(USA, 1998; dir. Gus Van Sant; scr. Joseph Stefano; cin. Christopher Doyle; with Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche, Julianne Moore, Viggo Mortensen, William H. Macy, Philip Baker Hall, Robert Forster, James Le Gros, Rita Wilson)
IMDb // My Full Review
Seriously. That Psycho. I remind the reader that this list prioritizes pleasure and personal association over
"pure" aesthetic credentials, though even on that grounds, Gus Van Sant's floridly punctilious remake of Alfred Hitchcock's
most famous movie has nothing to be embarrassed about. The whole exercise, a quite brilliant gambit, speaks as no other
movie I can think of to the paradox of how exactitude and imitation invariably call attention to deviance and asymmetry.
That's a Hitchcockian idea in itselfa sort of formal apotheosis of what Jimmy Stewart's character learns in Vertigobut
it also places the movie expertly into a landscape of queer camp and performativity that includes Andy Warhol's star portraits
and soup cans, Judith
Butler's queer explications of gender as ideological theater, the entire history of drag, and queer cinema's own abiding
interest in the citation and subversive reinhabiting of classic texts. The same questions that Velvet
Goldmine poses to Citizen Kane, that All About My Mother and another
upcoming Favorite pose to All About Eve, that Derek Jarman posed to Shakespeare and Marlowe, and that Van Sant's
My Own Private Idaho posed to the Henry plays are succinctly crystallized in this pop-art diorama of
Psycho's once revolutionary and now ubiquitous twists and turns.
With the possible exception of Last Days, this is also my favorite Van Sant movie,
capitalizing on his own frigid detachment and his hyperinvestment in self-conscious form. It's a fond time capsule of
American movies circa 1998, when Vince Vaughn, Julianne Moore, Anne Heche, William H. Macy, Viggo Mortensen, Robert
Forster, and Philip Baker Hall were either hot new names or recently, happily returned to our attentions. In Christopher
Doyle's fluorescent, go-for-broke lighting and Beatrix Aruña Pasztor's equally daring costume choices, it's one of the
best and least expected transplants of Hong Kong style into a credible American idiom. Heche, shopping for used cars in a
green/orange print dress, color-matched sunglasses, a tangerine parasol, and a punky platinum dye-job, is not far from,
say, Carina Lau's killer look in Days of Being Wildand this is but one of the multiple,
unimprovable accents in and around her stunningly inspired riff on Marion Crane. With one of the hardest acting
tasksVaughn's adequate but thankless work is in its own league as far as that goesHeche is best in show by a
highway mile, reminding us of how much she deserves to have a career like Cate Blanchett's got. Moore, oddly uncomfortable
in her shoes (is she having one of her "funny feet" problems?), is still a sharp and merciful switch-in for Vera Miles.
Mortensen, Heche, and Van Sant conspire to make the adulterous foundation of the story all the more tawdry and plausibly
scofflaw, and Danny Elfman has a superb time sharpening the blades on what might be the cinema's most durable, age-proof
score. Inserts of rolling clouds and lounging nudes are just stupid, frankly, but the real secret is that Van Sant's
Psycho is its own movie, through and through. Sure it lives inside a formidable shadow, but it casts one of its
own, too: eccentric, intellectual, invigorating.