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The Moment of Psycho, By David Thomson

Director's cuts that made history

The Jacobean tastes of Alfred Hitchcock, that working-class Englishman, have wormed their way into the cultural mainstream. Especially with Psycho, a film with a wavering sense of near-farce saved by the most brilliant musical score in movie history, by Bernard Herrmann. Go to see Martin Scorsese's new film, Shutter Island; you'll find Leonardo DiCaprio taking a shower. The shower head, a fully referenced Psycho flower of radiating water, is like an advancing medical instrument in an alien laboratory.

David Thomson recalls going to see Psycho as a film student, when he "posed against the social realism tendencies of the film school". He "was certain that Psycho was the film of the year", whereas his teachers praised Guy Green's The Angry Silence, "a story of union troubles in British industry". In a sense, Thomson has been fighting this cultural battle ever since.

Psycho proved one of Hitchcock's most successful films, and earned him a fifth Oscar nomination. So the contention that he somehow remained isolated and rebuffed by Hollywood does not quite ring true. How else could he have grabbed a 60 per cent share of the profits in his contract, earning himself about $4 million at the time: a near-James Cameron sum in adjusted figures? As Thomson notes, his majority ownership of the film also allowed him to instigate a completely new release pattern. Big premieres in LA and New York were followed by a mass release, simultaneously. Hitchcock also did another new thing in using his TV profile to make a very successful television trailer.

Scorsese borrowings aside, and the very obvious debts that many films owe to Psycho, Thomson's most interesting revelation in this study is of Psycho as a new business model for Hollywood. That, and the use of a lavatory. Apparently, the scene in the motel where a lavatory is flushed was quite shocking for audiences at the time. Perhaps the cloacal aspect of this most written about movie of all time is another book waiting to be authored.

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