1. Psycho opens with title design by Saul Bass and music by Bernard Herrmann. This is their third collaboration for Hitchcock, including Vertigo and North by Northwest. How does the graphic design and the score introduce the main themes of this film?
The graphic design is about fragmentation. And there are many fragments or cuts in the film:
Good Marion vs Bad Marion (see comment in #3 below)
Norman’s split personality
The cuts of the shower scene
The two-part movie – before and after Marion is killed
The score follows this idea of fragmentation. The opening music is made up of melodic fragments that reappear in various orders, mixed and matched. Check out the terrific analysis along these lines in the following article:
Tom Schneller, “Easy to Cut: Modular Form in the Film Scores of Bernard Herrmann,” Journal of Film Music 5.1-2 (2012): 127-51. You can see a preview of the article here: https://www.scribd.c...ernard-Herrmann
A couple of things about the strings-only score. First, by having only strings, the color of the orchestra is limited. Rather than featuring the full range of colors and timbres (woodwinds, brass, percussion, and strings), we get only the sound of strings. The mono-chromatic orchestra matches the black and white. Second, the violin is an instrument that closely matches the sound of the human voice. And it is usually such a lush, romantic, sweet kind of sound. So to use the violins here, in Psycho, in the high range is very unnerving. It sounds like screams (like in the shower scene), and it also is a kind of perversion of the normal, warm, “humanity” of the violin. Here the violin is twisted, like Norman Bates.
2. As the titles end, we have three shots of Phoenix, Arizona, and a very specific day, date, and time: “FRIDAY, DECEMBER THE ELEVENTH” and “TWO FORTY-THREE P.M.” What is Hitchcock seeking to establish with such specificity? Also, why do you think Hitchcock elects to enter the hotel room through the semi-closed blinds from the outside? Does this shot remind of any other Daily Doses we have watched?
First off, all of this specificity if McGuffin-esque. None of these details matter. I think Hitchcock used this technique to invoke a sense of “reality” in that police procedural shows, like Dragnet (which began on TV in 1951), often had this level of detail. It’s a documentary type approach that makes the viewer feel like these crimes and people are real. So that’s what I think Hitchcock is working off of here. And that sense of “reality” makes the shower scene and Norman even more disturbing. Hitchcock has set this up from the beginning to be a “true” story. This reminds me also of the Coen Brothers’ opening of the movie Fargo from 1996 (and the recent FX series on TV continues this opening). There they also say they are showing a true story: “THIS IS A TRUE STORY. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.” Having this opening also makes the audience assume that these gruesome events really happened. And even if you know that the opening line here is just a gesture and is not true, it still colors the way you experience the film. In both Psycho and Fargo, the horror is greater because is could be true.
As far as the blinds go – first they’re drawn during the day to hide what’s happening behind them. But we peek through the bottom of them (it’s a hot day so they’re left open a bit for air), and we go right through to enter the scene. This is very much like Rear Window. We are voyeurs again on a hot day, looking through windows and finding sex and murder.
3. In the remainder of this sequence, we are introduced to Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) and Sam Loomis (John Gavin). The scene pushed the boundaries of censorship, especially considering our last Daily Dose for North by Northwest was edited for a line of risqué dialogue. Since this is the opening scene of Psycho, how does the hotel room scene function as a way to establish Marion Crane as a main character? Defend your answer.
We know she’s in love with Sam but unhappy that they have to meet in a tawdry hotel. She wants respectability and marriage. This sets up the motive for this good girl to steal money, which seems out of character. Notice her bra and slip are white in this scene. Even though she’s having illicit sex, she’s a “good” girl. But in the scene in her bedroom after she’s stolen the money, she is in a black bra and slip. She’s transgressed now, having stolen the money. And Norman sees her in this black underwear when he spies on her. Remember, “Mother” assumed all girls were bad, and she’s dressed this way (in black, like a “bad” girl) when Norman sees her through the hole in the wall, continuing also the voyeurism the film started with. And again, Marion is in a tawdry, down-scale hotel/motel.