Also, I have a bold declaration: I actually like the 1998 remake of Psycho. I don’t think it was necessary, exactly, because the original was no less great in 1998 than it was in 1960, but the Gus Van Sant version makes sense, thematically speaking.
Twin Peaks may rack up more lookalikes and opposites just by virtue of having a greater overall runtime, but Psycho packs more of them in, scene for scene. It’s there even in the Saul Bass opening credits: the screen gets slashed by horizontal lines and then by vertical ones. And that horizontal-vertical contrast continues throughout the movie, from the opening scene, with Marion (Janet Leigh) in bed and Sam (John Gavin) standing next to her, to the layout of the Bates property—a multistory house that towers over a lateral sprawl of a hotel. You could say it’s there in Marion’s murder itself. Stabbing a person is, in a sense, a very violent intersection of perpendicular elements.
This mix of opposites extends to the movie’s core four characters, I’ve always thought. After Marion dies midway through the film, she gets replaced by her sister, Lila (Vera Miles), who looks like Marion but seems more sensible. We get the sense that Marion is impulsive and flighty, and that the theft of the money that propels the plot is maybe just a spur-of-the-moment decision she made. Lila, by contrast, seems conservative — more mother than child, though I realize that’s a weird way to describe it in this context. Sam and Norman look alike too, but whereas Sam is smooth, Norman is twitchy. Both characters are driven to action by a sexual attraction to Marion; Sam follows her from Phoenix to the dusty backroads of California, and Norman murders her. Killing Marion off is the big surprise, but it’s also surprising that the characters we learn most about first, Marion and Norman, turn out to be the “wrong” versions of the “straighter” Lila and Sam.
In a similar way, I’ve always thought of the Gus Van Sant version as a weird twin to the Alfred Hitchcock version. The variations are subtle. If Janet Leigh’s Marion was flighty, she was also oddly grave in the way she seemed to process her crime. The Anne Heche Marion seems even further out, and watching her movie, I get a sense that she may get a thrill out of the whole thing that I don’t get when I watch the original. Viggo Mortensen’s Sam seems seedier, though that could just be his clothes. But when he interacts with the Julianne Moore Lila later in the film, I feel like he has designs for her even before they know Marion is dead. (I know, I know—neither Lila made the cut for this, which is too bad, because I love the character. And then in Psycho 2, poor Vera Miles gets all dressed up to play Lila again and ends up getting stabbed in the mouth. For what it’s worth, she did end up marrying Sam.) Finally, whereas a first-time viewer of the original might not immediately peg Anthony Perkins’ Norman as the person named in the title, Vince Vaughn plays the character as creepier from the get-go. (He masturbates while watching Marion in the shower; Norman does not.) And that difference in characterization makes sense; anyone who watched the remake already knew who Norman Bates was, but also it’s Vince Vaughn.
I don’t remember exactly when I got the idea to make this video, but at some point I just became charmed with the idea of thinking about the remake as an alternate version of the events, where things play out slightly differently, but the variation just isn’t enough for the characters to break out of the roles they’re assigned. And yeah, the movies do play differently. The 1998 Psycho may have been billed as a shot-for-shot remake, but Van Sant doesn’t adhere to that too strictly, even beyond allowances for the change in time period. Scenes are shot differently. Some run longer. And many times I had to crop a shot or change the tempo to make the two versions look like they were mirroring each other more than they actually were.
In the end, however, all that is not enough to save poor Marion (either version) from getting into that motel shower at the end. And no, I didn’t bother to show that in this video. Everyone has seen that a million times. I was more interested in looking at Marion while she’s still alive.
This is my third video project. “Rewind” was long and full of VHS static. “All the Colors of the Night” was shorter, more focused and less with all the distortion. This one is only seven minutes long and has no VHS distortion. I didn’t even mess with the color on this one.
I have big, weird plans for what I want to do next.