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Films Comparison: “Psycho” by Gus Van Sant and Hitchcock

The film version of Gus Van Sants Psycho in 1998 put out of temper practically everybody who has seen this movie. This reaction was predicted. In this particular case there was proposed a unique by its arrogance experiment, aiming to reproduce in details all the techniques that had been used by Hitchcock in the shooting of his original film. The only question of the irritated critics was – what for? There is no any point of the professionalism in this bewilderment, because such a question in such a formulation is inappropriate. Neither the Universal studio, nor Gus Van Sant even at the stage of producing did not hide their intentions to create a real ‘short-for-short’ remake of Psycho. In a certain manner, they have fulfilled their promise. However, it is just a formal approach. In our research, we will try to find out the distinct differences between these films, which make to perceive them separately.

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Associating with the press concerning his Psycho, Gus Van Sant proposed to view his film as the renewal of the classic for the new generation, which had grown up in the era of the color picture. He bemoans that the contemporary youth neglect the art, considering the black and white Hitchcock s films to be the relics of the past (Feature Commentary and the Making of Psycho, 1998). Moreover, he asserted that all the remakes were gone into production when the originals had been sunk into oblivion. In such a way Gus Van Sant holds himself as the enthusiast of the movie legacy.

Probably no one movie had such a sufficient impact on the notion of the horror movie as Hitchcocks Psycho. Though the Hollywood movies were famous with the stories about the crimes, the intrigues and the adventures, in general they were characterized with the high cost of the production, with the picturesque settings and the famous artists. In comparison with them Psycho was deliberately inexpensive, and it differed in a great manner from the further films, which would try to copy it. There is a sophisticated sense of the grim humor in Psycho, which becomes noticeable after several viewings. It is a peace of workmanship, beyond all question. Hitchcock in a certain manner has made an experiment in this movie. He wanted to see the reaction of the audience to the murder of the lead character in the middle of the film (Sterrit, 1993).

This film is a typical example that teaches how it is possible to manipulate with the consciousness. Hitchcock demonstrates it by interchanging the viewers focus of attention form one character to the other.

The plot of the film has made a revolution in its time. A young girl, which is not satisfied with her romantic relationship with a married man, steals a huge amount of money and leaves the city. She puts up a hotel for a night. The young man, who works in this hotel, kills her and drowns in the nearest backwater with her car. However, the main reason for this murder is not the money. It is his mother who is the main culprit of this crime. She does not want his son to keep a company with women.But there is a slight hitch. The mother exists only in the mind of this mentally abnormal soppy boy.

Many observers criticize the Gus Van Sants Psycho. There are those, who consider that the only difference between the original and the remake lies only in the addition of some rather brutal scenes (Santas, 2014). For instance in Hitchcocks Psycho, which is black and white, the violence is also present, but not in the contemporary scope. The famous scene in the shower is not so bloody in the original. On the contrary, Gus Van Sant showed it in color with all the details.

There are such critics who argued that the only reason of the remake producing was money, pointing out the fact that it would be interesting for the audience to see the new interpretation of the famous masterpiece, and the name of Hitchcock would be able to assure the box office revenue in itself.

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As Leitch argues “most remakes can largely be assumed to have been made in order to emulate the commercial success of the previous version, this particular reason for making them seems as formulaic and unimaginative as the Hollywood studios themselves” (Leitch, 1990, p.12)

Though this arguments may seem reasonable, there are certain differences between the two movies. These nuances may appear too small and unimportant, but the very presence of them makes the perception of these movies different.

The first important difference is color, of course. The key point is not only in the mere fact that Hitchcocks movie is black and white and the Gus Van Sants movie is shot in color. The effect is achieved by the choice of the palette by Van Sant. By the time the original movie was produced, Hitchcock had made several movies in color, so the choice of black and white in his Psycho was intentional. The critics are apt to think that such choice aims to diminish the effect upon the audience from the famous shower scene (MacGuffin, 2004). However, it is obvious that the black and white realization has predetermined the general atmosphere of the movie. It gave the feeling of gloom and the gothic character to the film.

In the Van Sants version, his choice of color created absolutely another atmosphere and another move perception. In comparison with the Hitchcocks gothic atmosphere, the Van Saints color scheme looks like a kind of joke, like a careless adventure. The prevailing light tones – pink, green, orange and light brown, ruin the atmosphere of tension, which is present in the Hitchcock’s original movie.

There are a lot of scenes in the Van Sants movie, which stand in contrast to the original variant. The green slip of Marion Crane, her pink dress and the parasol in Van Sants interpretation, make the clear obscure to the prevailing black and dark tones of the lead character in the original movie (Clayton, 2011). The sign at the motel, the walls of the rooms, the wears of the characters – everything is decorated in light and bright tones. This flow of orange, pink and green makes the remake rather reckless and even frivolous, as compared with the original. Such a change of the atmosphere makes another perception of the film.

Another thing, which is worth mentioning, is the play of the actors. Many critics admit that the Van Sants choice of actors is not successful. Vince Vaughn does not correspond to the image of Bates because “his obvious weirdness makes it inconceivable that any woman worth carrying about would willingly accept his invitation to dine him” (Rothman, 1999, p.29). Other critics find that Vince Vaughn does not suit to this role only because of his appearance. He has too healthy sight in comparison with the Perkinss hungry look of the true madman. While Vaughns sound body implies the physical strength and the sound mind, Perkinss slender constitution is the embodiment of the weird maniac type.

The same goes for the character of Marion. Anne Heche is also criticized for her simple and too light-hearted play (MacDowell, 2005) Though Van Sant reconstructed the original movie frame by frame, with the religious exactitude, with the same camera angles, with the same set-ups and the same exposure-sheets, there was a slight difference in the actors playing. There was a rumor that during the process of filming, Van Sant used portable DVD player in order to achieve the perfect similarity with the original. However, there is a difference in the gestures and in the voices of actors.

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The third important difference is the ending of the film. On the one hand, there is nothing special in final scene. On the other hand, the ending of the film is a slight hint that Van Sants movie is something more than just the copy of the original. Van Sant has made the most important and at the same time, the less noticeable change in his movie. In the final scene of winching the car from the backwater in the original Hitchcocks movie we are left only with the image of the car. Van Sant allows himself to zoom back from the scene, representing the crowd of experts and detectives that begin to examine this finding. At this very time we can see the captions on the screen, naming those who together with Van Sant have taken a risk to pull out of the water lying deeply on the bottom Hitchcocks secret, making the attempt to disclose it.

Reference List

Clayton, A. (2011). The Texture of Performance in Psycho and its Remake

Leith, T. (1990). Twice Told Tales : The Rhetoric of the Remake. Literature Film Quarterly, 18(3), 189-203. Web.

MacDowell, J. (2005). What Value is there in Gus Van Sants Psycho: Reproaching Psycho

MacGuffin, G. (2004). Rip in the Curtain: Gus Van Sants Psycho.

Rothman, W. (1999). Some Thoughts on Hitchcocks Authorship. Alfred Hitchcock Centenary Essays, 29-30. Web.

Santas, C. (2014). The Remake of Psycho (Gus Van Sant, 1998): Creativity or Blasphemy?.

Sterrit, D. (1993). The Films of Alfred Hitchcock. New York: Cambridge University Press. Web.

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Van Sant, G., Heche, A., & Vaughn, V. (Executive Producers). (1998). Feature Commentary and the Making of Psycho [DVD].Universal.

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