In the every-decade polling done by film magazine Sight & Sound, Hitchcock's "Vertigo" (released two years before "Psycho" to largely negative reviews) earlier this year displaced Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" as the best film of all time, according to voting critics. Among the directors who have voted for "Psycho" in past Sight & Sound polls is the Australian filmmaker Michael Haneke, maybe the only living director who — as proven by his upcoming film "Amour" — shares both Hitchcock's skillfulness and his attention to audience manipulation through violence.
Also among filmmakers who have voted for "Psycho" is Errol Morris who, years after seeing it, pursued an interview with the real-life inspiration for Anthony Perkins' character, the serial killer Ed Gein, at the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Wisconsin.
Morris was then a graduate student at U.C. Berkley, but the extensive interviews he did with Gein (he believes the only ever done) helped set Morris on the path that would be his life's work — films that might in some way be summarized by a scene in "Psycho" that deeply affected Morris. Near the end of the film, a psychiatrist offers a pat, insufficient explanation of Gein's psychosis, which Pauline Kael called "arguably Hitchcock's worst scene."
"You feel that all psychological explanation is defeated," says Morris. "It's the ultimate noir idea, that somehow psychological explanation isn't enough. It's defeated by some kind of mechanism that stands behind all of our plans and our thoughts, our machinations. It's the feeling of being haunted by the inexplicable and the unknown."
In "Hitchcock," which is partly based on Stephen Rebello's book, "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho," Gervasi imagines the director communicating with Gein. A more complex picture of Hitchcock is also seen in the recent HBO film "The Girl," which shows the making of "The Birds" and Hitchcock's alleged tormenting of his star actress, Tippi Hedren.
Fearing a negative portrait, the Hitchcock estate didn't allow the use of "Psycho" footage or dialogue for "Hitchcock." But the film nevertheless takes pleasure in recreating and imagining the circumstances of making a film that still transfixes — that in shrill violin notes, shrieked a revolution.
"It was a point in history where we were going from an idealistic, stylized imagination of what America could be, to this very visceral, brutal, violent period where the president is getting killed and people are getting assassinated," says Gervasi. "Here we are 52 years later talking about the shock of a film. I mean, that's a pretty powerful film."
Follow Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jake_coyle