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Friday, January 18, 2008

Psycho and the power of good film editing
by Gary A. Braunbeck

I once had the pleasure of spending fifteen minutes at a bar with the late, great Robert Bloch talking about movies, fiction, and peoples' misconceptions about what they both see and read.

Bloch told me -- as he did many other fans over the decades -- that he still had people come up to him and complain about how bloody and violent they found the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's film version of Bloch's novel Psycho. ("Thank God I didn't have her sitting on the toilet," Bloch always said.)

People complained about Janet Leigh's nudity and complained that seeing her naughty bits so offended their sensibilities; they complained about the excessive amounts of blood; and they complained, consistently, about the violence of seeing the knife plunge into Ms. Leigh's body over and over.

Go back and watch Psycho and pay particular attention to the shower sequence. Hitchcock -- aided greatly by the work of the brilliant film editor George Tomasini -- pulled off a dark magic trick that to my mind has yet to be equaled in American film: they made you believe you were seeing things that weren't actually depicted.

You do not see Janet Leigh's naughty bits. You do not see blood splattering all over everything. And you most definitely do not ever, even once, see the knife plunge into Ms. Leigh's body. But the sequence is so brilliantly filmed and edited that viewers were -- and some still are -- left with the impression that, dammit, they saw all of that.

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