguous, but by the time we get to the end of this editorial, we get "it shows us that just because you can, it doesn't mean you should." This article vacillates all over the place, and seems
I've seen the original multiple times, including as part of a film course, and watched the remake in the theater with my full attention. Regardless of whether or not I liked it, I don't understand if this article is advocating it or not. "I think Gus Van Sant's PSYCHO is an artistic triumph" is pretty unambiguous, but by the time we get to the end of this editorial, we get "it shows us that just because you can, it doesn't mean you should." This article vacillates all over the place, and seems to be a platform for "saying smart things about art" rather than take a particular stand. I think it's a lot easier to just ask yourself if the film has artistic merits of it's own, or only serves to enhance or comment on the source material. To me, the answer is the latter, and at no point can I single out anything that the remake did that improved upon the original. As a result, I don't blame Gus Van Sant for his exercise, but it's nothing I'd ever want or need to sit through again. The act of repeat watching this instead of the original actually strains credulity, unless you had a fetish-level obsession with all things Psycho.
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9:16PM on 07/03/2013
Your arguments about the article itself being extremely poorly written are perfectly observed, and are a good example of Mr Alex Maidy's so-called writing "style". As a reporter he's several levels below "hack" and if you go back and read other "UnPopular Opinion" columns, you will clearly see he has terrible taste in movies. Thumbs up for your comment sir.
Your arguments about the article itself being extremely poorly written are perfectly observed, and are a good example of Mr Alex Maidy's so-called writing "style". As a reporter he's several levels below "hack" and if you go back and read other "UnPopular Opinion" columns, you will clearly see he has terrible taste in movies. Thumbs up for your comment sir.
12:21PM on 07/03/2013

It is what it is

I always thought that the remake should have been faithful to the shower scene and then veer off unexpectedly. Not sure where it would veer off to, but maybe have Marion make it away from the motel and go from there. (Especially since the frame-by-frame aspect was so publicized at the time.)
I always thought that the remake should have been faithful to the shower scene and then veer off unexpectedly. Not sure where it would veer off to, but maybe have Marion make it away from the motel and go from there. (Especially since the frame-by-frame aspect was so publicized at the time.)
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11:44AM on 07/03/2013

No

Vince Vaughn is just silly as Norman Bates. If he just set out to make the same movie, why even bother. There was no heart in it at all. As much as I don't like anyone remaking anything Hitchcock, i'm a big fan of the Bates Motel series. I feel like they got it right as a homage and expanding the universe.
Vince Vaughn is just silly as Norman Bates. If he just set out to make the same movie, why even bother. There was no heart in it at all. As much as I don't like anyone remaking anything Hitchcock, i'm a big fan of the Bates Motel series. I feel like they got it right as a homage and expanding the universe.
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10:20AM on 07/03/2013
By its nature, the Movie violates the two big rules about remakes.

1.) Classics should be left the **** alone. Especially movies that would be on Movie Mount Rushmore like Psycho.

2.) Its the same friggin' movie. You can watch it, and not remember anything about it because ITS THE SAME FRIGGING MOVIE. Scorsese remade 'Cape Fear'...but he made it his own and made it memorable and classic in its own right.
By its nature, the Movie violates the two big rules about remakes.

1.) Classics should be left the **** alone. Especially movies that would be on Movie Mount Rushmore like Psycho.

2.) Its the same friggin' movie. You can watch it, and not remember anything about it because ITS THE SAME FRIGGING MOVIE. Scorsese remade 'Cape Fear'...but he made it his own and made it memorable and classic in its own right.
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9:51AM on 07/03/2013
What bothers me is that because it is a remake, and because all the critics have SEEN the Hitchcock film, then it becomes impossible to judge Van Sant's remake by its own merits.
How is the story? How is the acting? How are the costumes, sets, score, lighting and cinematography? How is the script. How is the editing, the tension? If you had never seen Hitchcock's Psycho, and knew NOTHING about it, would you still end up surprised, shocked, would you still think deeply about the poor
What bothers me is that because it is a remake, and because all the critics have SEEN the Hitchcock film, then it becomes impossible to judge Van Sant's remake by its own merits.
How is the story? How is the acting? How are the costumes, sets, score, lighting and cinematography? How is the script. How is the editing, the tension? If you had never seen Hitchcock's Psycho, and knew NOTHING about it, would you still end up surprised, shocked, would you still think deeply about the poor twisted character of Norman Bates? The character was an amalgam of real serial killers. The critics savaged the film as critics would. The whole "unnecessary" remake frame by frame of a classic film is a POOR argument. Because once again it takes away from judging a film on its own merits. How can a movie be GREAT and CLASSIC film, and when it is re-done frame by frame a virtual duplicate suddenly it is a bad film? What it really is, it is cinema snobbery.
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9:21AM on 07/03/2013
What bothers me is that because it is a remake, and because all the critics have SEEN the Hitchcock film, then it becomes impossible to judge Van Sant's remake by its own merits.
How is the story? How is the acting? How are the costumes, sets, score, lighting and cinematography? How is the script. How is the editing, the tension? If you had never seen Hitchcock's Psycho, and knew NOTHING about it, would you still end up surprised, shocked, would you still think deeply about the poor
What bothers me is that because it is a remake, and because all the critics have SEEN the Hitchcock film, then it becomes impossible to judge Van Sant's remake by its own merits.
How is the story? How is the acting? How are the costumes, sets, score, lighting and cinematography? How is the script. How is the editing, the tension? If you had never seen Hitchcock's Psycho, and knew NOTHING about it, would you still end up surprised, shocked, would you still think deeply about the poor twisted character of Norman Bates? The character was an amalgam of real serial killers. The critics savaged the film as critics would. The whole "unnecessary" remake frame by frame of a classic film is a POOR argument. Because once again it takes away from judging a film on its own merits. How can a movie be GREAT and CLASSIC film, and when it is re-done frame by frame a virtual duplicate suddenly it is a bad film? What it really is, it is cinema snobbery.
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10:09AM on 07/03/2013
I think you've hit on what is the problem with this movie and the experiment in and of itself. It wasn't supposed to be judged on it's own merits in the first place. They set themselves up for a no win situation by forcing the audience to judge it along side the original and people did... even if they didn't watch this version. It was gutsy and bold!
I think you've hit on what is the problem with this movie and the experiment in and of itself. It wasn't supposed to be judged on it's own merits in the first place. They set themselves up for a no win situation by forcing the audience to judge it along side the original and people did... even if they didn't watch this version. It was gutsy and bold!
9:22PM on 07/03/2013
Even if you believe it was "gutsy and bold" (as an EXPERIMENT, that is... and I'm not saying it WAS actually gutsy and bold) that doesn't make it a good movie. And if they did set themselves up for a no win situation then the movie and by extension the experiment itself becomes an automatic fail.
Even if you believe it was "gutsy and bold" (as an EXPERIMENT, that is... and I'm not saying it WAS actually gutsy and bold) that doesn't make it a good movie. And if they did set themselves up for a no win situation then the movie and by extension the experiment itself becomes an automatic fail.
9:12AM on 07/03/2013

Valid arguments

If anyone wants to see an interesting exploration of Norman Bates, watch Psycho II. Perkins is utterly sympathetic and spell-binding.
If anyone wants to see an interesting exploration of Norman Bates, watch Psycho II. Perkins is utterly sympathetic and spell-binding.
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6:13AM on 07/03/2013
If you didn't laugh when you saw Vince Vaughn in the wig then you have a superhuman capacity for suspension of disbelief.
If you didn't laugh when you saw Vince Vaughn in the wig then you have a superhuman capacity for suspension of disbelief.
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3:25AM on 07/03/2013
I've seen worse films. Not saying this is a really good film, I'm just saying I have seen worse. I do like the effort that this film gave in trying to recreate something new.
I've seen worse films. Not saying this is a really good film, I'm just saying I have seen worse. I do like the effort that this film gave in trying to recreate something new.
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3:32AM on 07/03/2013
Im sorry but you cant give credit for someone trying something new, even if they failed at it miserably.
Im sorry but you cant give credit for someone trying something new, even if they failed at it miserably.
2:37AM on 07/03/2013
Is it a bad movie? No. Is it a good movie? No. It's just mediocre at best. It's a good homage movie with literally shot-by-shot treatment. This remake is just a companion piece but nowhere near HItchcock's original classic.
Is it a bad movie? No. Is it a good movie? No. It's just mediocre at best. It's a good homage movie with literally shot-by-shot treatment. This remake is just a companion piece but nowhere near HItchcock's original classic.
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+14
2:14AM on 07/03/2013
There are just some movies you dont even try to remake
There are just some movies you dont even try to remake
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10:05AM on 07/03/2013
We're talking about Jurassic Park, right? RIGHT?
We're talking about Jurassic Park, right? RIGHT?
11:10PM on 07/03/2013
Yeah, like C.H.U.D. II: Bud the C.H.U.D.
Yeah, like C.H.U.D. II: Bud the C.H.U.D.
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