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Psycho Essay, Research Paper

An Analysis of the Opening Sequence from Alfred Hitchcock?s

Just like a building, a film needs a strong foundation in order to be successful, a foundation which is made up of the starting moments of the film. In Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock successfully uses the opening credit sequence to establish a foundation on which to build an interesting plot, including techniques to elicit involvement by the spectator, and the suggestion of a “Psycho” theme.

A musical composition consisting of quick strokes on tightly wound violins, later used in the famous shower scene, starts to play at the beginning of the sequence. Names begin to slide on and off the screen in a series of horizontal and vertical lines. The top and bottom portions of the names slide onto the screen, followed by the middle portion. The last name to appear is that of Alfred Hitchcock, which settles in the middle of the screen and begins to twitch and flutter in an unusual manner. The credits then dissolve into a long shot of an auspicious section of an unknown city where a building is being constructed (paralleling the idea of Hitchcock shaping a foundation). As this dissolve takes place, a more subtle and mellow music (again composed of string instruments) fills the air, suggesting a stable environment.

The sun burns brightly in the sky and a desert landscape is seen in the background through a haze. The shot immediately begins to pan slowly to the right, revealing more city rooftops and streets. As a dissolve zooms us slightly closer to the city and the camera continues to pan, small block letters appear on both sides of the screen and converge in the middle to read “PHOENIX, ARIZONA.” Hitchcock immediately brings the reoccurring theme of birds into the film by setting the scenery in “Phoenix.” The camera continues to pan to the right, now moving on to a more dreary side of the city.

The next set of titles converges in the center of the screen, reading “FRIDAY, DECEMBER ELEVENTH.” As the panning continues, a slow zoom begins to bring us closer to one of the buildings. The last title appears in the same fashion as the preceding, “TWO FORTY-THREE P.M.” Yet another dissolve stops the camera on a rather unattractive wall, slowly zooming in on a window with Venetian blinds drawn down. A cut to a closer view of the window reveals an opening a few inches below the blind in which the camera continues to zoom in on, bringing us into a dark apartment room. Since we have grown accustomed to the bright sun outside, the apartment, in contrast, seems gloomy. The camera pans to the right at the same speed as before, allowing us to make out a couple of blurred objects. Now the picture begins to focus and we see the torso of a shirt less Sam Loomis standing next to a bed where a half-nude Marion Crane lies gazing upward at him. The first words are spoken while at the same time the music comes to a halt. “Never did eat your lunch, did you?” says Sam. With this line a cut places the camera on a close-up of a small table on which lies a water pitcher, glasses, a paper cup, and a wrapped up uneaten sandwich. Marion answers, “I?ve got to get back to the office.”

The first half of the opening sequence symbolizes the film?s progress as a whole. We are taken from the broad surface view of Phoenix into the depths of its intricate workings. We go from beautiful daylight to a grim darkness. Furthermore, we move from a public and general view to a most private and intimate one, just as the movie will as it progresses. We even duplicate Norman Bates?s later action of peeping through a hole to see Marion partially nude as we “peep” beneath the blind to see the same woman, again partially nude. Hitchcock successfully uses these opening camera shots to foreshadow later events in the film as well as suggest we are not totally unlike Norman. We too have erotic desires that possess our minds. Hitchcock explains that the line between our “normal” behavior and Norman?s “abnormal” behavior is a fine one, easily crossed.

As the camera zooms in on Sam and Marion, they embrace each other and lie down on the bed. While they have a quiet conversation and continue to caress each other with soft kisses, the camera slowly moves in a circular motion half-way around the room as to not constrict us to only one view of the couple (again fulfilling our erotic desires). They go on to talk about the frustrations of their love life in the dark room. The camera does not anticipate the actors? actions in the next shot. Marion gets up and a cut is made to a medium shot of her in the foreground dressing while her lover sits in the background by the window (blind still down). Both are in focus. Marion begins to speak in a despondent fashion, implying she will not settle for meeting Sam during lunch break in a cheap hotel any longer. She asks him to act more respectable, to go home with her and meet her sister (the only mentioned family of Marion), and to meet her in public. Her melancholy attitude matches the obscurity of the apartment room we have grown accustomed to. As they speak on the subject and Sam tries to joke about the matter she takes so seriously, the camera switches back and forth between their faces using close-up shots.

By using these separate close-up shots and abandoning the medium shot that incorporated both of them, Hitchcock illustrates the mental barrier that has risen between them. Finally Sam gives in to Marion?s wishes, and with a shrug of the shoulders he answers, “All right.” Just as he responds, subtle music begins to play, symbolizing the arrival of hope. Marion and Sam embrace in a medium shot, after which Sam retreats to the background by the window again. As he rips the blind open, allowing daylight to pour into the room, the music comes to a sudden stop. Soon after, they begin to speak hopefully of marrying in the future and working things out between them. In this sense, the light from outside symbolizes good, optimism, and happiness. However, with this new addition of light, we can now see more dreary details of the room, including a cheap piece of pottery, a beaten up bureau, and rather ugly walls. Now it seems the hope shown by the daylight will be subdued by the ugliness and gloom that it reveals (as it obviously does at the Bates Hotel while Marion is on her way to see Sam). Also, by stopping the music in an unexpected fashion when the blind is opened, Hitchcock seems to suggest that everything will not be OK in the end and that the daylight does not represent good fortune.

The opening sequence ends as Marion exits for work. The music fades away and the shot dissolves into the Lowrey Real Estate office. Psycho opens its first sequence in medias res, bringing us into the middle of a complicated love affair to serve as the foundation of the film. The exposition shows us a couple facing the complications of marriage and implies we will be taken further into this subject in order to reveal the plot in its entirety. Hitchcock successfully uses the credits, music, and lighting as well as long, medium, and close-up shots to create a stable and interesting foundation on which to build . It is Hitchcock?s brilliant use of cinematic effects that makes Psycho one of the best horror films ever made. Psycho is and will forever be a cult classic in the horror genre still as frightening today as the day it was released.


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