Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho, with its combination of sex, violence, suspense and playful subversion of audience expectations has become one of the most iconic and critically acclaimed films in cinema history. Nonetheless, the film remains challenging for its depiction of sexual and gendered violence. Recent attempts to re-enter the Psycho universe, such as with the TV series Bates’ Motel, can be seen as critiquing, and attempting to ‘correct’, perceived problems of previous versions of both the film and the book upon which it is based. The TV series could be seen as ‘correcting’ three aspects of the previous versions. Firstly, it attempts to subvert the representation of gendered violence, especially that directed towards the character of Marian Crane in the film. Secondly, Bates’ Motel challenges Hitchcock’s depiction of the monstrous and overbearing matriarchy of Norma Bates by detailing Norma’s back story and the traumatic events that shaped her. Thirdly, the TV series challenges the films crude pathologisation of Norman Bates, shifting away from images of transvestism and showing Norman’s back story and the traumatic events that helped to create him. Yet in doing so, I will argue, it risks displacing and concealing the problematics it wishes to resolve. This, as we will explore on the night, is in part due to the way the show seems to have overlooked the self-critical elements of the original film itself. According to the feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey, Hitchcock’s Psycho is both “Located firmly within traditional narrative, […] nevertheless attains a modern self-reflexivity.” (i) This positive emphasis of Hitchcock may come as a surprise to readers only familiar with Mulvey’s famous essay ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, which was published in 1973 and critiqued the films of Sternberg and Hitchcock from the perspective of their voyeurism and fetishistic scopophilia, which expresses “a world ordered by a sexual imbalance” where pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female.” (ii) Yet in her later writings on both Psycho and Vertigo, Mulvey moves to acknowledging a self-reflexivity in Hitchcock that mirrors her own insights. As she notes in her discussion of Hitchcock’s film Vertigo,
“Only looking again at the film, seeing it with an altered perspective […] has it become clear that Hitchcock had made a film that was actually about the very Freudian conception of voyeurism and fetishism that I was attempting to analyse.” (iii)
Mulvey comes to see Hitchcock as performing a similar observation as herself. For Mulvey, Hitchcock isn’t simply making a film where the male gaze is active and voyeuristic, and the female is passive and objectified, but doing so with an element of self-criticism and self-reflexivity in play. By exploring what might be self-critical about Hitchcock’s work and trying to put it in dialogue with Bates’ Motel, we will explore ways of critically engaging with Psycho and the Psycho universe. Drawing on clips from both Hitchcock’s Psycho, Bates’ Motel and the work of different film theorists, we will host a multimedia presentation and group discussion of the film and thought surrounding it.
*This Session will include some spoilers for both the film and the TV series*
This session will be run as part of the Exploding Appendix Avant-garde Art Practice and Research Group’s meetup which happens every three weeks. The sessions are free and open to everyone.
The online session will also take place via Zoom (https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87695091741?pwd=QkZGU2ZJTGJSdFI0MVQ4NXBxWWxHQT09). The meeting ID is 876 9509 1741. The passcode is “196241”.
This session will take place both online via Zoom and in person at The Artist Residence, Brighton, UK. The Artists Residence can be found on 33 Regency Square, Brighton, BN1 2GG. Join us in Venue from 7pm and online from 7:30pm (UK time). To book a free place in the venue, click here. For any questions please message me at firstname.lastname@example.org
This session will be run by Bradley Tuck and take place on Tuesday the 11th October 2022 from 19:00 – 22:00 (UK time). If you have any questions please message me at email@example.com
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(i) Laura Mulvey, ‘Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960)’ in Death 24x a Second: Stillness and the Moving Image (Reaktion Books Ltd. London. 2006) p.85
(ii) Laura Mulvey, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ in Visual and Other Pleasures (Palgrave Macmillan. 1989/2009)
(iii) Laura Mulvey, ‘Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo.’ in Afterimages: On Cinema, Women and Changing Times. (Reaktion Books, London. 2019). p. 43