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Sane Man Has Crazy Theory About Van Sant's 'Psycho'

Criticwire By Matt Singer | Criticwire March 6, 2012 at 11:50AM

If you ever wanted to read someone argue that the "Psycho" remake is better than the original, now you have your chance.
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"Psycho."
"Psycho."

I was heretofore unaware of the work of Timothy Sexton, who is described in the post I am about to link to as "Yahoo! Voices' first Writer of the Year."  I don't know what it takes to be Yahoo! Voice's Writer of the Year, but I'm guessing writing coo-coo bananas posts with deeply heretical arguments is one of the big requirements.  Sexton has written a piece on Yahoo! entitled "How Gus Van Sant's Literal Remake of 'Psycho' Improves Upon Hitchock's Classic" in which he argues, in all sincerity, that Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 film "Psycho" in inferior to Gus Van Sant's 1998 remake, and thus makes his own bold grab for the title of "psycho."

So how could a movie that is a shot-by-shot remake of a previous film be superior to its source material?  Sexton has so many reasons why he had to split this piece up into two parts!  In this first part, he focuses on performances. Essentially, Sexton argues, Anne Heche was "an innately better actress" than Janet Leigh and Vince Vaughn created a better and more fleshed out Norman Bates (as in "more developed," not "more covered in the flesh of the dead girls he killed in the shower") than Anthony Perkins.  Impossible?  Here is Sexton on Vaughn's Bates:

"Van Sant also gives freer rein to Vince Vaughn to flesh out Norman Bates than Hitchcock allowed Anthony Perkins. Yeah, I know: Perkins's Norman Bates is one of the all time iconic horror movie psycho killers. That doesn't mean it's a particularly multifaceted performance. Vaughn has the distinct advantage of audiences coming into the movie already aware that Norman Bates is the titular cross-dressing murderer, so he acquired the latitude to allow Norman to be less normal and more creepily off-kilter right from the beginning. The construct of the original was dependent upon audience ignorance of what takes place at the Bates Motel in order to achieve the first of its many shocking twists and revelations. As a result, Perkins is hindered in a way Vaughn is not."

Now you might say "Wait a second.  If you pulled up to a motel run by someone as outwardly demented as Vince Vaughn's Norman Bates, you'd smile, nod, back away slowly, and get the hell out of Dodge.  Doesn't it strain credulity that a desperate, nervous woman on the run would willingly spend time with a man who is demonstrably crazy?"  And you might also say "Doesn't the fact that Perkins' Norman initially appears so convincingly normal help make that a more 'multifaceted' performance than Vaughn's, who plays Norman as nuts right from the jump?"  But if you said that you would not be Timothy Sexton.

I have seen Van Sant's "Psycho" on more than one occasion.  I don't think it's worthless, but I'm not sure it's entirely successful, even as an experiment.  At a party I once watched a piece of video art that manipulated the two films together into one even more experimental piece that cut back and forth, second by second, between Hitchcock and Van Sant's versions.  It was interesting, in the way weird stuff looks interesting when you're at a party drunk on cheap scotch, but that's about as far as I'm willing to take it. 

Still, I give credit to Sexton for having the stones to take a wildly unpopular side in an impossible-to-win argument (and I give him extra credit for arguing on Heche's behalf by sincerely praising her work as twins on the daytime soap opera "Another World").  One can only imagine what he'll say about the upcoming film "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of 'Psycho'" starring Anthony Hopkins and Scarlett Johansson.  Better than Hitchcock's "Psycho?"  Dude, think bigger: how about the best movie ever made?

This article is related to: Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho, Timothy Sexton, Gus Van Sant


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