Cinematography of Hitchcocks Psycho

Alfred Hitchcock is renown as a master cinematographer (and
editor), notwithstanding his overall brilliance in the craft of
film. His choice of black and white film for 1960 was regarded
within the film industry as unconventional since color was
perhaps at least five years the new standard. But this worked
tremendously well. After all, despite the typical filmgoers
dislike for black and white film, Psycho is popularly heralded
among film buffs as his finest cinematic achievement; so much
so, that the man, a big name in himself, is associated with the
film, almost abovehis formidable stature. Imagining it in color,
Psycho would not appear as horrific, and maybe it would also
not be, as a whole, as unified as it now stands, nor
memorable. Black and white has a quality of painting things
starkly, showing plainly truths about character, the emotional
determination or mood, as in vulnerability, and other
inexplicable, purely artistic elements. Regular among his
works, Hitchcock opens the film with a hovering crane shot
coasting over the setting of Phoenix, Arizona. Even without
the mysterious, chilling soundtrack, the shot itself watched in
silence evokes a timid passage into danger. In a long take it
sweeps across the cityscape to build initial curiosity in the
viewer, and then surpasses a curtain-drawn window into the
presence of a hotel rooms trysting occupants. Immediately
the viewer is called into confronting his/her discretion
regarding those things we are not customarily meant to see,
in such ideas as privacy and good taste. How far should the
law step into a mans world before he is discovered with
reasonable certitude for engaging in illegal activities? This
question can still come to mind about Norman Bates when
hes interrogated by Arbigast, even though it follows his
murder of Marion Crane. Norman obviously growing in
tension, the camera sadistically watches him from a low
angle, bearing its aim on his throat as he feverishly chews
and swallows candy corn bits. Hes suggested as a victim in a
way, despite the viewers (probably, (in moral optimism))
routine support of the law. One can feel sorry for him. And
how much do we question Normans character as he spies
Marion undressing through the parlor wall peephole?
Particularly today the viewer would likely question it less than
one watching Psycho during its first, theatrical release, what
with modern films overwashing of the senses in gore,
mechanical sex and violence to program unconscious
indifference in viewers. Maybe it doesnt come to mind as
readily because right after seeing the profile shot of Norman
hiding in the peephole light and shadows, theres a cut to the
cameras — or the viewers — voyeuristic assault on Marions
privacy. This lessens Normans culpability. But noticing him in
the act brings wonder to uncovering peoples secrets. Maybe
these examples suggest engrossment of passive violence or
wrong to such a modest intensity that the horror of the murder
scenes still shock todays viewer. Of course those scenes are
further dramatized by Hitchcocks fast editing; indicative of
how wild and dangerous events occur within a trice of time in
real life. And the awe is preserved by not mulling over the
active violence in any indulgence, or further screen time.

Mastery of just a few core elements in film apparently intensify
its experience; of all, a compelling synergism for even an
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