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Framing Vera Miles


Alfred Hitchcock, Paramount-Shamley Productions, USA, 1960

This sequence, in which Hitchcock effects two successive reverse angles, consists of two shots that have been broken down into three images. Images 1 and 2 belong to a single shot, with the transition in angle occuring within the frame: as the actor (Vera Miles) descends a flight of stairs, the camera pans in order to keep her in the frame. Image 2, therefore, is not, technically, a reverse-angle shot. The effect of the panning shot, which depends upon and draws our attention to the manipulation of the camera, reminds us that the point of view in both images has been usurped the director. Note, too, that both Image 1 and Image 3 (the latter a reverse-angle shot effected by a direct cut) appear to set up Miles as a point-of-view character but then decline to show us what she sees. Psycho is all about the peril that comes upon victims who do not see it in time—and which, in fact, even the viewer perceives only indistinctly. Throughout the film (this sequence occurs toward the very end), Hitchcock has developed a cinematic strategy designed to convey the sense of a world that’s a dangerous place because dire events occur with sudden unpredictability. In a world in which events literally can’t be foreseen—a world enhanced, of course, by the contrivances of narrative and cinematic plotting—we make a serious mistake in believing that life follows a rational course or that the people that one happens to meet in it are as rational as we believe ourselves to be.

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