The Moment of Hitchcock

Cleveland Park Library

The Moment of Hitchcock

David Thomson's Musings on the Cultural Effect of 'Psycho'

'The Moment of Psycho' book cover.Not everyone likes the horror genre. I used to find it trashy, crude-for-crudeness's sake, and generally not creative. However, as I read more on film history and theory, I am learning that there is always more to a film than meets the eye, even in slasher movies. Regardless of whether you find horror books and films enticing or thought-provoking, you have to admit that, for some reason, the genre has affected the formation of our modern American identity. We see vestiges of Puritanism in the media's constant censorship of expletives, and yet violence saturates American media—television shows, movies, video games, the news. Having recently read The Moment of Psycho by David Thomson, I feel like I am a little closer to understanding why our lives and our art, particularly film, reflects a hidden dread.

Alfred Hitchcock's racy 1960 film Psycho was made like a television movie, and completed in less than three months. It killed off its star in forty minutes. There was no happy ending. And it offered the most violent scene to date in American film, punctuated by shrieking strings (see below) that seared the national consciousness. Nothing like Psycho had existed before; the movie industry—even America itself—would never be the same.

In The Moment of Psycho, film critic David Thomson situates Psycho in Alfred Hitchcock’s career, recreating the mood and time when the seminal film erupted onto film screens worldwide. Thomson shows that Psycho was not just a sensation in film: it altered the very nature of our desires. Sex, violence, and horror took on new life. Psycho, all of a sudden, represented all America wanted from a film—and, as Thomson brilliantly demonstrates, still does.

For more on the film's music, I highly recommend:

A Heart at Fire's Center : The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann