It is evident after watching the film, that Alfred Hitchcock believes in atmosphere, mood and audience emotion to be the chief concern in film making.
To explain how Hitchcock creates suspense and tension we must first ascertain the various key methods, techniques and devices used in the production of the film; then to distinguish the in-film effects, parallels and references. Imagery and symbolism are also major factors in portraying the themes and morals.Most of the characters’ decisions and personality changes seem to be based around the notion of normality and abnormality, and the pivotal difference between the two. Darkness and light, good and bad, right and wrong. Every sub-story event or meaning relates directly or indirectly back to the main theme of the Psycho; there are two sides to everything and that nothing is coincidental when dealing with a Psycho, a split mind. Changes will occur in the characters; but it is not knowing what the changes will be that creates a tense air, it’s not knowing when or how they will happen.
Every one of these fascinatingly subtle but substantial details go towards making ‘Psycho’ one of the most shockingly effective thrillers of all time. The late Alfred Hitchcock is widely admired for his masterful contributions to cinema. He’s generally accepted as being to be one of the greatest filmmakers of all time; renowned for his ability to manipulate his audience’s perceptions and emotions, a trait that as earned him the acclaim of many a critic, though strangley not of the Cinema Academy as he never once received an Oscar.The year was nineteen sixty and having already gained a venerable status among fellow directors, Hitchcock sought to retain his standards by creating yet another masterpiece, one to topple all previous projects and out prestige any opposing competitors. In constant search for the perfect story and travelling back to England, he stumbled upon what was soon to the key to his success; ‘Psycho’, written based upon true events by Robert Bloch.
Hitchcock read the book during the journey home and was instantly enticed by its strikingly macabre and shocking tone. Convinced that this was his gold mine, he hastened but by no means rushed the pre-production of the film; strangely though, he decided to work off a low budget, fewer than one million American dollars which for the great Alfred Hitchcock was more than a modest challenge. The camera crew he chose was not unknown to him; they worked on the television series he had previously been shooting, so perhaps Hitchcock wisely believed that the in-crew relationships should be well established preceding the shoot, as much of the cinematography had to be intricately precise.Due the obvious adult theme of Psycho, certain images and suggestions were essential in providing the audience with suspense and tension, also attachments with the main characters go heavily towards bringing the viewer closer and more involved with the film; especially imperative in detective thrillers because the audience need to feel like they want to help. In accordance the strict censorship rules in the 1960’s, ‘Psycho’ was forced to be filmed in black and white. Also, the infamous shower scene had to be carefully considered by Hitchcock because at the time nudity and graphic violence in films were prohibited; to get around this Hitchcock was forced to use other, more skillful techniques.He produced a very chaste scene using a montage of shots, seventy in total, which not so much restricted the viewers’ scope, but personally strengthened it with suggestion. The seven day shoot was just enough time to capture the right angles and positions for the perfect forty five second scene.
Like in the trailer and many other parts of the film, including the mystery of the psycho, we are forced to fill in the gaps ourselves; completing the cinematographic jigsaw with the obvious pieces that if shown would not be as effective because in our minds. The murder could be as violent and bloody as our conscious lets it. An extremely powerful method in providing a scare.’Psycho’ was an enormous success in its day, said to be a landmark of suspense cinema.
Attendance records were shattered; people had just never been entertained in these kind of ways before. So having four Oscar nominations and grossing fifteen million dollars in the first year, it was Hitchcock’s dream come true. ‘Psycho’ was rapidly becoming exactly was he wanted, a massive success.
Perhaps one of the reasons ‘Psycho’ became such a success in its day, was its huge and almost pioneering advertisement campaign.It was felt that since the film is about uncertainty and lack of knowledge it was pertinent that the audience’s feelings paralleled this discontent. Posters and trailers were widely broadcasted to increase the expectations of the audience, an escalating hype that would soon enthrall millions of thirsty people, to visit their local cinema in need of quenching their curiosity, and ultimately resolving their lust for finding out what happens. This predisposition of anxiety, resultant from the posters and trailers, is created similarly to how it is in the film; certain details early on that indicate something bad will happen. Dedicated hours of work and meticulous planning were put in to make the advisements as effective as possible.The trailer has a fantastic unsettled air; every unfinished uncertain detail increases the viewer’s expectations and makes them want to see this movie, to find out what it is Hitchcock is trying to say.
Many contrasts and opposites are used in the trailer, to reflect the films theme of everything having two sides, sometimes just as one being a front or one breaking through when the other is shattered. Lighting, camera shots, imagery, pace, music and sound are used to full effect in both the trailer and the film; the impact intended by these will also by explained.The trailer begins with an exterior wide shot of Alfred Hitchcock, standing off centre in front of the surrounding ‘Bates Motel.’ Instantly a small passage appears on screen directly explaining that we, the viewer, have the honor of being escorted on a tour, on location, of ‘the fabulous’ Alfred Hitchcock’s new motion picture, ‘Psycho’. Already we feel privileged, to be personally guided by the maker himself; these personal connections, vital to enrapture and draw in the audience, are set up throughout the film, strengthening allegiances and in turn enhancing the shock of them disappearing.
Initially the sound is odd because jolly, light hearted music is played when it’s obvious that the film has little to do with happiness. This stark contrast forces the audience reconsider the situation, another manipulation used on numerous occasions throughout the film. We’re not sure whether to take this seriously, especially when considering the boastful caption at the beginning.
Perhaps, we think, Hitchcock is aware that it feels very tongue in cheek, that it isn’t entirely serious; but based on his previous projects, Hitchcock seems to be deviating towards a much less admirable genre in which to make films. Seemingly however, it is not a negative contrast but a complementary contrast, available only in this type of film where the main theme is opposites and two different sides. Like a psycho having a good and bad side, the trailer’s music has a good and bad side, jolly and sinister.
Hitchcock begins to describe the set, speaking as though it’s a real place and the events being real occurrences. He chose to do this to provide an air of realism; this is just like any other quiet harmless motel, the events could have happened anywhere, a completely random happening, not dissimilar a psycho’s victim who could be anyone. His vocabulary in the descriptions continue to contrast the jolly music, but occasionally when for example he points out the old house, the music fades into the less jolly more unnerving tones of the Bernard Herman’s violins.
Hitchcock talks with an air of superiority, as if he knows everything about this place, when he mentions that the place is up for sale, ‘though I don’t know who will buy it know.’ It leaves us gagging for wanting to know why. This neglect of disclosing any real answer is of course done on purpose; we all know that the only way we will find out what happened is by watching the film.We’re introduced to a large dark house, described by Hitchcock as being sinister and less-innocent than the motel itself; and that dire, horrible events took place, again he fails to mention exactly what these where, though we do find out that there were several murders; this hint is necessary because although the audience can’t know everything before they see the film, they do need an idea of what it is about, what they can expect because usually a first small taste wets our appetites even more for a better pay off. The house is shown as being tall and foreboding, the vertical lines and upright stance cast a shadow over the seemingly inferior motel, which now looks very horizontal and even more harmless compared to the house.These two very different buildings put together remind us of how, like in a psycho, opposites can live together; The pleasant looking motel is the first thing a visitor would see, a welcoming normal front, but always there will be this dark looming house just behind, ever there incase the Motel fails.
Perhaps this imagery is so vivid because it’s meant as an exact parallel of a real Psycho, most of the time trying hopelessly to hide the dark side, dark house, behind a smaller weaker more normal side, the Motel. In both cases the weaker side breaks down and the horrors of the dark side is released.