Show Review: Hitchcock Week — Psycho

by Chad Liffmann on October 31, 2013

Ree! Ree! Ree! Ree!  >

Ree! Ree! Ree! Ree! <<stabbing ensues>>

It’s Hitchcock Week with the San Francisco Symphony and Wednesday night kicked things off with Psycho (1960), Hitchcock’s masterpiece thriller.  Why is the SF Symphony playing Psycho?  And for what reason are they having a week devoted to Hitchcock, at all?  For starters, Hitchcock films feature some of the most memorable scores in film history.  Just like John Williams’s scores have enhanced the sense of adventure in countless films directed by Steven Spielberg, the scores in Alfred Hitchcock films have greatly enhanced the chilling suspense, the horrifying thrill, and the bloody payoffs of his stories.  These are a few particularly momentous nights at the symphony because the scores have been removed from the film’s print and, instead, filled in by a live orchestra (in Psycho’s case, just the string section…it seemed).

The show started off with a brief introduction by Alfred Hitchcock’s granddaughter, Tere Carrubba, who received a rousing ovation.  Conductor Joshua Gersen, who will also be conducting on Friday and Saturday night, took the stage, at which point the packed house then sat back in their seats and let the music jump to life with the iconic opening theme over the marvelous opening credit sequence.  The audience wouldn’t be at the back of their seats for long…

Psycho, originally released in 1960, is still as chilling as ever.  We may know the twists and turns that take place in the story, but there’s no denying the powerful suspense Hitchcock created with his camera movements, patient build-up, the brilliant acting, and, of course, the score.  Hitchcock said, “33% of the effect of Psycho was due to the music,” and last night proved it.  Hearing the music live added a certain richness to the overall mood of the thriller.  There were times when the symphony blended its score in so well (with the film simultaneously entrancing the viewer) that my friend and I later exclaimed that we would forget that the music was even being played live.  Seeing the movement of bows out of the corner of our eyes, though, would draw our attention to the stage, and remind us that what we were watching was also a concert, not just a film screening.

From the shocking shower scene, to the haunting shots of the Bates motel from the highway, to the silhouette in the window of the house atop the hill, Psycho is filled to the brim with imagery that sends chills down your spine.  And of course, there’s the performance by Anthony Perkins, a tour de force that has been copied and emulated for decades.  As with most of Hitchcock’s films, Psycho also has a great sense of humor and moments of dark witty banter that are still sharp today.  But as is the case when attending the symphony, the real focus is the music.  For those who haven’t seen Hitchcock’s films before or heard the scores, seeing a symphony screening is the best way to get introduced.  If you have seen many of Hitchcock’s films but want a refresher, well, this experience is the most rewarding way to do that, too.

Hitchcock week continues at the SF Symphony on Thursday night with one of the director’s very first (and silent) films, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927).  On Friday evening, for the first time ever, Vertigo (1958) will be screened with a live accompanied score.  Finally, on Saturday evening, a collection of Hitchcock’s greatest hits will be heard and shown, with excerpts from North By Northwest, Strangers on a Train, and more! For tickets and information about getting to experience this amazing week of events, visit

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