Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Grant Park Films: Psycho


I've been looking for a reason to talk about Alfred Hitchcock for quite some time. Hitchcock is one of those rare examples of talent who can work in two different worlds at the once. He's one of the most popular directors ever, and not just within film-dom. He's a household name, period. Within film-dom, however, he's one of the most loved and revered directors of all time. Critics and film nerds couldn't care less about his popularity, they just love him for the brilliant works of art he created.

Last night at Grant Park, I experienced the popularity of Hitchcock firsthand. I don't know how many thousands of people were at the park last night to watch Psycho, but there were almost too many. All ages and types were on the lawn for the masterpiece of psychological terror, from high schoolers to senior citizens, dignified film lovers and drunk college kids. It was the motley audience of the summer.

When Norman Bates ran into the fruit cellar dressed like his mother, I was expecting to hear "Aw, HELL nah!" at any moment. While it never came, I still smelled plenty of weed. And all sorts of rowdy language.

But by the end, I really did appreciate the experience. I thought about Hitchcock's genius and how it was powerful enough to capture the consciousness of mass culture. I'm not sure if any other director has had as much success in this area as Hitchcock has. Maybe Scorsese comes closest. But as with any art, it's typically a deep chasm between creative potency and commercial success. I don't want to evaluate why that's true, but it just is. Michael Bay makes movies that will be popular, David Lynch makes movies for a more "creative" reason. But then we have Hitchcock, whose movies (miraculously) do both.

I think what really gets me about Hitchcock is the way he films an entirely understandable and digestible image, but only as a top layer of a deeper issue. Psycho was psychologically loaded, but to the highschooler smoking pot with his buddies, it was just a suspense movie. This is the genius of Hitchcock. If you want to take his work at face value, fine. You'll enjoy it that way quite easily. But if you want to dig deeper at themes and psychology, you'll find a wealth of that as well.

So many films get lost in their own symbolism. I love the "weird" movies, but even they don't stand a chance against Hitchcock. Synecdoche New York, The Holy Mountain, Stalker, etc. etc... You know the movies I'm talking about. On the surface, the story is cryptic. You can't watch it like you would watch Ghostbusters. You have to assume that what you're putting yourself through is avant-garde. If there's symbolism in Ghostbusters, you don't need to know about it. You can just enjoy the film for what you see, and that's that.

Hitchcock lets you decide. He is a filmmaker for all of mankind. Indeed, one of the best there ever was.

What if the main character in Synecdoche New York was played by Will Smith? That absurd thought might give you have an idea as to what Hitchcock actually accomplished in his films. Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo? How does America's most famous actor play a lead role in a story like that? Leave it Hitchcock. I don't know how he did it, but I'm so glad that he did.

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