Sunday, March 22, 2015

Stephen Rebello's Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho

Well after taking in Hitchcock (Sacha Gervasi, 2012), I finally caught up with Stephen Rebello's Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the book on which the film...well, actually, had I read Manohla Dargis' NY Times review before watching, I'd have known that the film is only tangentially related to the book. It pretzels up some facts and centers much of the dramatic energy on a blossoming affair between Hitchcock's wife Alma Reville and screenwriter Whitfield Cook, a story which gets no play in Rebello's tight historical account of Psycho's controversial journey to screen. That leaves Gervasi's film a fun but rather empty exercise. Rebello's book is much more useful while never stinting on the fun. So below are the choicest quotes therein starting with a knockout simile concerning the media storm surrounding Ed Gein, the Wisconsin murderer who inspired Robert Bloch's 1959 novel on which Hitchcock's 1960 masterpiece was based.

The press and the ambulance chasers attached themselves to Plainfield like piranha on a drowning sumo wrestler.

In private Hitchcock railed. To the public he made light, as when he told the New York Times about his frustration in finding suitable material: “Newspaper headlines tell too many outlandish stories from real life that drive the spinner of suspense fiction to further extremes. I always regard the fact that we’ve got to outwit the audience to keep them with us. They’re highly trained detectives looking at us out there right now.”

Stefano perceived that the way to engage Hitchcock's imagination was to conceptualize and verbalize the story in terms of visuals. According to Stefano, "He was not interested in characters or motivation at all. That was the writer's job. If I said, 'I'd like to give the girl an air of desperation,' he'd say, 'Fine, fine.' But when I said, 'In the opening of the film, I'd like a helicopter shot over the city, then go right up to the seedy hotel where Marion is spending her lunch hour with Sam,' he said, 'We'll go right into the window!' That sort of thing excited him."

Once Hitchcock and Stefano had completed the breakdown, it was all over but the shooting. "We had lunch and toasted the project with champagne," said Stefano. "He looked very sad, and said, 'The picture's over. Now I have to go and put it on film.'"

After the director had arranged a private showing of Vertigo at the writer’s request, Stefano believed he had at last glimpsed the man who hid behind the mask. “Here was this incredibly beautiful movie he had made that nobody went to see or said nice things about it," Stefano said. “I told him I thought it was his best film. It brought him to near-tears."

Only Dean Stockwell strikes one as a viable alternative [to Perkins].

Miles remained philosophical about losing the chance for stardom in Vertigo. “Hitchcock got his picture," she said. "I got a son."

Stefano and Hitchcock had deliberately layered-in certain risqué elements as a ruse to divert the censors from more crucial concerns: primarily the action that took place in the shower and bathroom.

“Wimpy” was used as a substitute moniker for all in-house communications regarding the film. The story perhaps stems from the fact that the name of the second-unit cameraman on the picture, Rex Wimpy, appeared on clapboards and production sheets, and hence in some on-the-set stills for Psycho.

"We did between fourteen to eighteen setups a day, which, for a major motion picture director, is a lot."

Hitchcock suppressed any synopsis of the plot for public consumption. No other director had done this since Cecil B. DeMille on The Ten Commandments.  [Is this a joke? Don't we already know the story?]

Bass: " By modern standards, we don't think that represents staccato cutting because we've gotten so accustomed to flashcuts. But to have, in those days - I don't know what it was, two minutes, three minutes, whatever the sequence ran? - forty or sixty cuts, whatever it might be -was just a very new idea stylistically. As a title person, it was a very natural thing to use that quick-cutting, montage technique to deliver what amounted to an impressionistic, rather than a linear, view of the murder."

On-set wardrobe supervisor Rita Riggs elaborated about stand-in Marli Renfro and her director: "Because of makeup, of course, the model could not wear even a robe. But she became so comfortable, I recall her sitting quite nude except for this crazy little patch we always put over the pubic hair, talking with Mr. Hitchcock."

Hitchcock, throughout his career, maintained a healthy irreverence toward the guardians of law and order, and his view of Arbogast - smug, glib, tenacious, slightly dull - is no exception. In film after film, Hitchcock challenges his audiences to cry out "Why don't the hero and heroine go straight to the police?" Because, implies Hitchcock in answer, all that they will find is a universe of Milton Arbogasts. As the director so often put it, "Logic is dull."

Hitchcock and his screenwriter knew that the [headshrinker-explains-all] scene, the bane of creative types, was “obligatory”: a chance for the audience to catch its collective breath while the “logic” buffs among them got their fill of the facts.

"I still thought it would be clever to have a male voice reading the lines [of Mrs. Bates], which is why I suggested Paul Jasmin to Hitch,” Perkins said. Jasmin, then twenty-three, a Montana-born budding actor who stormed Hollywood with hopes of becoming the next Montgomery Clift or Gary Cooper, was a natural mimic, a practical joker, and a friend of Perkins.

“I was studying to be an actor,” recalled Jasmin."I did this old-lady character named 'Eunice Ayers,' a no-bullshit, Marjorie Main kind of gal. Tony [Perkins] and [Broadway and film star] Elaine Stritch used to egg me on, so I’d call up big stars like Rosalind Russell and put her on with this voice for hours. Stanley Kubrick was directing Spartacus at Universal at the time and, through a press agent, he heard about our little pranks, loved them, and began to tape the conversations. Then, Tony told Hitchcock about me and gave him some of the tapes.”

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home