…and the quest to see everything

Posts tagged “Janet Leigh

Psycho stories and shots


Sorry for the short blog hiatus! There’s more of that to come, unfortunately.

Instead of talking about my favourite shot from Psycho – that’ll come later – or my long-ass history with arguably Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, or my veneration for the woman with the coolest CV in Hollywood (Janet Leigh) and the man with the coolest CV in Hollywood (Martin Balsam) I’ll talk about a shot and a story that I’m probably not supposed to tell. This story also means that I can’t talk about what school I went to, although I probably can’t keep my mouth shut for that long. And that despite the slight Schadenfreude, I feel bad about telling this story because the same things that I might imply on this person might also be said about me.

As a background, in my college, there is a great film professor pushing into his emeritus years. If you wanted an introduction to ways of thinking and philosophy from the 20th century and beyond, he’s your guy. He is much beloved by the earlier classes but the dissent against his has been coming stronger as new generations of students come. My ambivalent opinion towards him doesn’t make the fact that I’m unemployable because I like talking shit any less true.

So me and an alum were talking about B film ‘Hobo With a Shotgun,’ that recently had its Canadian première. I hesitated on saying that I hated it, he was talking about its merits and deeper nuances, about how the film treats. “So, like, the Drake character is Stephen Harper and Rutger Hauer is some guy in some other political party or ‘the people’ or something?”

“No, not that deep.”

“Sorry. I guess it’s the _ _ _ _ _ _ _ training in me that make me over-analyze things.” Although I do believe that every film is political and social, a belief that will lead to a story that I will never tell unless we meet in person.

“Oh, God. Him. It’s like every film to him is about the economy. Like for Psycho. For genre class he made a shot-by-shot analysis of the shower scene. At the end he showed the shot of the drain, and asked the class ‘What do you see?’ You know what he said?”

“The swirling of the water is reminiscent of the dollar sign,” I asked sarcastically.

“ZERO!”

“NO!”

“And I shit you not, _ _ _ _  _ _ _ _ yelled ‘Bullshit,’ walked out of the room and never took his classes again.”

“That is kinda funny. I have _ _ _ _ on my Facebook. I should write on his wall sometime.”

I’m haunted by that sequence because the chunky blood that comes out of Marion Crane (Leigh), eventually being diluted in the water for that ‘zero’ moment.

What’s also ironic is that while I’m talking out of my ass, I’m using one of my prof’s shot-counter shot analysis that he intended for Vertigo – another clue – and how in the earlier scenes, the backgrounds used for Jimmy Stewart’s character had clean geometric borders while the Barbara bel Geddes character worked around a hot mess.  The same thing happens here in Psycho, where two characters are literally a few feet away from each other yet the spaces are clearly bordered. Marion sits in front of a relatively blank wallpaper while Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) chooses to sit with his creepy stuffed birds. The clutter around him shows his conflicted, angry mind while she’s fine if a bit delusional.

Despite Marion’s blood and her effects, the  bathroom feels clean when Norman enters. It’s as if doing the deed is a method of purgation for him. The clouds and the fog hours before seem to disappear for him, the dead trees making way for his brooding face.

Or to a lesser extent, there’s one particular shot with Lila Crane (Vera Miles) and Sam Loomis (wooden John Gavin). It’s a little bit smoky on Lila’s side while the downtown buildings serve as a background for Sam. We can argue which parts of the mise-en-scene make one more troubled than the other, but I like this shot because it’s pretty.

Then there’s the last scene, showing Norman imprisoned around the ultimate void, when the battle’s been won.

This has been part of Nathaniel Rogers’ “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” series.


Highway Robbery of 1958


ph Warner Video

Inspired by Nathaniel, again. Nominees for that year.

I don’t wanna be that guy who ridicules the Academy for its missteps, but I just noticed something about the year I indicated above. What do I know, I’ve only seen seven movies from that year, but those seven have pretty good performances. In essence, I’m FYC’ing people 50 years too late, and I’m really pushing myself for a chance to watch the movies that won and were nominated pretty soon.

Elizabeth Taylor got a nod for her performance in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” I haven’t seen it in a while. For an untrained viewer it would seem like there’s nothing special about her performance. But then her husband died while she was filming. Another actress could have made Maggie unwatchable, desperate and shrill but she made her character alluring and strong. But is that enough? Besides, Richard Brooks turned the movie into a ‘sexy drama’ and I still wonder what Elia Kazan would have done if he directed.

I do however have high praises for the supporting cast, who stole the show. Judith Anderson was haunting as Big Momma, and I can’t believe she was overlooked. And she gets better with other movies, but I love Madeleine Sherwood here too.

ph. Paramount

And then there’s Kim Novak in “Vertigo.” Honestly, I like her more as Judy Barton. Matt Mazur called Judy Barton ‘de-glammed’ although I see a campy character who’s rough on the edges, the total opposite of the classy Madeleine. Basically a character who’s lived two lives. Novak thankfully made her character balance these two personas well, without seeming schizophrenic. Novak could either have been a lead or supporting, but the poor box office revenues probably took it out of consideration for the Academy.

ph. Universal

Another overlooked masterpiece is “Touch of Evil.” I don’t know why I’m so partial towards Janet Leigh because she becomes so much better a few years later and the Academy only paid attention to her once. Regardless, she can do more asleep and drugged up more than most of her generation can do awake.