"As If I Could Do Anything Except Just Sit and Stare": A Gaze of a Viewer/Reader in Psycho and To The Lighthouse
Bachelor of Arts
William Patrick Day
Psycho, Movie, To The Lighthouse, Reader, Literature
At the end of Alfred Hitchcock's film Psycho, the figure of Norman Bates (or maybe the figure of his mother--at this point, the distinction is fogged) hugs a blanket around him as he sits in his prison cell, staring, perfectly still except for the movements of his eyes, the expressions on his face, the slight movement of his head. He stares directly at the camera, the audience, while the phantom voice of Mother explains her trouble with her son ("he was always--bad"). The camera does not shift angles during this scene to relieve us of this penetrating gaze, but this also means that our viewer's gaze continues to focus on Norman; like Mother/Norman, we "sit and stare"; the cinematic screen acts as a window through which we see a reflection of our own viewing action.
As readers and viewers, our image remains absent from the novel we read or the film we watch, because the plane of the paper or the screen acts as a divider between the realm of the text and the realm of the reader. We can never see the camera that does the shooting, since it belongs neither to the scene of the film frame nor to the outside world of the viewer; instead, it has an invisible presence upon which nothing and everything rests; it is an unseen necessity, without which the image cannot be projected or transformed to film. But the filming of a view that appears free of the apparatus of the camera and the viewer can be accomplished only through the technical achievement of the apparatus itself. In taking a photograph, for example, I am always present as the person behind the camera, behind that already extra pane of glass, even if my camera and I do not throw a reflection or shadow on the text of the photograph. However, when watching Psycho, I am highly aware of my own viewing presence. I am interested in exploring how this awareness comes about--how do texts cause a reflection of me as viewer?
Along with Psycho, I want to examine Virginia Woolf's novel To The Lighthouse. I realize that this is rather an odd mix of genre and cultural class, but both works prompt in me a window-like reflection of my own role as reader and viewer because of self references to seeing through what I will call an extra pane of glass, but that can take the form of a painting or a peephole, a mirror or an alien voice. Both texts share the characteristic of displaying multiple viewpoints within their narrative structures; To The Lighthouse relies almost exclusively on the points of view established in the thoughts of several different characters. Psycho allows us to see both through the eyes of Marion and through the eyes of Norman--a dramatic contrast of subject and object of the gaze, of victim and murderer.
A shot/reverse shot sequence often works in theory to establish point of view in cinema. If a shot shows a view (the camera must not revolve more than 1800 in order for this to work), the next shot reverses that view by 1800 to show a figure looking. This inscribes that the view we are shown in the first shot belongs to the viewer pictured in its reverse shot. This denies the presence of the camera and of the audience because we can never be imaged in that second shot. Both Psycho and To The Lighthouse incorporate elements of this technique into the creation of multiple points of view, but I believe that there are moments in both works that defy suture by leaving the second shot open, by showing a view without a viewpoint from which to anchor it. In the final scenes of Psycho, for example, when the camera focuses on Norman--who stares back out of it and at whom we stare, the camera does not show the reverse shot of him--it does not show either a guard watching him or the blank wall of his cell. What this does, I think, is create the possibility for the incomplete shot/reverse shot sequence to reflect my own point of view.
Hegstad, Stephanie Hunt, ""As If I Could Do Anything Except Just Sit and Stare": A Gaze of a Viewer/Reader in Psycho and To The Lighthouse" (1993). Honors Papers. 554.