Saturday, November 2, 2013

Prelude and Opening

"When you love someone, you don't abandon them, no matter how they treat you."
-- Anthony Perkins in Psycho

The strobing, bristling, fractured malignancy of a black-and-white TV image. Music with no break, no rest, an endless loop of driving hysteria. And the star, the nominal star, with her name at the end of the acting titles.

A drift across the landscape of a seasonless hotbox. Phoenix, Arizona -- one of many urban weeds sprouted in the postwar explosion of Western cowboy economies. This is the middle of December?  Yes, it is Friday, Crucifixion day. We move toward a gargoyle of a building. No, beyond it, to the left. Now toward what appears to be the Texas School Book Depository. We enter it, the window. Is Lee Harvey Oswald waiting for us on the other side (as he was not on that other Day of Crucifixion)? Indeed he is.

I can think of no other previous piece of American popular culture containing a character such as the one we will meet: a young sexually-frustrated male loner who takes his frustrations out in mad violence. The 1960s (and beyond) begin here: Oswald, Bremer, Hinckley, Speck, Whitman, Raymond Shaw, Sirhan, Ray, Manson. Most of them were much more than lone killers, most with deep and sinister intelligence connections. But the myth is born here. How did Hitchcock know?

The divorced, debt-ridden poonhound looms over his latest catch, a girl so lathered up she never ate her egg salad sandwich or drank her bottle of pop, although it is already quarter-to-three, a lengthy lunchbreak. They entangle again, and we notice the mole on the girl's upper back and the stiffness of the man's Brylcreemed hair ('though not as stiff as is John Gavin). She breaks away from his touch and his glibness, to dress and to leave. Each act and word of longing from her is met with lounge-lizard glibness, or self-pity, from the man. "Will you lick the stamps?" he asks her, referring to the alimony he must mail to his run-away, far-away ex-wife. "I'll lick the stamps" she answers -- a moment always getting hoots from film students and revival crowds. Actually, a cause for one of the most heartbreaking zooms in movie history. When he asks her if she wants to leave him, she says "I'm thinking of it" -- a lie, for she winds up destroying her job, reputation, family, and her life, by stealing $40,000 for him, for their marriage. When he mentions marriage, he says she'll swing. What does he mean? An open marriage, perhaps? The sorrow of it; and the blinds -- draped over the world she imagines, one she will never have.

One thinks of the final shot of the work, of the white car being pulled from the black muck. The terror of it is obvious: Herrmann's music, the cut to it from Bates in his padded cell and the dissolve to the skeleton below his face. But something more. We have just listened to Simon Oakland's demystifications, his social psychology babble "explaining" Norman. Where is Marion's story here? Where is her pain and confusion and sadness and loneliness? Why is this attractive woman so desperate to marry? Why has she stayed in that nothing job for 10 years? Why does she still live with her ice-cold sister Lila? (Both the boyfriend and Lila remain affectless at the end, when told of Marion's murder.)

Marion's story is buried with her. That is the real terror. A story Hitchcock tells in a chain of masterpieces embracing female suffering, but not here. Bergman in Notorious. Doris Day in The Man Who Knew Too Much. Vera Miles in The Wrong Man. Novak and Bel Geddes in Vertigo. Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest. Tippi Hedren and Suzanne Pleshette in The Birds. Hedren in Marnie. Far from being a cold manipulator of movie audiences, Alfred Hitchcock was one of the deepest feeling (and greatest) artists of the 20th Century.