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Tonight's FNatM is by chingchongchinaman.

Cinemaphiles and Alfred Hitchcock fans have been commemorating the 50th anniversary this year of the release of the 1960 horror and suspense classic Psycho.  At least one book was published to coincide with this anniversary, David Thomson's The Moment of Psycho (Chapter 1 excerpt here).  An NPR interview with Thomson is here.

This anniversary hasn't been lost on other arts organizations besides film societies.  Earlier this year, several symphony orchestras have shown Psycho with live orchestra (strings alone), playing the Bernard Herrmann score in time with the movie.  Several orchestras are doing the same presentation this weekend, in time for Halloween.  So why do this?  Well....  

First, in fairness, I should note that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra beat just everyone to the jump on this last year, with their 2009 performance (talk about bad timing, but never mind) reported here and reviewed here.  More recently, on the other side of the world, there have been presentations in Australia in Sydney and Melbourne, albeit with pick-up orchestras rather than established ensembles.  Back on this side of the Pacific, other US orchestras to jump on the Psycho bandwagon have included which gave performances of Psycho have included:

(a) Detroit Symphony Orchestra (June 2010, before the current labor meltdown going on there now [but that's another story])
(b) San Francisco Symphony (July 2010)

Orchestras which are giving performances of the Psycho soundtrack live with the film this weekend include:

(c) St. Louis Symphony (tonight & tomorrow)
(d) Dallas Symphony Orchestra (tonight & tomorrow)
(e) Minnesota Orchestra (tomorrow - program notes here)
(f) RTÉ Concert Orchestra (in Dublin, performing twice on Halloween Sunday)

BTW, RTÉ = Raidio Teilefìs Éireann, not that you asked.

In November, two more US orchestras do their bit:
(f) Saturday, Nov. 13: Louisville Orchestra
(g) Friday, Nov. 19: Chicago Symphony Orchestra

One nice bit of irony here is that the Chicago Symphony's performance is part of one of their season packages that's an addition to the regular subscription concerts, an alternative concert series called - you guessed it: Friday Night at the Movies.  This ties back into the question raised before the flip, namely: why would orchestras do a program like this?  The first and most obvious answer is the tie-in to the 50th anniversary of Psycho.  But the reasons go deeper, a mishmash of historical, aesthetic, cultural, and educational undertows.

Historically, the idea of an orchestra accompanying a movie goes back to the days of silent movies, when there was no dialogue with the movies, of course.  But there was music to go along with the movie, which could be a house organist, or pianist, or if the money stretched to it, a band or even - an orchestra.  This is why the quip exists that "the silent films were never really silent", which is a bit of a canard, because the sound, i.e. the music, in silent movies was not integrated with the film, was not a direct part of the film, the way films are now.  The sound came from live musicians who were separate from the film as an entity, so that you would not get the exact sounds from a screening in a cinema in Kansas City, KS (or MO) as at a showing in Richmond, VA.

For orchestras, presentations like performing as accompaniment to movies are a chance to do something different from the usual symphony concert routine (Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, etc.).  The bigger point, at least IMHO, however, is that at least potentially, these events are a chance to try to reach out to wider audiences than would be inclined to go to traditional concerts.  After all, pretty much all of are comfortable with talking about movies in casual conversation, because movies are an artistic medium we're all familiar with.  By contrast, it's probably pretty safe to say that most of us (most Americans, anyway) are not that comfortable with talking about classical music (when not openly disdainful, like certain wingnut media types who shall not be named).  Tying together a movie, one of the most populist art forms, with a symphony orchestra, which is considerably a less populist artistic institution, is one attempt to bridge that divide.

Why symphony orchestras aren't populist the way movies are ties back, of course, to music education and the priorities put on the various school subjects, i.e. where the money goes (OK, there's corporate media and such, but that's too big to tackle here).  The US certainly is not Finland, or Venezuela, when it comes to music education and allocating funds on it.  The wonder of it all, I suppose, is that the elite US music conservatories still get tons of applicants and, as a result, produce a huge surplus of musicians.  But 3CM digresses, as usual.

I unfortunately can't attend the local Psycho with live orchestra event, because of prior committments.  I'll have to ask people at the orchestra later how it goes.  If anyone in any of the above cities does check it out, it would be nice to know how the general vibe was, including things like the demographics of the crowd that showed up, how well the house sold, how the audience reacted (especially at the most [in]famous scene), not to mention how well the orchestra played.

From YouTube, a video of Hitchcock talking about analogies of music to filmmaking, with reference to Psycho is here:

Going back to Thomson,  if you want to check out a bunch of reviews on Thomson's book:
(1) The Globe and Mail, Liam Lacey
(2) The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw
(3) NYT, Michiko Kakutani
(4) NYT, Neil Genzlinger
(5) San Francisco Chronicle, David D'Arcy
(6) The Times of London, Peter Biskind

You can also read older web commentaries on Psycho such as these by:
i) Tim Dirks.  
ii) The Great Thumb himself, Roger Ebert
iii) Alan Vannemann

By the way, if there are any film studies professors who read DK and are in need of a topic to write something to get tenure, Bradshaw has an idea for you, in the context of reviewing another book (at the same time that he reviewed Thomson's book), Robert Graysmith's The Girl in Alfred Hitchcock's Shower:

"For all its problems, Graysmith's book does at least offer something usually absent from any discussion of Psycho: a female presence and a woman's perspective. This is a movie popularly supposed to be about the male gaze, and these are very male critical accounts. The subtitle of Thomson's book is 'How Alfred Hitchcock taught America to love murder' – an alternative could have been 'How Hitchcock legitimised the spectacle of violence against women'. Perhaps what is most needed for its 50th anniversary is a new feminist reading of Psycho."

Liam Lacey takes a different shot at Thomson's subtitle thus:

"As for the book's subtitle, How Alfred Hitchcock Taught America to Love Murder, it's absurd.  You can't teach what is already mastered: America had been deeply in love with murder through the Wild West and gangster eras, if not since its revolutionary inception."

(Sounds like teabagger bigots to a T, doesn't it?)

So below it's your turn, to share thoughts on Psycho, Hitchcock, or any movies you've seen lately.  The (film) forum below is yours.....

Originally posted to Friday Night at the Movies on Fri Oct 29, 2010 at 05:08 PM PDT.

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