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The Moment of Psycho: How Alfred Hitchcock Taught America to Love Murder [Hardcover]

David Thomson
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 Jan 2010
It was made like a television movie, and completed in less than three months. It killed off its star in forty minutes. There was no happy ending. And it offered the most violent scene to date in American film, punctuated by shrieking strings that seared the national consciousness. Nothing like Psycho had existed before; the movie industryeven America itselfwould never be the same. In The Moment of Psycho, film critic David Thomson situates Psycho in Alfred Hitchcocks career, recreating the mood and time when the seminal film erupted onto film screens worldwide. Thomson shows that Psycho was not just a sensation in film: it altered the very nature of our desires. Sex, violence, and horror took on new life. Psycho, all of a sudden, represented all America wanted from a filmand, as Thomson brilliantly demonstrates, still does.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (2 Jan 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465003397
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465003396
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.8 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 713,429 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

English-American writer David Thomson was educated at Dulwich College and the London School of Film Technique. After seven years at Penguin Books, he became a Director of Film Studies at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire between 1977 and 1981. Perhaps best known for his magisterial Biographical Dictionary of Film, Thomson is a prolific writer on film including biographies of David O Selznick and Orson Welles, and two books on Hollywood: Beneath Mulholland: Thoughts on Hollywood and Its Ghosts and The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood. Thomson lives in San Fransisco with his wife and two sons.

Product Description


'Forget about assassination, communism and war - an extraordinary new book argues that it was really Hitchcock's masterpiece that sparked global panic, paranoia and distrust.'

--The Daily Express, February 2010

"In 1960, few wrote seriously about film. Now everybody's at it, and Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 shower shocker could be cinema's most written about movie. Do we really need another Psycho book? Well ... yes. David Thomson's slim, densely packed essay adds something new by concentrating on precisely that shift in attitude... Thomson is a magisterial writer. There's enough meat her to keep the Psycho industry rolling on for several more years." --Total Film, April 2010

'Thomson's book represents a refreshing return to the value judgment in Hitchcockian exegesis.'
--The Spectator, February 27, 2010

"(I)lluminating...Thomson's own passion for the film is evident."

--The Evening Standard, February 25, 2010

"Ever since I first saw Psycho as a terrified adolescent, I've been replaying it - inside my head for several decades, nowadays on a screen at the foot of my bed - but David Thomson has spotted things that my countless viewings overlooked... At his best, Thomson provides his own deftly poetic equivalents to the film's visual images and wordless sounds... (He) is a metaphysician of the movies who has also always been fascinated by the fantasies and mysteries that play out in the darkened cinema, and he writes compellingly about the snarled relationship between voyeurism and moral responsibility of Psycho."
--The Observer, March 7, 2010

'(A) compelling argument from the pre-eminent film critic of the age. I have long been a fan of Thomson's magisterial Biographical Dictionary of Film, and in The Moment of Psycho he is at his most fluent and perceptive."
(5 star review)

--The Mail on Sunday, Marh 14 2010 The Mail on Sunday, March 14 2010

"Thomson intuits the secret afterlife of Psycho in the American mind, in a short book which is like an inspired, bravura jazz solo...Thomson attempts to place himself inside the fabric of Psycho, floating in its pin-sharp monochrome nightmare, living through its narrative and the narrative of its cultural impact in a sort of subjective real time. Shrewdly, he places it alongside Truman Capote's 1966 true-crime study In Cold Blood, as a work which shows that America's hinterlands are not the places of provincial decency quaintly imagined by popular culture but unpoliced worlds of melancholy and menace. Who are all these lonely men? Good ol' boys? Momma's boys? Thomson playfully asks us to imagine that dutiful son Elvis Presley in the Tony Perkins role: A disquietingly plausible cine-fantasy and the kind of brilliant flush that only Thomson could conjure."
--The Guardian, April 2010

"Thomson's close analysis of the film, its context in terms of director and cast and its influence on subsequent movies is another of his five-star movie masterclasses. He should be given an annual Oscar for movie criticism and a lifetime achievement award for being consistently right about film."

--The Times, Saturday 10 April, 2010

'The doyen of Anglo-American film critics - British-born,US-based - pays homage to the greatest Anglo-American filmmaker. Hitchcock never surpassed Psycho, a
crime-and-punishment tale brilliantly mixing
horror with black comedy.'
--The Financial Times

"This is the foremost Anglo-American film critic's take on the foremost Anglo-American filmmaker. As in a good Hitchcock movie, every angle is covered and some angles are more revealing or mischievously original than others."
--The Financial Times (Best Film Books 2010)

About the Author

English-American writer David Thomson is the author of many books on film, including ""Have You Seen...?" A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films," which the "New York Times" called, "passionate, illuminating, rich, and eccentric"; and the massively influential "Biographical Dictionary of Film" called "the best book on the movies ever written in English" ("The New Republic"). He lives in San Francisco with his family.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The mother of all shockers 9 April 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Forget the brutal murder in the shower - Psycho was controversial enough simply by being the first film to feature a flushing lavatory!

In this entertaining meditation on the film which changed everything - including a convincing case argued that it has influenced just about every major movie made since - we are invited to consider the impact of a thriller (horror film? The choice is yours) which was the high water mark of Alfred Hitchcock's career and which scared everyone else senseless, much to Hitch's amusement.

Full of juicy detail but urgent and unpretentious, this short discourse is almost as readable as the film is watchable. I wasn't born in 1960 and so its impact at the time of its release I can only leave for others - like David Thomson - to assess, but I remember the first time I watched it... on TV with the lights out. No other film has seemed remotely scary since.

The author (and, of course, the late director) would understand.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quality analysis but light on pages. 5 Dec 2013
By S. Hyde
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you are new to Hitchcock's Psycho then this book offers a good introduction to the film and it's meanings as only Thomson can elucidate. He is the best critic in the business afterall and his analysis and insight is spot-on. However the book is actually quite short and a little light for what would originally have been 15 for the hardback. Also if you are a follower of Thomson's writing then you might be disappointed because he doesnt add much to what he has previously said in his other books and weekly columns. Finally, I'm not persuaded by the overarching idea that Psycho is where our love of murder all began. So, i've mixed feelings but an enjoyable read nonetheless.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Simple yet thoughtful... 19 Jun 2010
A small but detailed book looking at the impact of Psycho on cinema and a look at what was involved in filming it....
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars unique Hitchcock background info on film 10 Aug 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I love all Hitchcock films and purchase all the biographies on him. Did not rate the recent TV movie about him.
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Product Description: How we were shocked! 28 Aug 2010
Remembering the original review from the Daily Express, I find it interesting to see this paper completely contradicting itself 50 years later, as quoted in the book's product description.
That the paper was (and probably still is) unfit to block up a motel lavatory bowl can be gauged by its incessant moralising and hypocrisy about anything it deemed to be unsuitable for the breakfast tables of England.
Reviewing Psycho in 1960, the paper's film critic, Rene MacColl wrote: "one of the most vile and disgusting films ever made. Now look here, Maestro Hitchcock, just what is the game?.....a sad prostitution of talent."
There were of course other execrable reviews but The Express had considerable influence over the nation's morals back then, and I remember this one so vividly because my aunt got hold of the paper and told my uncle, a former Indian army colonel, that he shouldn't bother reading about anything so "sordid."
Another review, telling people to avert their eyes, asserted that the film was "scraping the bottom of the psychiatric barrel" no change over fifty years then for the Daily Mail.
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