Friday, October 30, 2015

Psycho (1998)

In the annals of Unnecessary Remake Shame, 1998's PSYCHO has to rank very close to the top. A more pointless cinematic exercise I cannot recall witnessing.  Many redos that I have watched may have angered and saddened me, but this one was a weird non-experience.  Very odd.  I sat there feeling numb, embalmed.  As if I had ingested too many benzodiazepines.  But the effect wasn't calming, rather disbelief. Allow me to borrow the words of a music critic - this film is "an almost perfect blandness".

Director Gus Van Sant plays it near letter perfect to Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 original.  The script is still credited to Joseph Stefano.  Much of the dialogue is the same.  I guess we can applaud the Imagine team (who created a ridiculous tagline for this new film, btw) for not trying to create a baldly contemporary take on the strange case of Normal Bates.  Although if they had, maybe it would've been bad enough for me to respond with some degree of emotion.  As it is, this version of PSYCHO does inspire my negative review, with enough behind it to prompt me to make caustic remarks, but really, I was just overwhelmed by pure bafflement. Why, Gus?

I wonder why so much effort was put into a shot for shot remake.  Why they felt it necessary for Norman to masturbate while watching Marion through the peephole. Of course we knew the shower scene would be a little more explicit.  I also wonder why such a fine cast, which includes Vince Vaughan, Anne Heche, Julianne Moore, Philip Baker Hall, and others, agreed to this project.  Maybe they all loved their director.  I've mentioned before that William H. Macy (who plays Milton Arbogast here) is quoted as saying that he heard Hitchock was a real bitch to actors.  It pains me to say that maybe such an approach is necessary to tease out a classic? Just compare the two films.

Van Sant is a director I admire.  DRUGSTORE COWBOY, TO DIE FOR, GOOD WILL HUNTING, MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO, and others are impressive.  I can't join the chorus of negativity towards EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES as I haven't had the pleasure of seeing it yet.  Was PSYCHO some sort of experiment? A proving point to himself? I just don't get it.  It's truly a textbook case of artists/craftsmen/what have you studying the same blueprint and erecting something very different.  Or, as Ebert discusses in his review, different musicians playing the same piece: one getting all the technical points down, but losing the music.  The late critic really says it all when he explains what "genius" is behind the camera:

Genius apparently resides between or beneath the shots, or in chemistry that cannot be timed or counted.

Think about that, even with some of the obvious visual stylings on display,  the next time you try to quantify why Max Ophuls, Satyajit Ray, Stanley Kubick, the Coen Brothers, or several others deserve the title.

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