A Thorough Look at The Making of “Psycho”

18 06 2012

As you probably have read here and elsewhere, the movie “Hitchcock,” starring Anthony Hopkins as the Master of Suspense, is currently filming. Set to hit theaters in 2013, the movie is inspired by the book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho” by Stephen Rebello, and while I’m not sure how they’re going to make the book into a work of fiction, the book itself is a fantastically detailed account of how the film was made.

Originally published in 1990, the book looks at the story of the film in a very thorough, step by step fashion. It begins with the original, horrific killings that inspired Robert Bloch to write the novel of the same name, and moves on to Hitchcock’s interest in B-movie shockers, his struggles with the studio, the writing, casting and shoot, all of which culminated in a publicity campaign that continued to mushroom as the movie became a bigger hit than anyone could have imagined. Rebello paints a picture of a director at the height of his abilities, with a commanding knowledge of every aspect of his craft. As an example, Hitchcock would tell his cameraman what lens to use to get a specific affect – without ever looking through the camera himself.

The overwhelming success of “Psycho” had a down side, though. After years of making the movies he wanted to, often surprising the rest of the world with his filmmaking prowess, Hitchcock found that the scale of his little shocker’s success increased his studio’s expectations. For the first time, the studio viewed him as a cash cow, and with raised expectations came greater pressure to make films as products for a preconceived audience. Hitchcock would experiment again with “Marnie,” but would be forced to work with less than ideal stars or properties in subsequent films.

The book draws some fascinating conclusions for the film industry. Hitchcock’s edict that no on be admitted to “Psycho” after the start of the film paved the way to the idea that for the first time audiences would have find out what time a film began and get there at that time, rather than showing up whenever they wanted and sitting through the movie and other features until they felt like leaving. It’s also very likely that the new, enforced showtimes contributed to the end of short subjects, newsreels and double features. Theater owners must have quickly realized that greater turnover meant greater profits. “Psycho” also inured audiences to a new level of violence, preparing them for films like “Bonnie and Clyde.”

You can order your own copy of “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho” at Amazon and elsewhere, although it looks like it may be out of stock right now. Rebello has announced that there will be a new edition to coincide with the movie’s release, so it’s possible that the publisher has let the book go out of stock temporarily.


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