The Impact of Music in the Infamous Shower Scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho

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Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho of 1960, a film in which Hitchcock himself wanted to stop filming due to his own unhappiness with its progress, has become one of the most iconic films of the 20th century. The film has been analyzed, critiqued, and admired by professors, students, critics, and fans alike; “it is probably the most closely and most seriously scrutinized film ever made,” (Wierzbicki, 14). Psycho is a film in which many people hold in their repertoire if not for its entirety, at least for the acclaimed roughly 47 minutes into the film, commonly referred to as “The Shower Scene”. The question lies: Is this less than sixty seconds long scene more effective with or without music? While creating what would ultimately become his most famous work and a known filmed masterpiece, Alfred Hitchcock felt as though Psycho was a disappointment. Psycho was filmed on a low budget and with very little confidence from its director. He was not too thrilled with what his concept was becoming and felt as though he might as well quit filming it as a movie and just make it into an hour long television show. When the film’s score composer and collaborator of Hitchcock, Bernard Herrmann heard of this he told Hitchcock to go away for a while and he would work on the score, then when he came back they could review the film together with the score and hopefully, he would be more enthused about the direction Psycho was going in. Hitchcock agreed but, left specific guidelines to Herrmann telling him to compose absolutely no music for the shower scene. Supposedly, due to the scene’s, “… intensity and chilling starkness…coupled with a relentless pacing in the editing… Hitchcock was convinced that the scene should be handled without music,” (Wierzbicki, 20). Of course, Herrmann, who was just as strong-willed, stubborn, and controlling as Hitchcock did not abide. When Hitchcock came back to review the newly composed, all strings score composed by Herrmann he was in for a surprise. Hitchcock was played the music two times. The first time consisted of what he asked for: no music for the shower scene. But, when he was played the score a second time with a composition for the shower scene by Herrmann, Hitchcock agreed undoubtedly to add music to the scene. Later, Hitchcock attributed, “33% of the effect of Psycho was due to the music”. Ultimately, Hitchcock made $15,000,000; today approximately $150,000,000 thankfully due to his decision of opting out of his usual $250,000 and going for a payroll of 60% of the films net profit. He thanked Herrmann personally and by raising his usual pay of $17,500 to $34,501 (Wierzbicki, 34). Alfred Hitchcock undeniably had absolutely no idea how successful Psycho would really be; it was a game changer to the film world. What the public will always immediately reference internally when this film is brought up is the shower scene. Everyone has their own opinion on whether or not the music hurt or helped the scene including published music scholars: James Wierzbicki, Jack Sullivan, and Royal S. Brown. James Wierzbicki wrote “Psycho-Analysis”, in a collection entitled Terror Tracks. In “Psycho-Analysis” Wierzbicki discusses the Hitchcock/Herrmann collaboration and how effective the music in the infamous “Shower Scene” of Psycho is. He proposes that the music and the scene go hand-in-hand. He agrees that the “Shower Scene” is a peak in the film, but argues that it is more of turning point as opposed to the movies climax (Wierzbicki, 21). The author then goes on to discuss other music in the film and how the music in the “Shower Scene” really is menial, as compared to other aspects of the film (Wierzbicki, 21). The author concludes with stating his beliefs that the music adds to the visuals and narrative of the film creating a relationship of harmony or something like that of yin and yang; in that, it is not always steady but, it works and is in itself, flawless (Wierzbicki, 37).

In the section of Hitchcock’s Music...
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