Volume 92, Issue 53

Tuesday, December 8, 1998



Psycho sliced to VanSant's cinematic view

Photo by Suzanne Tenner
HEY QUIT LAUGHING! MY MOTHER PICKED OUT THIS SHIRT. Gus VanSant's remake of Alfred Hitcock's Psycho stars Vince Vaughn as the lonely motel owner, Norman Bates.

By Sara Martel

Gazette Staff

For generations, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho has been catalogued among the pinnacles of popular culture. So, when a director with a name unrecognizable to the average moviegoer decides to remake this film, shot for shot, the general reaction is an apprehensive, "why?"

Even amongst the recent surge of re-releases, many consider director Gus VanSant's (Good Will Hunting, To Die For) ambition to remake Psycho nothing short of cinematic blasphemy. VanSant, however, does not simply remake the movie with today's popular actors and the gift of Technicolour. This movie is a smart replication that taunts the audience to ask "why?" and then provides them with some eye candy to suck on as they answer themselves.

VanSant himself describes his Psycho as a "Warholian replication." By dropping the name of an artist famous for setting a mirror for popular culture, the warning lights should go off and the viewer's insight piqued. With the trend of thrillers today, such as Wes Craven's Scream, audiences are conditioned to take these teen slashers as a tongue-in-cheek look at themselves as part of a genre.

Hitchcock had many cinematic stunts with the same result and VanSant's remake does not abandon this idea. In Warhol-like fashion, VanSant is self-aware not only as a cog in a genre, but also in the larger popular culture wheel.

VanSant's directorial strength is his visually seductive style. His detailed scene composition and his almost surreal cinematography, well illustrated in his earlier film Drugstore Cowboy, successfully lure the audience into Psycho's voyeurism. While Hitchcock alone can take credit for the film's blatant imagery and symbolism, VanSant's signature is on the richness and texture given to every scene.

Whether it is the crimson blood on absolutely stark white tile, a dilated pupil filling the entire screen, or a significant object slyly placed in the reflection of a mirror, VanSant makes each shot, colour and angle meaningful. The use of colour and texture ironically absorb and distance the audience by making them aware of the movie as an aesthetic object to be viewed.

Everything about the movie pushes the viewer to really look at the film, as Warhol did when he painted soup cans – VanSant didn't just resurrect Hitchcock. With this kind of detail, it should not be dismissed as just a remake. Likewise, people should not classify it as too "arty" or too cerebral to be enjoyable.

This Psycho maintains the psychological suspense and entertainment of the original. A pleasant surprise also awaits anyone who thought Vince Vaughn's cinematic contribution ended with the phrase, "you're money baby, money."

Those who let VanSant pry their eyes open to Psycho's insightful cinematic message, as well as its thrills, will be rewarded with a fun, suspenseful and classy movie in Hitchcock's style.

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department: gazette.entertainment@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998