As part of its summer movie series, the Orpheum has put together a dream double bill for Friday, July 13th: Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), followed by Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980). Aside from the macabre appropriateness of the screening date, what else might two of the strongest films by two of the greatest directors in film history have to say to each other?
Kubrick's affection for Hitchcock was well known, and there are several thematic similarities between Psycho and The Shining. Both films are literary adaptations set in and around ominous, forlorn hotels. Both films feature tragic females — poor, lustful Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) and poor, loveless Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall) — looking to start over in a new location. Yet both plots are driven by their central male characters' loneliness, anxiety, and crumbling mental states. Both films are about disintegrating or dysfunctional families; the domineering Mrs. Bates could have been the first wife of abusive, murderous Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson). And both films are populated by supporting actors who behave like robotic humanoids with dwindling power supplies: It's easy to imagine the state trooper who wakes Marion Crane on the roadside finishing his shift and sharing a drink with Overlook Hotel butler/axe murderer Delbert Grady at some creepy watering hole.
There are significant structural parallels, too. Both films feature some of the best stretches of "pure" filmmaking in either director's career — the long Steadicam take in The Shining that follows a Big Wheel tour of the Overlook Hotel is as prominent in Kubrick's career as Psycho's shower sequence is in Hitchcock's. Key passages in both films attain a frightful power thanks to distinctive musical scores. And mirrors double and triple the visual information of any given scene, providing important psychological clues.
Hitchcock and Kubrick are performing some of their best and blackest movie magic throughout these films. Hitchcock's economy and trickery in Psycho is less obvious until you've seen the film a few times. But multiple viewings reveal that Hitchcock's roving camera heightens suspense and repeatedly conceals Mrs. Bates until the film's climax. Kubrick's trickery takes more time — and a little research — to reveal itself. The perfect, chilly winter light from the Overlook's windows was artificially created by 1 million watts worth of light bulbs; the snow that buries the hotel was largely made of salt and Styrofoam.
Psycho is, for all its suspense, a fundamentally entertaining film that's also the perfect mix of mystery, horror, and film noir. The Shining remains irreducibly tantalizing, hypnotic, and eerie, even though it has the brightest, boldest color palette of any horror film I've ever seen. Each film has generated reams of analysis both online and in print. But they surf on those oceans of text with ease. If you see them together this Friday, you won't have a better time at the movies all year.
Psycho and The Shining
Friday, July 13th, 7:15 and 9:30 p.m.; $7