After catching Hitchcock in the cinema a couple of weeks ago I though I would re-investigate its supposed source, Stephen Rebello’s Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho – a book first published in 1990.
I first encountered this book while I was undertaking an A-level media studies course where one of our main subjects on the film module was Alfred Hitchcock’s horror and shock masterpiece Psycho.
As is often the case with books encountered as part of a school course, I never actually read the whole book, instead picking out the segments relevant to the course so, this was almost like coming to it totally fresh.
The most striking thing about the book from the start is the remarkable cooperation of all the then surviving cast and crew members to talk about the film and to be very honest with it.
This paints a picture of the film’s development from the stage of Robert Bloch’s first idea for the novel based on the news stories of “The Wisconsin Ghoul”, Ed Gein, through the development of the script, to filming and, finally, Psycho’s effect on cinema.
So we hear stories from stars Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh, Bloch and screenwriter Joseph Stefano as well as various members of the production crew and archive of Hitchcock himself.
This paints a brilliant and in-depth picture of not only the creation of the film in question, but film in general, and gives us a unique eye into the world of the studio system that, arguably, Psycho speeded up the destruction of.
The specifics also tell the story of the film from being something considered a costly mistake by “The Master of Suspense” through to its reception as one of Hollywood’s first auteur pieces by the likes of Cahier du Cinema, which comes across as the Bible of the “Nouvelle Vague”, and, therefore, elevates Psycho to the status of art rather simply a “nasty little shocker”.
While the film this book spawned seemed intent on turning this story into a soap opera, here Alma Hitchcock receives very little coverage and there is no mention of Hitch being troubled by her having a possibly relationship with a screenwriter and, in my opinion, Hitchcock would have been a far more satisfying film if it had stuck more to the intrigue surrounding credits of design aspects of the film (often credited to Saul Bass more than Hitchcock) and the music as well as the wrangling with the studio and censors.
It posits that while many have tried all, including the director himself, consistently failed to live up to Psycho and, as well as reviving Hitchcock’s energy for filmmaking, it may also have led to his decline as he switched studios from Paramount to Universal and lost touch with what had made his previous films what they were.
While there are elements of opinion in the book, and it clearly comes from a point of view of Hitchcock as auteur and certainly not a critical standpoint, it still paints a reasonably balanced picture of the creation of a classic in a way that I wish extra features on DVDs and Blu-rays would do more often.