Friday, October 28, 2005

Picked Flick #89: Psycho

Seriously. That Psycho. I remind the reader that this list prioritizes pleasure and personal association over "pure" aesthetic credentials, though even on that grounds, Gus Van Sant's floridly punctilious remake of Alfred Hitchcock's most famous movie has nothing to be embarrassed about. The whole exercise, a quite brilliant gambit, speaks as no other movie I can think of to the paradox of how exactitude and imitation invariably call attention to deviance and asymmetry. That's a Hitchcockian idea in itself—a sort of formal apotheosis of what Jimmy Stewart's character learns in Vertigo—but it also places the movie expertly into a landscape of queer camp and performativity that includes Andy Warhol's star portraits and soup cans, Judith Butler's queer explications of gender as ideological theater, the entire history of drag, and queer cinema's own abiding interest in the citation and subversive reinhabiting of classic texts. The same questions that Velvet Goldmine poses to Citizen Kane, that All About My Mother and another upcoming Picked Flick pose to All About Eve, that Derek Jarman posed to Shakespeare and Marlowe, and that Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho posed to the Henry plays are succinctly crystallized in this pop-art diorama of Psycho's once revolutionary and now ubiquitous twists and turns.

With the possible exception of Last Days, this is also my favorite Van Sant movie, capitalizing on his own frigid detachment and his hyperinvestment in self-conscious form. It's a fond time capsule of American movies circa 1998, when Vince Vaughn, Julianne Moore, Anne Heche, William H. Macy, Viggo Mortensen, Robert Forster, and Philip Baker Hall were either hot new names or recently, happily returned to our attentions. In Christopher Doyle's fluorescent, go-for-broke lighting and Beatrix Aruña Pasztor's equally daring costume choices, it's one of the best and least expected transplants of Hong Kong style into a credible American idiom. Heche, shopping for used cars in a green/orange print dress, color-matched sunglasses, a tangerine parasol, and a punky platinum dye-job, is not far from, say, Carina Lau's killer look in Days of Being Wild—and this is but one of the multiple, unimprovable accents in and around her stunningly inspired riff on Marion Crane. With one of the hardest acting tasks—Vaughn's adequate but thankless work is in its own league as far as that goes—Heche is best in show by a highway mile, reminding us of how much she deserves to have a career like Cate Blanchett's got. Moore, oddly uncomfortable in her shoes (is she having one of her "funny feet" problems?), is still a sharp and merciful switch-in for Vera Miles. Mortensen, Heche, and Van Sant conspire to make the adulterous foundation of the story all the more tawdry and plausibly scofflaw, and Danny Elfman has a superb time sharpening the blades on what might be the cinema's most durable, age-proof score. Inserts of rolling clouds and lounging nudes are just stupid, frankly, but the real secret is that Van Sant's Psycho is its own movie, through and through. Sure it lives inside a formidable shadow, but it casts one of its own, too: eccentric, intellectual, invigorating. (Click here for the full list of Nick's Picked Flicks.)

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4 Comments:

Anonymous goatdog said...

Nick, you've made me want to see this movie, something that I never thought would happen.

12:18 PM, October 29, 2005  
Blogger Nick Davis said...

Yay! Mission: accomplished.

12:29 PM, October 29, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nick,

I'm so glad that somebody else has recognized how truly underrated Anne Heche is -- not just in this movie, but her career in general.

Anne is a prime example of how fickle (and even heartless) Hollywood can be towards actors -- actresses in particular.

Anne used to be hot, but like so many others who came before and after her in Hollywood, once her "hotness" (and, admittedly, the novelty of her relationship with Ellen) wore off, she became just another good character actress trying to land solid roles in decent films (or on TV and the stage, in her case).

I'm obviously a fan of hers, so here's hoping that someday she gets the recognition (and parts) she deserves.

Marco

3:37 PM, October 31, 2005  
Blogger Nick Davis said...

Marco, I agree with every word you just said. Heche would almost certainly make my list of the ten most talented actresses currently working in Hollywood. She's better than Watts, better than Connelly, better than lots of people who keep pulling down big role after big role. I hope she gets another chance at that headlining career that's so rightfully hers, but I'm wondering if she'll stick to theater for a while, since it's been so much kinder to her in recent years.

6:03 PM, October 31, 2005  

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