Gus Van Sant has not only filmed Joseph Stefano’s script of Hitchcock’s Psycho without rewriting it, he’s reproduced nearly all of the staging as well. Nearly, because what may be most interesting to viewers who know the original well is the way Van Sant has sneaked in minute differences within several shots and scenes, mischievously tweaking our memories of the 1960 classic without changing the story.
For example, in the famous opening scene, Hitchcock’s camera floated through the window of a hotel room to discover Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) in a white bra and half-slip watching her lover put on his clothes after their lunch-hour tryst. I think the sight of Leigh in dishabille jump-started the puberty of many a pre-adolescent boy like myself, but Van Sant’s camera treats his Marion, Anne Heche, like the most gallant of peeping toms by staying pretty much above her collarbone. Her lover, however, is displayed in full dorsal nudity. A gift to female and gay audience members? In any event, we can sense the director winking at us.
Some of these innovations don’t work so well: as the detective Arbogast is slashed to death, Van Sant inserts some nearly subliminal shots of a ghostly nude woman and an equally ghostly winding road. Are these the private eye’s last thoughts before death? But they mean nothing to us, since we haven’t been privy to Arbogast’s private life.