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Daily Dose #17: What Do I Do With My Free Afternoon? (Title Sequence and Opening Scene of Psycho)

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1. The graphic design and score match perfectly. The music is dramatic and thrilling and the graphic design is linear with letters for the credits. At one point the film title breaks up hinting at the split personality/schizophrenia which will be a subject of the film and the same thing happens to Alfred Hitchcock's name. The graphics seem to dance to Hermann's music score. The word Psycho wouldn;t have shocked the audience as they would know this was the title of the film before they came to the cinema so the music helps to unsettle them and to expect something scary or weird to happen.


2. Friday the Eleventh and Two Forty Three pm makes the audience think we're going to see a crime scene through that window except it isn't (yet) but a love scene of a secretive meeting. This opening sequence reminded me of Rear Window's opening sequence as it pans the whole city first then moves into the window with the lowered blinds - the main differences being that in Rear Window, the camera pans the courtyard and a bit of the outside world (the main street) and looks into a lot of windows. As in Rear Window, the camera actually enters the room in which one of the protagonists is and is not just a peeping Tom but a camera which informs you about one of the main characters.


3. We learn from this scene that Marion is meeting her lover secretly in a hotel room in her extended lunch hour, a regular occurrence whenever her lover is in town. We learn about her boss too so we know she works in an office. She also expresses her wish for this to be the last time for this type of meeting (ominous!). Shooting the scene in the hotel room enables Hitch to introduce Marion's character and give us a bit of extra knowledge about her through the dialogue between her and John Gavin.

The date and specific time do give the 'crime scene' feel.  Great way to think of it!

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*Does anyone know what Marion (Janet Leigh) says to Sam (John Gavin) at the 3:26, or so, mark in the video clip?  Right after she says "When you're married, you can do a lot of things," she then hurriedly whispers something, after which, he says "You sure talk like a girl who's been married."  I've listened several times and cannot figure it out!  Maybe someone has already asked/answered that question!?


"Deliberately" ...in response to Sam saying "I've heard of married couples who deliberately spend a night in a cheap hotel."


I always find it helpful to turn on the English-language subtitles (if I am watching any film on DVD) so that I can catch dialogue that I miss. It's a very useful feature, but it requires borrowing or buying the DVD version of a film.

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Daily Dose #17: What Do I Do With My Free Afternoon? Title Sequence and Opening Scene from Psycho (1960)


The title sequence to Psycho joins the music of Bernard Hermann and the graphic design of Saul Bass impeccably. It’s a forceful intro that grabs your attention, with minimal visual detail, to indicate what’s coming. Only these essential graphic lines, horizontal and vertical that slide in and out foreshadow the break in personality that is at the heart of Norman Bate’s character, the break and attempted escape from society that Marion tries to make, the unconventional break in the film’s plot, caused by the murder of the main character, and the shocks created in the audience that will leave them exiting the film shaken and a little unhinged.


The intro feels very modern, even today, as does the stylized black and white, high contrast, high clarity, and high-def camerawork of the film. Even though Hitchcock had to use his TV crew, the film has a high quality look that we don’t associate with the TV of the time.


The establishing shot of a sun-drenched Phoenix, in contrast to the rain-soaked drive to the Bates motel emphasizes the dark nature of the film. Similarly, the camera’s descent to an anonymous hotel room venetian-blinded against the white hot desert sunlight, and through the window, like the remarkable opening shot of Rebecca, where the camera flows through the wrought iron gates, like it’s floating down a river, takes us into a room that could be the boarding house room of Uncle Charlie, film-noirish, and night.


Marion Crane is laying down a lot of rules, Mr. and Mrs. Smith style, for lover Sam Loomis, who looks suspiciously as handsome, but more mature, than Norman Bates, who is just down the road.


The time and setting stamps on these early scenes indicate the restrictions of living within society’s norms, and though they will not continue throughout the film, time and setting will continue to be very important to the plot. They also create a tension and require the viewer to focus on the unfolding events and decision of Marion to take off.

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I watched Psycho on a DVD that came with commentary by Stephen Rebello, and the commentary was fantastic. Rebello gave lots of interesting insights on the making of the film: He wrote a book about it called Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. But what I really enjoyed was his recollections of seeing the film in the theater when it was first released. His descriptions of the audience's reactions were the best part. The first time I saw Psycho was on television with my friends, and Rebello's comments brought back many memories of what it was like for me to see the film for the first time.


I have grown to appreciate Psycho even more because of this course. Some of the film techniques may seem dated to modern audiences, but I would love to know what it's like to see the film for the first time today, not knowing all the plot twists. I have a feeling Psycho can still inspire dread and fear. I think the film holds up really well because it is, in addition to everything else, a character study. Now that I have seen it again more recently, I could really appreciate other points about the film.

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