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Sight and Sound (1999) - Reviews: Playing with Horrific Farce




Gus Van Sant's rerun of Hitchcock's 'Psycho' is more like a mild cover version than a full-blown remake. But it's all in the mix, argues Gavin Smith

Gus Van Sant's remake of Alfred Hitchcock's canonical rg6o film Psycho- in which thief-on-the-lam Marion Crane (Janet Leigh in the original, Anne Heche here) is murdered by hotel-owner Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins then, Vince Vaughn now) - isn't the selfdefeating, perverse exercise it might seem at first glance. It's more a work of 'metacinematic' research. By remaking Psycho, the film-makers have managed to replay formally notions of transgression and difference that manifested themselves in Hitchcock's original as themes and subtexts. So Van Sant's Psycho is both more and less than a remake. More in the sense that it literalises the notion of remaking by copying or transcribing Hitchcock's 1960 film, less in that it denies the standard remake strategy which demands that the remake transcend its origins by revision (Cape Fear, Scarface).

On the contrary, Van Sant's Psycho, with its ritualistic attention to detail, could be described as a re-enactment or, as he has suggested, as the equivalent of a cover version of a classic song. But critically, given that contemporary cinema has been permeated by the strategies and tactics of the original film, Van Sant can neither reproduce the effect Hitchcock's film had on its contemporary audience - its impact - nor escape the burden of its place in film history. If t...

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