FEATURE: 78/52/20/20: How Musicians Can Take Guidance from Psycho’s Famous Shower Scene





PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

How Musicians Can Take Guidance from Psycho’s Famous Shower Scene


LAST night…



78/52, a documentary that focused on Psycho’s legendary shower scene, was broadcast on British T.V. Alfred Hitchcock’s most-famous film was provided with a forensic autopsy: filmmakers and actors assembled to provide their take and views on the starling centrepiece. From those involved in Psycho directly to those who take huge guidance from Hitchcock’s masterpiece – they were keen to provide an analytic, blow-by-blow account of the scene. The documentary’s title refers to the seventy-eight camera set-ups and fifty-two cut-always that went into the grisly overture. It has been years since I last saw the film and couldn’t remember every detail of the shower scene. It was interesting watching 78/52 and seeing experts examine every angle (literally) and the techniques involved. Janet Leigh entered the bathroom following a desperate detour to the Bates Motel. Greeted – rather chillingly – by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins); Leigh (playing Marion Crane) checks into her room and decides to take a shower. Beforehand, we look at Bates’ creepy interactions and the chilly emptiness of the motel – mentions to his unseen mother build that sense of discomfort. Everything leads to this biblical, multi-angled crescendo. Crane disrobes and steps into the shower; she turns the water on and then there is an empty space in focus – we wonder why the camera decides to rest there. Apart from the sound of the running water, there is no other sound – Bernard Hermann’s chilling, rapturous score does not strike until the appearance of Bates.



The fact we focus on the door is because of what happens next: Bates, dressed as his (dead) mither enters and rips back the curtain. We see Crane’s screaming face in close-up and no real facial details of Bates – instead, there is this mushroom-shaped head and shadow. The sense of terror comes from insinuation and imagination. The blade is seen elevated but it never enters the flesh – there is, actually, one frame where we see the knife penetrate Crane’s stomach. Rather than a sustained, physical attack – producing blood and ripping through flesh – there are flashes of the knife and suggestions…without seeing the knife go into the ill-fated heroine’s body. In 1960; nobody had encountered something as terrifying and awe-inspiring. The scene took seven days to shoot and an immense amount of detail. Hitchcock wanted to get the sound of a knife entering flesh just right. Many melons were tested but only the one had that precise sound. Chocolate syrup as used as blood and, the fact the scene (and film) was shot in black-and-white makes it more frightening. The sight of red blood would have been too gory and would have lacked something. So, then…what does this all have to do with music?! I was watching the documentary and amazed at how revolutionary the scene was in 1960. People were running out of the movie theatres and there was, when it premiered, sustained screams and panic.


IN THIS PHOTO: Alfred Hitchcock/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

A filmmaker like Alfred Hitchcock does not slack when it comes to directing. Psycho’s best-loved scene took endless perpetration and care – the kind rarely seen in films to that point. One could argue that fastidiousness and invention was needed to make the scene perfect. I wonder whether today, in a fast-paced music industry, composers and writers have the time to write music in the same way. Listen to the way Bernard Hermann’s stabbed strings elevate and add to the shower scene – a masterful combination that only heightened the electricity and terror. The last time we saw anyone expend Hitchcock levels of detail and work into a single piece was, perhaps, The Beatles. Listen to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and you can see how much effort was expended. The Beatles slaved to get their sounds right and pushed the studio to the limits. They worked day and night and changed the face of music. Tape was cut and taped together; new instruments were spliced and tape slowed down – single songs took multiple sessions and personnel to realise the visions of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. That album was a revolution back in 1967: the fact there has been nothing like it since raises questions. The modern music scene is packed and inspiring but, to my mind, we have not heard a phantasmagoria and epiphany to rival that Beatles masterpiece.


IN THIS PHOTO: The Beatles/PHOTO CREDIT: Apple Music/Getty Images

There have been genre-defining albums and works that have challenged convention. I cannot think of an album that has incorporated the level of detail and genius as Psycho’s shower scene. Many might feel it an unfair comparison. That scene was very short - and it would be impossible to give that much attention to a full-length record. I am not expecting musicians to pull a Hitchcock and create a masterpiece eleven or twelve times over – maybe a single song would benefit that sort of time and attention. I would like to think, years from now, music experts will be dissecting a song and studying its bones and formation. Even the most detail-orientated and fulsome songs do not have the same degree of detail as a Hitchcock scene. I know film employs visuals (in addition to sound) so directors need to think about every consideration and aspect. Music is not necessarily simpler and less complicated than film. I wonder whether modern artists have the money and time to put something so enticing and complicated together. The Beatles, back in 1967, moved music on as much as Alfred Hitchcock did with film in 1960. Technology has moved on so much: the modern musician has everything at their disposal. It is easy to create symphonies and mix samples; push boundaries and create huge soundscapes.



I wonder whether something big could be created – that takes music back to basics but pushes the limits of what we think possible. Maybe it would involve various microphones being draped and treated (different in terms of make and age) and taking a Beatles-like approach to music – slicing tape and slowing down certain section of a track. I am always looking for music that defies convention and compels songwriters, generations from now. That may be a big ask but I wonder whether it is actually possible. If it could be done fifty years ago; surely we have the capacity now to create something wondrous. There are some brilliant songs/albums arising – nothing that really provokes me to pick it apart and discuss it with like-minded peers. Maybe a full-on documentary about a single film scene is a bit excessive: one cannot argue Hitchcock’s finest single moment is undeserving of such passion. Music warrants someone coming along that wants to make a real change and push the industry forward. Even if it was a single song; having a visionary come along and shake the rules up would be a breath of fresh air. It may not come from Pop or Alternative sides of music: perhaps a Classical artist or Folk songwriter will take up the challenge and do something mind-blowing and inexplicable. I cannot be the only one who wants a musician to pen something that makes the listener sweaty and confused – just how can something like this be explained?! The impact Psycho’s shower scene had on unsuspected audiences in 1960 is still being talked about today: in 2018; there is a desire for something as arresting and stratospheric. I know there are artists out there who could create something huge and industry-changing. The interesting will be seeing…



WHERE this breakthrough comes from.