Psycho 3.0: The Steven Soderbergh Cut
Ron Seifried | On 18, Mar 2014
It has been 54 years since the release of the Alfred Hitchcock classic “Psycho.” Since then the franchise has been milked with three sequels, a TV-spinoff movie, a contemporary TV series currently airing on A& E and the infamous shot-by-shot 1998 remake directed by Gus Van Sant. An internet mashup is the latest and probably the most fascinating tribute to the suspenseful horror film and it is the creation of another well known filmmaker: Steven Soderbergh.
Soderbergh is best known as the director of the “Ocean 11” franchise, “Out of Sight,” “Erin Brockovich,” “Traffic,” and “Sex, Lies, and Videotape.” The established and respected Soderbergh is also an unconventional filmmaker, choosing less prestigious projects over the course of his career. His choices include working as the second unit director on “The Hunger Games;” working on an off-Broadway play, “The Library;” announcing his retirement/sabbatical a couple of times and recently criticizing the current state of cinema.
Currently streaming on his website extension765.com is his mashup interpretation of the two Psycho films by Hitchcock and Van Sant, and it is worth checking out. This revisionist review of the first classic and the second not-so-classic is entitled “Psychos” and is spectacle to behold, delving into the split-personality’s of the two casts and showcases how an original film, no matter how old it may be, should remain untouched.
Despite the remake being shot in color, Soderbergh chose to remain true to the black and white tone of the original. The exceptions are the shower scene and the reveal of Mrs. Bates, which was cross dissolved between the black and white and color in almost avant-garde montages.
It is interesting to observe Soderbergh the editor choose his shots between the two versions. At some points he retains full scenes from 1960 or 1998, but at other times dissolves mid-shots, retaining the pace of the original as Van Sant tried to.
The entrance of Norman Bates stays on Anthony Perkins up until his return to the office, when Vince Vaughn (as Norman) peers through the hole in the wall and masturbates to Anne Heche’s disrobing and partial nudity, elements not possible in 1960 and one of the massive missteps of Van Sant’s remake.
I never watched the Van Sant version of “Psycho.” I always felt it was arrogant and self indulgent for an established filmmaker to tackle one of the greats. The ’98 remake was a commercial and critical failure, but this cut by Soderbergh is an interesting alternative to get a glimpse of Van Sant’s approach without straying too far from the original.
What this version showcases is when a remake is matched up against a superior original, despite improvements in technology, an original piece of art should never be tampered with.
But why did Soderbergh put this piece together? As an experienced editor, I know it is not too difficult to cut together two almost identical films if you are intimately familiar with both interpretations.
Is Soderbergh the ultimate Hitchcock purist with this version a possible direct attack on Van Sant’s remake by comparing the two films so closely?
Does Soderbergh want to add his name as one of the directors to make “Psycho,” only this time without the cast, crew and craft services?
Or does Soderbergh have too much time during his sabbatical, if he is indeed on one now? And why did he decide to release this version now, 16 years after the remake?
I would like to believe that this project is Soderbergh’s continued frustration with the state of Hollywood and its obsession with unoriginality that have boxed out great directors like himself from continuing to produce original story’s. In the past year, Soderbergh lined up A-list actors Matt Damon and Michael Douglas for his well received film “Behind the Candelabra,” but couldn’t get theatrical distribution and it ended up airing it on HBO.
Is this a mashup of two “Psychos” reflective on Van Sant’s attempt at a quick money grab, or is this actually a commentary on the franchise-obsessed studio execs and their laziness of story development.
In almost every Hitchcock film, the great director placed himself in the background with an unbilled cameo. Van Sant is talking to an actor playing the Hitchcock cameo in the remake. It is telling that Soderbergh decided to leave Hitch in his 1960 glory and not opt for the Van Sant mashup.
Whatever his intention, Soderbergh’s experiment is a well conceived course of the ineffectiveness of the remake era. If he has a desire to continue this trend, might I suggest tackling “Carrie” and its remake?