Today I Watched: Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)

Psycho (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)

“I don’t care about the subject matter; I don’t care about the acting; but I do care about the pieces of film and the photography and the soundtrack and all of the technical ingredients that made the audience scream. I feel it’s tremendously satisfying for us to be able to use the cinematic art to achieve something of a mass emotion. And with Psycho we most definitely achieved this. It wasn’t a message that stirred the audiences, nor was it a great performance or their enjoyment of the novel. They were aroused by pure film.” —Alfred Hitchcock

Score: 9½ to 10− out of 10.


Roger Ebert on What Makes a Movie Great

“We live in a box of space and time. Movies are windows in its walls. They allow us to enter other minds—not simply in the sense of identifying with the characters, although that is an important part of it, but by seeing the world as another person sees it. François Truffaut said that for a director it was an inspiring sight to walk to the front of a movie theatre, turn around, and look back at the faces of the audience, turned up to the light from the screen. If the film is any good, those faces reflect an out-of-the-body experience: The audience for a brief time is somewhere else, sometime else, concerned with lives that are not its own. […]

What happens when you see a lot of good movies is that directorial voices and styles begin to emerge. You see that some movies are made by individuals, and others by committees. Some are simply about the personalities they capture (the Marx Brothers and Astaire and Rogers). Others are about the mastery of genre, from Star Wars, which attempts to transcend swashbuckling, to Detour, which attempts to hide in the shadows of noir. Most good movies are about the style, tone and vision of their makers. A director will strike a chord in your imagination, and you will be compelled to seek out the other works. Directors become like friends. Buñuel is delighted by the shamelessness of human nature. Scorsese is charged by the lurid possibilities of Catholic guilt. Kurosawa celebrates individuals in a country that suspects them. Wilder is astonished by the things some people will do to be happy. Keaton is about the struggle of man’s spirit against the physical facts of the world. Hitchcock creates images that have the quality of guilty dreams. Sooner or later every lover of film arrives at Ozu, and understands that the movies are not about moving but about whether to move.”

Roger Ebert, The Great Movies (2002)

All Language about Everything Is Metaphorical; We Think in Metaphors

“All language about God must, as St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out, necessarily be analogical [i.e. metaphorical]. We need not be surprised at this, still less suppose that because it is analogical it is therefore valueless or without any relation to the truth. The fact is, that all language about everything is analogical; we think in a series of metaphors. We can explain nothing in terms of itself, but only in terms of other things. … [W]hen we speak about something of which we have no direct experience, we must think by analogy or refrain from thought. It may be perilous, as it must be inadequate, to interpret God by analogy with ourselves, but we are compelled to do so; we have no other means of interpreting anything. Sceptics frequently complain that man has made God in his own image; they should in reason go further (as many of them do) and acknowledge that man has made all existence in his own image. Continue reading

(Screen)writing 101: Good Dialogue Is Not “Realistic”

“Dialogue is among the most misunderstood of writing tools. One misconception has to do with dialogue’s function in the story: most writers ask their dialogue to do the heavy lifting, the work that the story structure should do. The result is dialogue that sounds stilted, forced, and phony. But the most dangerous misconception about dialogue is the reverse of asking it to do too much; it is the mistaken belief that good dialogue is real talk. Dialogue is not real talk; it is highly selective language that sounds like it could be real. Good dialogue is always more intelligent, wittier, more metaphorical, and better argued than in real life. Even the least intelligent or uneducated character speaks at the highest level at which that person is capable. Even when a character is wrong, he is wrong more eloquently than in real life.”

—John Truby, The Anatomy of Story, 2007, pp. 376–7 (emphasis in original)

PS See also TV Tropes, “Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic”,

Nabokov: Common Sense Is Immoral; Let Us Bless the Freak

“In the fall of 1811 Noah Webster, working steadily through the C’s, defined commonsense as ‘good sound ordinary sense … free from emotional bias or intellectual subtlety … horse sense.’ This is rather a flattering view of the creature, for the biography of commonsense makes nasty reading. Commonsense has trampled down many a gentle genius whose eyes had delighted in a too early moonbeam of some too early truth; commonsense has back-kicked dirt at the loveliest of queer paintings because a blue tree seemed madness to its well-meaning hoof; commonsense has prompted ugly but strong nations to crush their fair but frail neighbors the moment a gap in history offered a chance that it would have been ridiculous not to exploit. Commonsense is fundamentally immoral, for the natural morals of mankind are as irrational as the magic rites that they evolved since the immemorial dimness of time. Commonsense at its worst is sense made common, and so everything is comfortably cheapened by its touch. Commonsense is square whereas all the most essential visions and values of life are beautifully round, as round as the universe or the eyes of a child at its first circus show.

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