Monday, June 12, 2006

24 Hour Psycho

A new exhibit called Douglas Gordon: Timeline just opened on the 6th floor of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). If you're in New York City between now and early September when the exhibit closes, you must see it.

I know very little about Douglas Gordon as an artist but it's obvious (and not just from the title of the retrospective) that he is very concerned with the elapsing of time. It's most obvious in the first piece which is 24 Hour Psycho, a piece from 1993. In the center of a dark room Psycho is projected (you can look at it from either side) at two frames per second. At that speed it lasts all day.

I have seen Psycho several times and I thought I'd instantaneously know where I was narratively but, as it turns out, film projected at 2 frames per second is quite a different experience. I was lost. I don't know how long it took me to realize that I had just missed the shower scene but I had. The shower sequence from Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 masterpiece is one of the greatest narrative tricks ever played on a moviegoing audience. Murdering your protagonist in the film's first half is simply NOT done. I wasn't alive in 1960 but I've often felt that this film must have been more shocking to audiences then than anything we've ever seen in multiplexes in the following forty some years. You're suddenly rudderless --there is no audience surrogate. When I realized I'd missed the scene I felt a wave of disappointment. But what happened next was surprising to me.

Before I knew it I was in the headspace of Norman Bates himself, feeling my own wave of nausea and guilt (just as Norman does staring at what "Mother" has done), realizing that I had walked into this exhibit and even vaguely planned the time of my arrival to see the murder. Sick!

This exhibit unexpectedly gave me a different Psycho experience than I've ever had before. I felt more inside the film than ever. But I also felt removed enough (without the sound and music) to notice things I've never noticed and to appreciate with renewed clarity what a genius Alfred Hitchcock was. During the clean up sequence that camera barely moves. I'm just staring at that damn showerhead with Norman Bates coming in and out of frame. 99% of directors, particularly modern ones, would've had the camera moving all around Bates and the body. Hitchcock just frames that bright shower with a dark doorway. So it's not just in the murder sequence where he's tricking you into filling all the gorey details in for yourself.

Time is a funny thing. At two frames per second I was mesmerized staring at Norman Bates who was a) moving very very slowly b) feeling guilty very very slowly c) turning off the motel lights very very slowly and d) cleaning up the bathroom very very slowly while Janet Leigh's arm hung limply and tellingly in frame. While all of this was happening very very slowly it turns out the time was flying by. Before I knew it 45 minutes had passed and I had to hurry through the rest of the MoMA exhibit.

Alfred Hitchcock is a famously fetishistic director and Psycho lends itself very well to external fetishizing too. Douglas Gordon isn't the first to scrutinize this work of art and Gus Van Sant (who made the misunderstood recreation) won't be the last. I highly recommend this exhibit. I'll be back to spend more time with the rest of it, and I'll try not to let Norman's psychosis suck me back in for another hour so that I can give the other Gordon pieces their due.

crossposted in an abridged version @ Modern Fabulousity


Glenn Dunks said...

Hmm, that sounds very interesting. Psycho is in my Top 5 and I have that poster on my wall!

And I *hides* sorta really like Van Sant's version. I mean, it's the exact same movie basically and what's not to love about the original?

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more, and I thought I was the only one!

GVS's Psycho is one of the most "interesting" movies ever made. And I don't mean that in a worthy/intellectually stimulating way; more that it's interesting OUTSIDE of itself. The media/audience killing of it is fascinating on so many levels...

1) Vaughn is a bit of a misguided mess in it, but Heche (to my mind) is better than Leigh.
2) "It's the exact same movie basically" (Copyright Kamikaze Camel, 2006)
3) are we saying that we employ a completely different agenda when we watch an "old" movie versus a "new" one? i.e. we forgive and admire the pacing of the original because it's "old" and we're meant to love it? But why forgive the older version the very things that we don't like about the new version?

Oh, I could go on. And have.

But SUCH an interesting film and I'm so glad it exists!



i very much like GVS' Psycho too. we can all group together here in camaraderie. He's hit and miss as a director I think... but i think it's one of the hits.

Glenn Dunks said...

Yeah definitely. I understood the naysayers because even I dislike the thought of remaking my favourite movies, but this particular remake was the exact. same. movie. in colour with different actors.

Anne Heche WAS quite great I though (although no Leigh). I agree with Rob though. What's considered bad today is not considered bad for movies 40 years old?