The dream factory: A paint-by-numbers `Psycho'

God knows there is nothing new about remakes in the film industry, so Gus Van Sant's decision to redo Psycho doesn't, on the surface, look like anything out of the ordinary. True, he could have picked a film with rather less searingly memorable images, a film with more obvious room for variation or improvement, but these are questions of taste and judgement that Hollywood has negotiated many times before. Looking at the current crop of Christmas movies in the United States, Psycho appears to fall right in line alongside Meet Joe Black, a heavily reworked version of the Fredric March comedy, Death Takes a Holiday, and the Tom Hanks- Meg Ryan vehicle, You've Got Mail, which is to some degree a remake within a remake: a rerun of the on-screen chemistry of Sleepless in Seattle, and also an Internet-era update of the Ernst Lubitsch romantic comedy, The Shop Around the Corner.

What makes Van Sant's film different, though, is that he hasn't reworked or updated Psycho. He has followed the original virtually shot by shot. The script is the same - give or take a few embellishments provided by the original screenwriter, Joseph Stefano. Bernard Herrmann's unforgettable jarring score has been retained, albeit with a technically improved new recording. Even Saul Bass's eerily dislocated opening credit sequence survives intact.

The only significant difference, in fact, is Van Sant's decision to shoot Psycho in colour. Otherwise, he has taken near-fetishistic pride in following Hitchcock to the letter. The film was made according to the same shooting schedule, on many of the same sets, and for a comparable amount of money. The car that the ill-fated Marion Crane (Janet Leigh in the original, Anne Heche now) buys in a hurry in Bakersfield has the same number plate as in the original, and the newspaper in which she wraps the money she has stolen carries the same headline. Even Hitchcock's refusal to hold advance screenings for critics was emulated when the film opened in the United States earlier this month. (It will be coming to Britain in January.)

All of which begs the question: if nothing has changed, why bother remaking Psycho at all? That was the question that executives at Universal Studios asked Van Sant when he first came up with the idea in 1989. To some extent, they are still asking it. The only reason that they allowed the film to be made was as a reward for Van Sant's work on last year's runaway box- office hit, Good Will Hunting. The price tag, $25m, seemed like a bargain even for a project they did not really understand. So what is the reason for making it? Van Sant has been infuriatingly enigmatic on this point. "Part of the answer to why is that we don't know the answer why," he said in a recent interview with the New York Times. "It's sort of like people asking, why did Columbus sail west?"

Such sentiments clearly aren't going to sell many tickets, so Universal has packaged the film as an opportunity for today's teen horror crowd to become acquainted with a classic shocker from an earlier generation. It hasn't been a very effective marketing strategy, since women slashed to death in showers are two-a-penny these days. Besides, Brian DePalma already provided the same service with his far more lurid Psycho-inspired thriller, Dressed To Kill, in 1978.

The Van Sant Psycho feels more like an art school joke, a piece of conceptual film-making in which the finished product is less important than the idea behind it. Watching it is like a parlour game, trying to spot the ways in which it differs from (and invariably falls short of) the original, and relishing the visual surprises afforded by colour, such as Marion Crane's bright orange brassiere.

Certainly, the plot offers no surprises. The actors have an impossible task, playing out a story that belongs to the early Sixties while pretending that they are really in 1998. Anne Heche and Vince Vaughn cannot begin to compete with the standards set by Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins, though one can hardly blame them for looking rather out of place. Perhaps the best way to appreciate Van Sant's purpose is to imagine a cultural convention many centuries from now, in which a venerable archaeologist claims to have found a copy of Hitchcock's great lost masterpiece. "The print is badly faded and the credits are illegible," he says, "but the storyline and the editing techniques give every reason to believe that it is the genuine Psycho."

"Nonsense," cries a dissenting film historian. "Forensic evidence suggests this is not Hitchcock's black-and-white, but faded colour, and the heroine looks nothing like the portraits available to us of Janet Leigh. It is a fake!" At which point, no doubt, Van Sant would chuckle from beyond the grave. Whether he has produced something of interest to present- day audiences, though, is another matter.

Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project