What’s clear is how startling the shower scene remains, almost six decades after it was made. It occurs less than an hour into the film, and quite suddenly: Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) has arrived at the off-the-highway Bates Motel in the pouring rain with $40,000 of stolen money in an envelope. The proprietor, a lonely guy named Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) who lives with his mother in a house overlooking the motel, provides her with a room and offers some food. They talk—a pleasant enough conversation—and she decides to retire for the night. Norman peers through a hole in the wall to spy on her in her room, the first sign that something is amiss. When she enters the shower, a shadowy figure emerges and stabs her repeatedly, without remorse, and walks out of the room.
How this came together is fascinating. The shower scene, in all its jolting potency, hangs on a number of visual illusions constructed through the editing and sound, and the specific way Hitchcock composed each shot: the use of empty space in the bathroom that draws the viewer’s eye to where the killer will emerge; the violent jump cuts that suggest bodily harm; the visceral impact of the sound of each stab, produced by recording a knife slicing into a casaba melon (Hitchcock sat listening to the prop man stab dozens of melons on a table before settling on the right effect).
The brisk simplicity with which Hitchcock handles this moment of death was challenged by the artist
in one of his most famous installations. His 24 Hour Psycho
(1993) slowed the entire film down so it would be played over an entire day, a provocative twist on the original film’s manipulation of the audience. Don DeLillo, no stranger to using visual art in his narratives, placed the watching of the video at the beginning of his 2010 novel Point Omega.
In 2008, Gordon went one step further and made a dual-channel version of the work that he dubbed 24 Hour Psycho Back and Forth and To and Fro
: one screen plays the slowed-down film from the beginning, while the other runs it in reverse. New Yorkers will have a chance to see it themselves on November 17, when Gagosian hosts a 24-hour screening at their 21st Street location.