Monday, August 30, 2010

Internal Monologue in Taxi Driver

              (from the Taxi Driver Screenplay, 1976/written by Paul Schrader)

Despite the fictional screenwriting teacher’s declaration in Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation that “God help you if you use voice overs,” Paul Schrader’s screenplay for Taxi Driver is one of many highly successful and popular films to utilize such methods for the expression of interior monologue.
In Taxi Driver, interior monologue is used specifically to guide the audience through the psychological issues that protagonist Travis (Robert DeNiro) battles with throughout the film as he expresses them in his personal journal. As Schrader wrote of Travis in the screenplay itself, “His deformities are psychological, not physical.”
Travis early on expresses his indifference towards working his taxi shift in the seedy parts of town and with the “spooks”, but this attitude slowly degenerates into one of intolerance and believing that “they’re [the people he sees at night] all animals anyway.” As Schrader puts it in his screenplay, “Travis believes he is cursed and therefore he is.”
The main issue here is a man who isn’t properly taking care of himself besides monetarily (he works 70-80 hours a week)—his apartment is in disarray, he eats pie, sugar cereal with added sugar, white bread, drinks coffee and brandy, works nights, and complains (via voice overs) of his sleeplessness. Here is a man who could benefit from some holistic health advice, but instead he frequents porno theaters, then nonchalantly brings his new and beautiful friend named Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), without any thought of possible repercussions, to a porn movie. She quickly walks out, which is the end of their relationship. This only exacerbates Travis’ psychological tailspin.
Travis writes in his journal after the botched movie outing, “May 8, 1972. My life has taken another turn again. The days move along with regularity...“ He then proceeds to be rejected by Betsy on the street, send her flowers which she “doesn’t receive”, and call her with no response. Fed up, he barges in on her at work and causes a scene, which is broken up by the straight-shooting, normal, harmless-seeming male coworker of Betsy’s. This experience is particularly harmful to Travis because he projected onto Betsy all that he wanted her to be: a serene fountain of beauty and perfection amidst a chaotic urban jungle of filth and despair. He thought she was “different” in the same way he considers himself to be. Instead, she is just an average (except, perhaps, by her beauty) young woman working in the normal, daytime, workaday world. Travis writes in his journal, which the audience hears as voice over, “I realize now how much she is like the others, so cold and distant. Many people are like that. They are like a union.” It is classic “Me against the world” mentality, which explains his perpetual internal monologue about loneliness
So he buys guns and practices aiming and shooting them with no bullets at the mirror, slipping them out of his sleeve, and he gets in shape through push-ups and pull-ups. “Every muscle must be tight”, he writes. He goes to see a prostitute whose name, after much prying, is Iris. Then he attempts to assassinate a senator who is also a presidential candidate, but fails. The audience is left to assume that the senator’s campaign slogan, “We are the people” is meant to explain the otherwise elusive reason behind Travis’ motivation to do such a thing. In other words, if the senator “Is the people”, and the people are who Travis hates, then perhaps that explains Travis’ motivation to kill the candidate. Otherwise, why would Travis assault a senator who is, by all intents and purposes, above “the people”, especially the miscreants that Travis despises?
Schrader utilizes voice over towards the end of the film when Travis writes to his family and lies about the happenings in his life. This marks the beginning of what Travis intends to be the end of his life and his life’s purpose, but, as we all know, life doesn’t always unfold as planned.
He visits Iris and gets in a gun fight with her pimp and co., which ends in three men dead, Iris severely rattled, and Travis pulling the trigger on an empty gun to his head. The police come, and Travis is heralded as a hero by at least Iris’ family.
In the final scene, all of the internal monologue and Travis’ emotional transformation comes to a head when Betsy rides in his cab and makes a vague pass at him, but he just drives away with his classic slight grin on his face. This scene can be interpreted multiple ways. Was it a figment of his imagination? Was it a dream? A hallucination? Was it real? If it’s real, has Travis learned to embrace his lifelong loneliness? Has it dissipated? Does he view Betsy as too much of a conformist for his taste? Is he bitter that he finally reached out to one of “the people” (simply because, let’s be honest fellas, she was beautiful) and got rejected? Or, perhaps, as every man has wanted to do at one point or another, Travis was reveling in the slightly twisted satisfaction of rejecting someone who formerly rejected him.

(Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver, 1976/ Columbia Pictures)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Expendables

(Sylvester Stallone, Rambo: First Blood Part 2/Tristar Pictures) 

     Just look at that face. Sylvester Stallone has the face of a man who could have just finished oiling your car, thought it was tough, but wants you to know he’s okay with that. He looks classically paternal, as if he could be teaching his son how to shoot a bow and arrow and telling his daughter to be careful around boys at parties, even when he’s actually blowing some baddie’s brains out. He has always passed as an underdog star who just pushes on despite how much work it all is. In other words, he’s an action hero of the old-fashioned sort. It is probably because of his face and his ragged, pragmatic way of delivering lines that keep our eyes on the screen for the length of The Expendables, even if the film itself is not very classical or modest, and even though all those eyes enjoying it belong to other men.
            The Expendables is the most recent film Stallone not only stars in, but also co-wrote and directed. The story has something to do with a group of mercenaries known as The Expendables who are based out of some sunny suburb, but have been hired by Mr. Church (an uncredited Bruce Willis) to go take out an army headed by an FBI defect (Eric Roberts) that has taken control of a remote Spanish-speaking island. Whatever. The point is that we laugh at the outrageous sequences of face-painted soldiers getting their limbs blown off, of Stallone leaping from a dock on to the hatch of the Expendable’s airplane as a whole army chases him and the plane spews water against the tirade of bullets. We can also laugh at some of the non-action scenes, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger walks in and out of the film, or in which Jason Stratham’s Lee Christmas walks on to a basketball court where his former girlfriend’s abusive new boyfriend emphatically calls him ‘some punk.” Scenes like these give the impression of an unabashed, self-referential male fantasy that only the dourest soul wouldn’t find amusing. 

(Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables/Lionsgate Films)
Yet would be unfair, in the midst of this testosterone surge, to dismiss Stallone outright as a craftsman. At least he has an idea of how artists function. It is interesting, for instance, that he thought to temper the film with vague gestures towards feminism. Several key developments attempt to put every movie bad guy and misogynist in their place by sending the message that it is not okay to abuse women. Unlike the paint-by-the-numbers dullness of most other action films, Stallone is so hooked on his chosen genre that he isn’t afraid of occasional kookiness. Within the endless action scenes, the camera whirls over and gets shot at directly, or cuts abruptly to the point of view of a security camera being shot to static. As bizarre as it sounds to call Stallone a visual stylist, he at least has a grasp of how to cut things up, thrillingly.
Yet cutting things up thrillingly may be Stallone’s only actual cinematic skill. His morals and compassion don’t quite translate to artistry. The overall effect of The Expendables is a ludicrous story that the filmmakers clearly have poured their hearts in to; there is more than money at stake for them. But this translates, like Stallone’s paternal, weary persona, in to a way of being, not in to a skillfully made film. Here is a film that we like because it is, not because it does anything useful. Characters are under-developed, the plot starts predictable and stays that way and the film inevitably exhausts its hilarity by the end, turning a gun battle outside a large palace in to a set piece of boredom. Lord knows we will forget every single image in The Expendables in due time, because again, Stallone didn’t do anything useful for movies, he just did things effectively. He pulled it off by being him. Yet one gets the sense that he has never had any greater intent in his entire career. Judging by the expression on Stallone’s face, he knows he has always been a guy whose only skill is to cut things to pieces and then move on, hoping his limitations might somehow be transcended. He is like Buster Keaton minus the grace. He is a man who speaks for other men and that’s his way of making sense of life. Stratham in The Expendables/Lionsgate Films)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Motion Studies: “Witness number 2: Trent”


Samuel Fuller’s Shock Corridor (1963) has some thrilling cuts. Chief among these cuts is a shot of Johnny Barret (Peter Breck) sitting on a bench in the corridor of the mental hospital he has committed himself to in order to pin the murderer of a patient in the kitchen. A catatonic man sits beside him, his arm forever raised in a half-salute to some invisible war commander. But in this shot, only his rigid hand is visible, outstretched as if pointing Johnny towards the culprit. Johnny looks to where the man points. Then there is the cut. A burst of horns accompany a sign that reads: “Integration and Democracy don’t mix. Go home, Nigger.”
            The sign is lowered to reveal the calm and convinced face of a young black man, Trent. He was the second witness to the murder, as Johnny’s voice over tells us. Naturally, it is shocking to see a black man holding this sign. But the visual curiosity undercuts the shock for the next few seconds. Trent’s black face is held in a dead-center profile, like the introduction to most other characters in this loony ensemble. His profile reminds us of a courageous portrait of a civil rights demonstrator, marching calmly against the tide of animosity. Except that Trent is marching against a gray background of white patients whose minds have long deserted them, wandering in and out on either side of the frame. A strip of white that lights the corridor recedes in to the background above Trent’s head. His dark face is an absolute contrast to this scene. It would be a moving image if we did not know that his sign read; “Go home, Nigger.”
            The cut is a great fact of film, a form of motion in itself. But what follows that cut must always sustain itself; live up to the cut, so to speak. What follows the cut to Trent’s sign in Shock Corridor could have been better if the music had not blared immediately and if Johnny had kept his voice-over introduction for later. Should Fuller have introduced the sick irony of the shot—the racist sign being held by a black man—after the stunning profile of Trent? Perhaps that would have sustained the shot better, adding a major element of surprise after the more subtle visual surprise. These are ways of arranging motion that directors must think of, but of course, they also have to think of the logical completion of the shot. The shot of Trent ends with him approaching Johnny. The camera has by now backed up some distance, and two orderlies come to either side of Trent to make sure he won’t act out. But the most interesting part of the end is the thing that doesn’t move at all and has stopped having any relevance on the direction of the scene. It is the catatonic soldier, still saluting, though he may as well be pointing the finger at every lunatic of the American experience trudging down this corridor.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Get Low

      If a house burns in rural middle America and nobody’s around, does it have consequences? This is the question posed by the film that follows this mysterious image of a burning house that opens Get Low. The man who flees that house at the end of the shot is Felix Bush, played by Robert Duvall as an old man who is quirky enough to have combined curmudgeonly reclusiveness with a deep and eerie sadness in to a person who is all at once shy and egotistical, hilarious and frightening. That the 79-year old Duvall manages to orchestrate this performance is a triumph because he manages to preside over an otherwise misguided film. His Felix Bush is the consequence of every shot.

      Set in the very early 20th-century Midwest—though it often feels as if it wants to just be in the present—the film follows Felix Bush’s plans to stage his own “funeral party.” He enlists a professional funeral arranger named Frank Quinn (Bill Murray) who helps him to plan the party, but is baffled by Felix’s indecisiveness and reservations. Felix’s original plan is to invite everybody in town to attend and tell a story about him. He then offers up a lottery in which he will cede all his property to the winner once he dies. He then realizes that not many people have good things to say about him, and backtracks on the idea completely. Coming between it all is a woman whom he may have loved once (Sissy Spacek), and a preacher (Bill Cobbs) who appears to be his only true friend, but who does not want any part in Felix’s funeral. For this preacher, Felix did something fantastic once; he built a beautiful wooden church. One structure was built, another burnt to the ground. All leading up to a strange old man’s funeral.

     This dichotomy of two buildings, one destroyed, one incarnated, is one of the interesting patterns that Get Low establishes, but unfortunately, it never follows through. This is because director Aaron Schneider is confused as to what he wants his film to be; it could be a dark comedy about an incredibly vain old man’s outrageous ideas, but it only is for the first third or so. It could be a folktale set in a semi-nostalgic past, with moral leanings, but it only bumps against this type of story. So with Chris Provezana and C. Gaby Mitchell’s solid script, Schneider resorts to what he knows best: cameras. Schneider has been a cinematographer on many televisions shows and has also worked on films as monumental as Titantic. To the close viewer, Get Low will clearly be an exercise in cinematography, if well disguised. Schneider has an fetish for shadows; every character gets at least one shot where half their face is cloaked in darkness while the other half is lit up. He has an obsession with colors too, though at least this obsession is playful; red goes against red as Sissy Spacek sits on her couch, trying to reason with Felix; Felix wears a colorful quilt in a similar scene. He dreams of a woman in striking white against the gray forestry and green pops up in smatterings, wherever Schneider wants it to. The film looks gorgeous, but not in a way that transcends the obvious; the shadows communicate only unease and mystery and the colors communicate only lavishness. It all distracts us from scenes that are going on too long, or are simply uninteresting.
      Towards the end of Get Low, there is a fantastic, all-stops-pulled monologue delivered by Duvall at his funeral party, in which he reveals the secret that has been troubling him for so many years. He elicits genuine pity for Felix only in this scene, which feels as if it could have been a short film in itself. But it is followed by a sentimental ending, complimented by yet more of Schneider’s cinematographic know-how. The film ends on the dead image of a camera rising just above the treetops to reflect on the scene below. Schneider is a painter with a camera, but he is not yet a storyteller. The good news is that he certainly wants to be; the bad news is that for now, his burning house is our mere distraction.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Trappings of the Irrational (an appreciation of Psycho)


 Why should we take Psycho seriously fifty years on? One would expect that by now, the film would have been usurped by one the many films that have followed. Perhaps consensus would now claim The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) as the great horror masterpiece. Maybe The Sixth Sense (1999) would have by now become the chiller to end all chillers. Even a remake had the potential to steal the original’s fire; Gus Van Sant did exactly that in 1999, only changing the look of the film from Black and White to Color. But it had utterly none of the same impact, even for people who had never seen the original. The failure of the remake seemed to prove that there wasn’t anything inherently thrilling about Psycho’s imagery and that its story was no longer something special. But if all of the films that were markedly influenced by Psycho have been written off as either pure popcorn junk, or an entertaining-thriller-that’s-only-a-movie, why is Psycho more than just an entertaining and clever thriller? Why is it more than only a movie?
The clearest answer is its director, Alfred Hitchcock. This year also marks the 30th anniversary of his death. And lest this essay turn in to a mere call for retrospectives (right now, it is), let’s examine why it is that this portly, self-effacing Brit could create what is probably the most lasting achievement in popular cinema. Let’s see what it says about the legacy of horror films today.
(The making of Psycho will only be vaguely mentioned here. For a good summary of its development, read Francois Truffaut’s interviews with Hitchcock, Hitchcock/Truffaut. More recently, David Thomson has written an excellent book called The Moment of Psycho that also gives a good amount of behind the scenes information. There are numerous other sources where one can find information on the production. However, I consider it largely irrelevant to this analysis.)
Hitchcock had most of his career behind him by the time he made Psycho. Most critics in America at the time agreed that his glory days were past. He had produced taut, exciting British mysteries in the 1930’s such as The Man who Knew Too Much (1934) and The Thirty Nine Steps (1935). But ever since he’d come to Hollywood, he had become a sellout, churning out film after film with a roster of glamorous stars and predictable formulas. Andrew Sarris, in his enthusiastic review of Psycho in The Village Voice, crystallized the wrong-headedness of this attitude1. Hitchcock had, in fact, turned out the masterpieces Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958) and North by Northwest (1959) amongst other debatable masterpieces. But Psycho, wrote Sarris, was “…the first American picture since Touch of Evil that could stand with the great European films.” “Hitchcock,” Sarris wrote, “is the most daring avant-garde filmmaker in America today.2
Sarris’ review may be hyperbole, but he was on to something when he called Hitchcock an Avant-Garde filmmaker; the implication being that Psycho is an Avant-Garde film. Psycho is certainly one of the stranger masterpieces any filmmaker has crafted late in their career. Hitchcock was sixty when he made it. His career had been drenched in Technicolor for years and his heyday should have been behind him. Actually, it was. So Hitchcock took the crew from his television show and shot the film in Black and White. He was not returning to his earlier days of filmmaking with this approach; the Black and White in Psycho is not polished as it was in his early films, but grainy and un-ravishing. The images it cloaks are unsettling representations. Sharp objects threaten us when we least expect them to; piercing rain on a car windshield, the beaks of stuffed birds, a knife. Soulless black holes turn up at several significant moments; first, the sunglasses of a policeman who becomes suspicious of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) the anti-heroin who meets her grim fate, then the drainpipe in the shower Marion is murdered in, then the swamp that her car sinks in to after her murder is covered up. Some scenes depict everyday realities nobody talked about; the first scene suggests the aftermath of sex, a toilet bowl briefly becomes a central character. Sometimes the camera creeps in to doorways, sometimes out of doorways. All landscapes are equipped with shadows. The film is built on shadows of the Avant-Garde.  
What Hitchcock was doing was taking the scratchiness of B-movies and melding it with the pre-apocalyptic cynicism of film noir. This style gave us imagery that implied things people only thought about in their most anti-social moments. It was imagery that threatened us with its un-cleanliness when it didn’t threaten us violently. All the imagery and story in Psycho came together to make a rare thing in a mainstream film; an appeal to the undesirable. It was an irrational approach. Similarly, the entire film would follow a pattern of irrationality and representational imagery. Because of this pattern, Psycho can roughly be categorized as Avant Garde.
All this might make far too obtuse a film if the story didn’t begin with such bitter simplicity. Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is a secretary with a boyfriend, Tony (John Gavin), whom she meets with for sex in hotel rooms. Both she and Tony are strapped for cash and want to get out of Phoenix together, but cannot. Marion goes back to her dull secretarial job and happens to come across $40,000 dollars she is supposed to transfer to the business account. Instead, she takes the money for herself, driving away from work to who-knows-where. Unfortunately, she is spotted by her boss as he crosses the street, wondering why she is leaving work early. But Marion takes off anyway.
This is the first sign of irrationality in the film; why does she spontaneously steal so much money? Why doesn’t she let Tony know? Marion is like a femme fatale working towards he own destruction, not caring about where she ends up, just that she has a lot of cash and that she isn’t in Phoenix.
She sleeps in her car overnight, attracting the attention of a cop with soulless, black sunglasses. When he questions her, she is nervous and evasive. She keeps driving and he follows her. Marion trades in her car for another one at a retailer outlet somewhere along the way, but this decision is far more foolhardy than clever. The cop is still on to her and her theft will be discovered in only a matter of time. She drives in to the night, through the stabbing rain, and decides to stop at an out of the way motel called the Bates Motel. Here she meets the neurotic, if sweet-seeming Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), who has been managing his motel alone for some time. She is the first visitor in a while. He puts her in cabin 1 and is clearly taken with her; they have a simple dinner consisting of sandwiches.
It is around this time when the story introduces its next major irrationality;  Norman clearly has something wrong with him and he’s clearly becoming the center of our attention.  Why does Marion decided to stay here? Why are we so charmed by this creepy new protagonist? He stuffs dead birds as a hobby (they decorate his main cabin). He has a mother who lives up the hill, apparently indisposed. We hear her scold him for having a girl stay in the motel (how does she know?). He both hates her and is co-dependent on her. When Marion suggests that he should “put her away,” Norman leans forward and becomes angry (“You mean a mad house?”) His  flare-up suggests that he may have once been in a mad house himself. Marion apologizes for sounding rude and goes to her cabin. In one of the most representational, irrational and all-around memorable images in popular cinema, Norman spies on Marion through a peephole in the wall, his lifeless birds rising above his head, aided by intense shadows.
What is Norman planning? We sense at this point that Marion is in trouble. She counts out the money she stole, deducts a small amount and flushes the rest down the toilet in the glaring white bathroom that will host the film’s most unavoidable scene. Norman goes back to see his mother, looking torn and bitter. Marion undresses and gets in the shower.
Then comes the scene that is impossible to ignore; when Marion Crane is killed in the shower.  The forty-five short takes consisting of a knife plummeting and rising, a girl’s bare skin, the shadowed outline of a female figure doing the stabbing, all sprayed by the shower water, shocked audiences in 1960. If there hadn’t been such a big deal made about it, we would be just as shocked today. As it stands, the shower scene nowadays is an obligatory thrill; we know it’s coming, we know what the outcome is and we probably know who did it, but if we’re not thrilled by one of the most astounding rug-pulls in all cinema, then we must be brain-dead. Yet what we don’t immediately grasp about the scene, even today, is how unreal it is; Bernard Hermann’s shrieking strings, Marion’s jaunty screams, the blood that doesn’t even look like blood as it swirls down the plughole. Marion’s wide eyes on her face lying dead on the bathroom floor, as her body lies slumped over the bathtub, as if she is some sick model doing a pose.  None of this is how a murder scene should look, to say nothing of the likelihood of such a murder happening at all. The scene is too arranged, too fast, too black and white (in both senses). But this is the ultimate irrational appeal in Psycho. In its completely outlandish composition—while technically a skillful use of Eisensteinian montage-- this scene is the summary of all Avant-Garde tendencies within the film. When we consider its unreal-ness, the thrill we feel is genuine.
This is the first half of Psycho and indeed the best half. Many critics, even admirers, have taken jabs at the second half of the film. After Marion Crane is murdered and Norman cleans up after his mother’s crime, the film becomes too calculated, no longer motivated by character, and too expository2. It leaves us waiting for an inevitable conclusion—Norman’s capture and the discovery of Marion’s body—without any zingers thrown in. It has a final scene that attempts to explain Norman in clinical terms and thus dulls his mystery. But if we’ve been in our seats for the first fifty minutes then we probably won’t leave them. Also, cinema is a fragmented medium where a few good bits can compensate for all the rotten ones.
Psycho’s second half offers a few very good bits, but the reason I think it works is because it cleverly aims towards a naturally desired explanation—what made Norman Bates the way he is—while following characters who won’t ever comprehend it. When the film picks up with Sam and Lila (Vera Miles), Marion’s sister, the literal shadows disappear. Instead, we get to know two human shadows. These people act mechanically, without much emotion and don’t seem to care that a loved one is missing so much as that something has disrupted the way every day life is meant to pass. Money is missing and girl isn’t there; how to restore these things to society?
So they journey through the daylight, anxiously soliciting a few people for help; a detective named Arbogast (Martin Balsam), a sheriff (John McIntire) and eventually Norman himself. Arbogast is killed off in a shocking scene that David Thomson has rightly called “Hitchcock at his best and worst3.” The appearance of Mother from her bedroom, seen in an overhead shot, is frightening, but the way that Arbogast falls down the stairs as she stabs him looks hokey, and we feel as though a detective like him should be prepared for such an attack4. But we cannot forget a scene shortly following, in which Norman gives an ultimatum to his mother to stop killing people or he’ll lock her down in the cellar (another soulless black hole). The camera does not show the conversation, instead tracking away from the doorway to Mother’s bedroom, only spotting Norman as he carries her out down the stairs. Even Hitchcock’s camera does not want to be a part of the explanation; the only difference between it and Marion’s survivors is that it has a good idea of the sheer ugliness of the truth.
 When we pick back up with Lila and Sam, we have no choice but to take their side. There is a palpable chill we feel the first time the matter-of-fact sheriff says; “Norman Bate’s mother has been dead and buried in the Green Lawn Cemetery for the last ten years.” And who will forget the masterfully oriented climatic scene in which Sam struggles with Norman in the motel lobby while Lila ventures through the house and peeks in at artifact after artifact of Norman’s psyche? Who can forget the perfectly timed shock of Lila’s enquiring “Mrs. Bates…” as the woman sitting in the chair in the cellar is turned around and revealed as a skeleton?
These good bits frame two programmed, emotionally cold people getting in way over their heads. First we took the side of Marion, a bad girl, then we took the sides of her sister and boyfriend, society’s robots, even though we didn’t want to admit that our sympathies kind of lay with Norman for most of the time. That image of a skull being imposed on Norman’s as he sits in a mental ward face at the very end may be a gimmick, but it is an earned gimmick. Norman found us.
I do not mean to suggest that Psycho is a social commentary, contrasting a mad man with “normal, decent people”. It is primarily a well-crafted story. Hitchcock needed movements in his films; the first half of Psycho is a black, noir-ish crawl, punctuated by Norman Bates. It culminates in a wild montage that comes out of nowhere but fits perfectly. The second half is a practical backtracking, this time viewed from a no-fuss perspective. It leads to the inevitable (alright, disappointing) conclusion. What is constant in both halves is a preference for close-ups and medium shots, with wide shots only there to tease us with what we can’t see; the hotel at the beginning and the house Norman’s mother lives in are the two most obvious examples. The first half establishes the orientation of a large house way out in the desert, uphill from a motel; the second half toys with that orientation. All these elements are combined with the grimy photography of Robert Burkes, the bout of pure cinema that is the shower scene and yes, the suggestion of social comment. It is not Hitchcock’s finest film because it falls too heavily under the weight of its whodunit expectations. But it is one of the boldest stabs at melding traditional genres with stylistic weirdness and combining sound film conventions with tried and true visual intoxication.
It is this blend of moving image craft and deep morbidity that makes Psycho so perverted and unsettling; it is only because what is at first a fear of the unknown is confirmed as something so grotesque that Psycho can be said to "horrify" us. This makes Psycho the ultimate horror film. Yet perversion and morbidity became the only goal of the horror film from there on out, to the overall detriment of cinema. Hitchcock’s irrationality became mainstream cinema’s ridiculousness. He could not have wanted only the most sensationalistic  tropes to become the point, because Psycho plays a vital game with the audience that later horror films miss entirely. Hitchcock wanted this game to be expressed in something like that great image of Anthony Perkins peering at Janet Leigh through a peephole in the wall, his neck and lower body shrouded in darkness; rigid, stuffed birds rising up in the background, before cutting to an image of Leigh undressing. When Psycho was released in August of 1960, this scene communicated the entire film to audiences. It said: Peekaboo. Didn’t think this was a trap? Well, it is.
1: Sarris, Andrew, review of Psycho; appeared in The Village Voice, August 11th, 1960
2,3,4: Thomson, David, The Moment of Psycho: How Alfred Hitchcock taught America to love murder. Basic Books, 2009.