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The Moment of Psycho: How Alfred Hitchcock Taught America to Love Murder

by David Thomson

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985231,487 (3.33)2
It was made like a television movie, and completed in less than three months. It killed off its star in forty minutes. There was no happy ending. And it offered the most violent scene to date in American film, punctuated by shrieking strings that seared the national consciousness. Nothing like Psycho had existed before; the movie industry -- even America itself -- would never be the same. In The Moment of Psycho, film critic David Thomson situates Psycho in Alfred Hitchcock's career, recreating the mood and time when the seminal film erupted onto film screens worldwide. Thomson shows that Psycho was not just a sensation in film: it altered the very nature of our desires. Sex, violence, and horror took on new life. Psycho, all of a sudden, represented all America wanted from a film -- and, as Thomson brilliantly demonstrates, still does.… (more)
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Showing 5 of 5
Interesting but slight. I was expecting more analysis. ( )
  GaylaBassham | May 27, 2018 |
Interesting but slight. I was expecting more analysis. ( )
  gayla.bassham | Nov 7, 2016 |
Excellent analysis of the origins of our love affair with screen violence and the changes in our culture's view of moviegoing. ( )
  willmurdoch | Nov 5, 2011 |
When Janet Leigh stepped into the shower in Alfred Hitchcock's, Psycho, American movies grew up. The forty-five seconds of film that followed forever changed American culture. At least, that's the central argument of David Thomson's entertaining book The Moment of Psycho: How Alfred Hitchcock Taught American to Love Murder.

Mr. Thomson lists three major firsts for American movies in Psycho which, taken together, mark a moment when movie-making matured beyond anything the censors or the studio system could ever hope to control. The first is, of course, the murder in the shower of the Bates Motel. Never before had a major star, one given top billing, been killed halfway through a movie. It's not happened often since. Audiences squirm in both fear and a kind of delight throughout the scene. It's terrible, but it's also kind of fun. This realization led to Bonnie and Clyde, The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Jason Vorhees, Saw III.

The other two firsts slip by almost unnoticed today. While the Janet Leigh character is her motel room she makes a little list subtracting the 700 dollars she spent on a used car from the 40,000 dollars she stole from her employer. This is silent film-making at its best, badly out-dated in the early 1960's when Alfred Hitchcock, a former silent film director, made Psycho. Janet Leigh proceeds to tear up the list and flush it down the toilet, marking the very first time a toilet was ever flushed in an American movie. Later in the film, the toilet will serve a significant role in solving the crime.

The third and final first takes place in the opening scene. Janet Leigh and John Gavin are in a hotel room putting their clothes on. No one says what is going on in so many words, but it's clearly the middle of the day so the adult audience knows the two have just completed and lunchtime tryst. This is the first time a post-coital scene ever appeared in an American film.

Sex, functioning toilets and murder. Psycho in a nutshell.

Mr. Thomson has more to say about the movie. He does an excellent job placing Psycho in its historical/social context so that it's very easy to see why it was such a popular and revolutionary movie in its day. He also provides plenty of insider information about the making of Psycho, the struggles Alfred Hitchcock had with his producers and the wonderful marketing campaign for the movie. I've included the famous long trailer Hitchcock made featuring himself leading a guided tour of the Bates Motel. I fail to see how anyone could have watched this trailer and not been desperate to see Psycho.

Fortunately, Psycho is available for instant viewing on Netflix. It still holds up very well. The frankness about the characters sex lives keeps the movie from feeling dated. The acting is all very good--it's hard to watch Tony Perkins as Norman Bates knowing that he did not even warrant a nomination for his performance, even harder to believe that Bernard Hermann's musical score failed to win an Oscar as well. The first murder scene is still disturbing, maybe even more so knowing that it's coming. The second one is still something of a let down. The ending still makes little sense, but no one really cares. Psycho is all about the shower. No actress has ever been able to enter a shower since without causing at least a few audience members to fear for her life. ( )
  CBJames | Feb 21, 2010 |
I watched the film for the first time recently, and shortly afterward I read this book. I found the commentary on the film interesting, a bit of a combination on the making-of and an analysis of the film itself. The book also provided context on the cultural climate of the time. This all was very interesting.

However, there were parts of the book that veered off wildly from the topic at hand (the movie Psycho). I learned an awful lot about the making of The Birds, which, although interesting, was not what I thought the book was going to be about. The sections near the end of the book were also out of place, discussing road tripping across America and how hotels and motels really are safe, despite what the movie might make you believe. I wasn't quite sure what to think when I read those sections. ( )
  stacyinthecity | Jan 22, 2010 |
Showing 5 of 5
Though readers may not agree with all of Mr. Thomson’s arguments here, he makes a powerful — and sometimes surprising — case for the movie’s importance in film and cultural history.
 
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It was made like a television movie, and completed in less than three months. It killed off its star in forty minutes. There was no happy ending. And it offered the most violent scene to date in American film, punctuated by shrieking strings that seared the national consciousness. Nothing like Psycho had existed before; the movie industry -- even America itself -- would never be the same. In The Moment of Psycho, film critic David Thomson situates Psycho in Alfred Hitchcock's career, recreating the mood and time when the seminal film erupted onto film screens worldwide. Thomson shows that Psycho was not just a sensation in film: it altered the very nature of our desires. Sex, violence, and horror took on new life. Psycho, all of a sudden, represented all America wanted from a film -- and, as Thomson brilliantly demonstrates, still does.

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