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"For Ever Hitchcock: Psycho and Its Remakes" - by Constantine Verevis





Much of the talk leading up to, and following, the release of Gus Van Sant’s 1998 remake of the Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho (1960) was an expression of outrage and confusion at the defilement of a beloved classic. For fans and critics alike — for re-viewers — the Psycho remake was nothing more than a blatant rip-off: not only an attempt to exploit the original film’s legendary status, but (worse) a cheap replica of “one of the best and best known of American films” (“Psycho: Saving a Classic”). These viewers consistently privileged the “original” Psycho over its remake, or measured the success of the Van Sant remake according to its ability to realize what were taken to be the “essential” elements of the Hitchcock text. This type of reaction seems consistent with a vast majority of critical accounts of film remakes which understand remaking as a one-way process: a movement from authenticity to imitation, from the superior self-identity of the original to the debased resemblance of the copy. Rather than follow these essentialist trajectories, some more recent approaches to cinematic remaking suggest that the remake, in its most general application, might (more productively) be regarded as a specific aspect of a broader and more open-ended intertextuality (see Frow, Mazdon, Stam, Stern, Verevis, Wills). As David Wills puts it: “The remake is [but] ... a precise institutional form of the structure of repetition ... that exists in and for every film” (148). Understood in this way, remaking might refer to any number of cultural and industrial activities, ranging from practices of allusion and quotation, to the repetition effects which characterize the Hollywood genre film, to the cinema’s ability to repeat and replay the same film over and again. As a particular instance of this logic of cinematic repetition, the Psycho remake is a text initiated, negotiated, and stabilized — but never totally limited — by a series of legal and critical institutions, such as copyright law and film reviewing, that are essential to the very existence of the film remake.