Friday, June 10, 2011

Breakfast at the Bates Motel

In fn. 31 of a recent post I mentioned that the film Breakfast at Tiffany's, notwithstanding its very different genre, bears traces of Psycho, the surprise critical and commercial mega-hit that was still in cinemas as BAT started shooting in October 1960. In this post I present the visual evidence that that footnote only described. Click on any image to see it full size.

1. Martin Balsam's Berman/Arbogast
As Arbogast, Balsam enters as a looming head (and he dies that way too). As Berman, Balsam enters as a growing head talking to a stuffed bird (recalling Norman's taxidermy). When the camera swings around Berman looks like an almost-grinning, Norman/Mother.

Balsam's Berman later turns up with a blonde in a shower (although the connection to Psycho is more cognitive than visual in that case). Inside jokes to tease and flatter hipster audience members who remember Balsam as Arbogast? I think so.

2. Eyes
Paul wakes alone the morning after really spending the night with Holly, and we begin in extreme close-up....

3. Statuary
Still half-asleep, the first things Paul sees are the masks that he and Holly stole the previous day, posed (by Holly) in the arms of a strange statue. The statue could have come from Mother's bedroom in Psycho. Truly, Paul's patron/sugar-mama has wretched taste!

4. Overheads
When Paul brings Holly home drunk, the camera on them in the foyer is suddenly overhead for the first time.

5. Stairs
When Paul carries drunkie Holly up the stairs, the camera follows behind them, then reverses back along the first floor balustrade.

BAT was an A-list film, designed to be a big hit, but it was also intended specifically as a hip/cool/sophisticated entertainment. It therefore makes sense that director Edwards, DP Planer, and other technicians involved with the film would want to show that they were up-to-date/hip to the new cinematic language that Psycho represented. And that's what we see when we look for it.

A final question: Would we have got bare-chested George Peppard and Audrey Hepburn in relatively little (bare-legged, and in just a robe or shirt) in bed together, esp. so early in the film, without Marion and Sam (in underwear and bare-chested respectively) at the beginning of Psycho? This is a serious question - one really can at this point in US film history, pinpoint the exact days when standards loosened/taboos were broken.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting comments. Thanks for sharing this on Classic film. I never look at films with that kind of shot analysis , especially comparing films shot by shot as you did.