hitchcock’s famed psycho shower scene — 2/16/18

Today’s selection — from The Dark Side of Genius by Donald Spoto. Though director Alfred Hitchcock was already regarded as a genius, his movie Psycho was originally panned by critics, but became an enormous commercial success and was ultimately praised by critics. The Psycho shower scene in which star Janet Leigh’s character is stabbed to death has become perhaps the most famous and studied scene in movie history:
“In a matter of weeks, from late November until early January [of 1960], Hitch­cock directed Psycho at the Revue Studios, the television branch at Uni­versal Pictures that Paramount rented for him. Everything was done in utmost secrecy. The clapper-board and company designation for the film was ‘Wimpy,’ the better to throw everyone off the track and discour­age reading of the novel that had just appeared.
” ‘I enjoyed making Psycho,’ Anthony Perkins said. ‘In fact, I ac­cepted the film before I’d even read the script. [Hitchcock and I] got on very well, and he let me make several changes and suggestions. It was my idea that I should eat candy throughout the film. I thought it would be more interesting if the killer were a compulsive candy-eater.’ Per­kins had no part in the legendary shower sequence, however, for he was in New York that week preparing a Broadway role; Hitchcock used a stand-in for the shadowy figure of the man disguised as the old woman.
” ‘From the start,’ Joseph Stefano recalled, ‘Hitchcock had decided
to use a nude professional model for the shots in which a torso would be glimpsed, so he wouldn’t have to cope with a trembling actress.’ About that central sequence, which has evoked more study, elicited more comment, and generated more shot-for-shot analysis from a technical viewpoint than any other in the history of the cinema, Hitchcock always retained a cool attitude. And rightly so, for he delegated the design and the shooting of it to the brilliant artist who had created the title designs for Vertigo and North by Northwest, and who, eventually, would do so for Psycho, too. ‘I’m going to get Saul Bass to do a storyboard for the shower scene,’ he told Joseph Stefano when they reached this point in the script, ‘so we know exactly what we’re going to do.’

“For Janet Leigh, this role and this scene provided the challenge of her career.

‘He sent me the book before I agreed to do the role, and he told me the small and not very interesting part of Marion Crane would be improved and made more sympathetic. And it was. By the time we were halfway through photog­raphy, everyone knew we had a good picture, but no one had any idea it was going to make history.
‘He told me he hired me because I was an actress. “I’m not going to direct every nuance,” he said. “But if you don’t come up with what I need, I’ll bring it out of you — and if you give too much, I’ll tone it down. What you do has to fit into my framework and within my camera angle.” I took him quite lit­erally, and I knew my range and intention had to be for him and with him, and we related to one another very respectfully.
‘The planning of the shower sequence was left up to Saul Bass, and Hitch­cock followed his storyboard precisely. Because of this, although we worked on it for almost a week, it went very professionally and very quickly. But it was, of course, very grueling to stand in a shower getting drenched for a week.’
“As it happened, Hitchcock made two important — and personally re­vealing — additions to Bass’s designs: the quick shot of the knife en­tering the woman’s abdomen (done by a fast-motion reverse shot), and the shot of blood and water running down the drain. ‘It had been my idea to do it entirely as a bloodless sequence without overt violence,’ according to Saul Bass, ‘but he insisted on inserting those two shots.’ And to the description of the brutal murder in the screenplay — only generally stated by the writer — Hitchcock added to shot 116: ‘The slashing. An impression of a knife slashing, as if tearing at the very screen, ripping the film.’ If there is a vicious anger throughout Psycho, this is the single moment that spreads that anger before and after it.
“But it was not the brutality of this sequence that caused alarm at Paramount: it was the unprecedented shot (and sound) of a toilet being
flushed. This, not the scarcely glimpsed, soft-focus nudity in the shower, was the most iconoclastic image in the picture — more influential than Hitchcock’s killing off of the leading lady almost halfway through the film. Toilet imagery, as mentioned, and allusions to bodily functions not only surfaced in Hitchcock’s humor — they also mark a recurrent, obsessive motif in his films. Everything about Psycho was bold; and in Hitchcock’s mind, perhaps nothing was so bold as this explicit lavatory detail.
“The technique, the planning, George Tomasini’s editing, and Bernard Herrmann ‘s shrieking score for strings gave the shower scene precisely the effect Hitchcock wanted. (Originally he had designed the shower murder to be accompanied only by the cries of the woman and the splashing of the water. Herrmann, however, asked Hitchcock to hear the music he had composed for it, and afterward Hitchcock had to admit that the score significantly improved the scene.)”
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The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock
Author: Donald Spoto
Publisher: Da Capo Press
Copyright 1983, 1999 by Donald Spoto
Pages: 418-420
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be simple and slow in speech — 8/24/17

Today’s encore selection — from Zhu Xi’s Reading of the Analects by Daniel K. Gardner. Confucius (551 – 479 BCE), a Chinese thinker and social philosopher whose influence extends to the present, attempts to define goodness. In the Analects, his definition of goodness starts with the “golden rule,” but he takes his concept further, famously stating that to be good one must be “resolute and firm, simple and slow in speech.” [Note: Most current historians do not believe that any specific documents can be said to have been written by Confucius]:
“The Master said, ‘To be resolute and firm, simple and slow in speech, is to approach true goodness.’ (Analect 13.27 [17]). Commentator Wang Su said, ‘Gang [resolute] is to be without desire; yi [firm] is to be determined and daring; mu is to be [simple]; na [slow] is to be slow in speech. To be possessed of these four qualities is to approach true goodness.’ …
” ‘Simple and slow in speech’ becomes almost a refrain in the teachings of Confucius. For instance, in 12.3 he says, ‘The person of true goodness is restrained in speech.’ Throughout the text he repeatedly cautions his followers not to mistake eloquence for substance as in 1.3: ‘The Master said, Artful words and a pleasing countenance have little, indeed, to do with true goodness.’ …
“Zhu … wants to understand why this is so. The answer for him is partly that restraint in speech indicates a general self-restraint, which, in turn indicates that one’s original mind-and-heart with its endowed true goodness has been preserved and not won over by selfish desires. … For Zhu, words that are not simple but, rather, are ‘artful’ are evidence that one has become interested in ‘adorning oneself on the outside in an effort to please others, a matter of human desire’s having grown dissolute.’ “
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Author: Daniel K. Gardner
Copyright 2003 Columbia University Press
Pages: 75-76
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bicycles were thought to lead to seductions — 9/23/16

Today’s selection — from The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. In the late 1800s, the newly invented “safety bicycle” became all the rage across America. Some thought they were morally hazardous:

“[By 1892 the Wright brothers] had also taken up bicy­cling, and as Wilbur reported, they had lately headed off on a ‘run’ to the south, down the Cincinnati Pike, stopping at the County Fair Grounds to pump around the track several times. From there they continued on to Miamisburg up and over numerous steep hills to see the famous prehis­toric Adena Miamisburg Mound, largest of Ohio’s famous conical-shaped reminders of a vanished Native American civilization dating back more than two thousand years. In all they covered thirty-one miles.

“Bicycles had become the sensation of the time, a craze everywhere. (These were no longer the ‘high wheelers’ of the 1870s and ’80s, but the so-called ‘safety bicycles,’ with two wheels the same size.) The bicycle was proclaimed a boon to all mankind, a thing of beauty, good for the spirits, good for health and vitality, indeed one’s whole outlook on life. Doctors enthusiastically approved. One Philadelphia physician, writing in The American Journal of Obstetrics and Diseases of Women and Children, concluded from his observations that ‘for physical exercise for both men and women, the bicycle is one of the greatest inventions of the nineteenth century.’
“Voices were raised in protest. Bicycles were proclaimed morally haz­ardous. Until now children and youth were unable to stray very far from home on foot. Now, one magazine warned, fifteen minutes could put them miles away. Because of bicycles, it was said, young people were not spend­ing the time they should with books, and more seriously that suburban and country tours on bicycles were ‘not infrequently accompanied by seductions.’
“Such concerns had little effect. Everybody was riding bicycles, men, women, all ages and from all walks of life. Bicycling clubs sprouted on college campuses and in countless cities and towns, including [the Wright brothers home town of] Dayton, [Ohio]. … In the spring of 1893 Wilbur and Orville opened their own small bicycle business, the Wright Cycle Exchange, selling and repairing bicycles only a short walk from the house at 1005 West Third Street. In no time, such was business, they moved to larger quarters down the street to Number 1034 and renamed the enterprise the Wright Cycle Company.”

The Wright Brothers

Author: David McCullough
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Copyright 2015 by David McCullough
Pages 21-22

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hymns work better than sermons — 9/16/15

Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer

Author: Scott H. Hendrix
Publisher: Yale University Press
Copyright 2015 Yale University
Pages 198-199

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Burning the Bible

Today’s selection — from Tudors by Peter Ackroyd. In the Middle Ages, the Church viewed translations of the Bible from ancient languages into English, French and other common languages as heresy, and a direct threat to the importance and power of the Church. William Tyndale, whose English translation of the Bible in 1526 was the first to take advantage of the printing press, was tried on a charge of heresy in 1536 and was condemned to be burned to death for his efforts:

“The threat to the papacy also came from other quarters. [Martin] Luther’s tracts, smuggled into England after he was denounced as a heretic, were followed by William Tyndale’s translation of the New Testa­ment. Tyndale was a young cleric who had become disillusioned with the pomp and power of the Church; he was ascetic and scholarly by nature, and was instinctively attracted to the purer faith associated with the Lollards and the ‘new men’ who were even then in small conventicles proclaiming Lutheran doctrine.
William Tyndale, before being strangled and burned at the stake, cries out, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes”. Woodcut from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563).
“He had found no employment in London, after he migrated there from Cambridge, and had travelled to Germany in quest of a more tolerant atmosphere. It was here that he translated the Scriptures from the Greek and Hebrew originals. It was said that his passage was assisted by German merchants who were already imbued with Lutheran learning.
“Once he had arrived in Wittenberg, he began his task of translating the Greek into plain and dignified English, in a language that the ploughman as well as the scholar could under­stand. The more orthodox clerics, however, believed that the Scriptures were too sacred to be left in the hands of the laity and that any interpretation of them should only be under clerical supervision. They also believed that the key words of the Greek were in themselves holy, and would be profaned by translation. …
“In effect Tyndale was exorcizing the role of the Church in spiritual matters and placing his faith in an invisible body of the faithful known only to God. … The English Bible came as a sensation and a revelation; its translation was an achievement beyond all the works of ‘new’ theology and pamphlets of anti-clerical disquisition. It hit home, as if God’s truth had finally been revealed. The Bible was no longer a secret and mysterious text, from which short phrases would be muttered by priests; it was now literally an open book.
“The book had been published in the free city of Worms, on the Rhine, and soon after found its way to England where it was secretly distributed. Copies were being sold for 3s 2d. This was the book that the bishop of London described as ‘pestiferous and per­nicious poison’ and, in the winter of 1526, it was solemnly burnt in St Paul’s Churchyard. For the first time in London the Scriptures were consigned to the fire. The prelates would have burnt Tyndale, too, if they could have caught him. The bishop of London bought and burned the entire edition on sale in Antwerp, the principal source of supply, only to discover that he had merely put money in the pockets of the printers and stimulated them to publish another edition.”
Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I
Authors: Peter Ackroyd
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Copyright 2012 by Peter Ackroyd
Pages: 46-47
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henry ford doubles his workers’ wages

Today’s selection — from Railroading Economics by Michael Perelman. As the Industrial Age took hold, workers did not adapt well to the regimented hours and crushing and monotonous life in the factory. The problem became so pronounced that Henry Ford’s factories of the early 1900s had turnover of almost 400 percent — meaning he had to hire 50,448 men in a given year year to maintain a workforce of 13,623. So in 1913, he famously doubled wages — not as a matter of largesse but in order to reduce his expenses. However, as with all things involving Henry Ford, there was a catch:

“Nowhere was the problem of turnover and absenteeism more severe than in the factory of Henry Ford, where workers’ dissatisfaction was running dangerously high. Absenteeism in the Ford plant in 1913 had reached 10.5 percent.
“Turnover at the Ford plant had soared to 370 percent by 1913. The company had to hire 50,448 men just to maintain the average labor force of 13,623. Company sur­veys at Ford revealed that more than 7,300 workers left in March 1913 alone. Of these, 18 percent were discharged; 11 percent formally quit; and 71 percent were let go because they missed five days in row without excuse and so were deemed to have quit. On each day, it was necessary to make use of 1,300 or 1,400 replacement work­ers without any experience. One observer remarked, ‘the Ford Motor Co. had reached the point of owning a great factory without having enough workers to keep it humming.’
“Hiring new workers, even unskilled workers, and offering them a minimum of training turned out to be an expensive proposition. Stephen Meyer estimates that Ford spent $35 to break in each new worker. With 52,000 workers entering the Ford factory in 1913, the company lost $1,820,000 because of turnover. In addition, although conventional union organizing was not much of a threat for most industrial­ists at the time, the Industrial Workers of the World was threatening to organize Ford’s factory.’
The day after the Jan. 5, 1914, announcement of the 5-a-day wage an estimated 10,000 job seekers stood outside the Ford plant in Highland Park despite the frigid temperatures. /The Henry Ford
“These conditions prompted Ford to initiate what was perhaps the most dramatic precursor of welfare capitalism: his famous introduction of the $5 a day wage. Although Ford’s gesture seemed unexpectedly generous at the time, Ford himself freely admitted that his motives were entirely self-interested:
There was … no charity involved. … We wanted to pay these wages so that business would be on a lasting foundation. We were building for the future. A low wage busi­ness is always insecure. The payment of $5 a day for an eight-hour day was one of the finest cost-cutting moves we ever made.
“Although Ford based his policy on sound business principles, the business com­munity was aghast at his behavior, excoriating Ford as a ‘mad socialist’ and a ‘traitor to his class.’ The Wall Street Journal and other financial papers enthusiastically joined in the attack.
“Nonetheless, the $5 wage was a brilliant stroke of capitalist genius. In 1914, the first year after Fordbegan the $5 wage, turnover fell dramatically to 54 percent, By 1915, it dropped still further to 16percent. Absenteeism also subsided, falling to 0.4 percent in 1914.
“Despite its effectiveness, the $5 plan was not exactly what it seemed to be. It included a basic hourly wage of only 34 cents per hour plus a profit-sharing rate of 28.5 cents. Workers did not automatically receive the profit-sharing rate. Instead, eli­gibility profit sharing depended on a number of special conditions. To begin with, workers had to perform satisfactory work to participate in profit sharing. In addition, Ford disqualified all women. According to one source, ‘Women did not work on the assembly line, and were not likely to drink and fail to show up for work. They did not jump from job to job. So there was no reason to include them.’
“According to a 1914 Ford pamphlet, to qualify for the plan, a worker also had to be at least twenty-two years old, with six months seniority. Ford imposed numerous other conditions for profit sharing that seemed to be unrelated to work. The company established a Sociological Department, initially consisting of 200 inspectors, to investigate the workers to see if they met the company’s qualifica­tions. They ‘visited workers’ homes gathering information and giving advice on intimate details of the family budget, diet, living arrangements, recreation, social outlook, and morality.’
“For example, the company had to be ‘satisfied that he [ the qualified worker] will not debauch the additional money he receives.’ Toward this end, the Sociological Department had to be certain that the workers maintained a suitable home, refrained from taking in boarders, operated no outside business, made sure that the family did not associate with the wrong people, avoided excessive smok­ing or drinking, and demonstrated adequate progress in learning English. In addi­tion, wives of qualified workers could not work outside of the home. Furthermore, the inspectors had to determine whether the workers displayed suf­ficient thrift, cleanliness, ‘good manhood,’ and good citizenship. Workers also had to tend gardens that the inspectors deemed to be adequate. Not surprising­ly, during the first two years, 28 percent of all male workers were disqualified from profit sharing.
“Ford expected more than improved family life in return for his plan. He expected near absolute obedience. One contemporary study of the Ford system concluded that Ford ‘desires and prefers machine-tool operators who have nothing to unlearn, who have no theories of correct surface speeds for metal finishing, and will simply do what they are told to do, over and over again, from bell-time to bell-time.’

“Ford also expected that this obedience would translate into greater effort from the workers. A production foreman named W. Klann reported, ‘[They] called us in and said that since the workers were getting twice the wages, (the management) wanted twice as much work. On the assembly lines, we just simply turned up the speed of the lines.’ “

Railroading Economics: The Creation of the Free Market Mythology

Author: Michael Perelman
Publisher: Monthly Review Press
Copyright 2006 by Michael Perelman
Pages: 135-136
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the cold reality of child labor

Today’s selection — from Empire of Cotton by Sven Beckert. Little 10-year-old Ellen Hootten testified to the working conditions in British cotton mills during an 1833 investigation by the British government:

“Like Brecht’s haulers and builders, few cotton workers have entered our history books. Most left not even a trace; too often they were illiterate, and almost always their waking hours were occupied with holding body and soul together, leaving little time to write letters or diaries, as their social betters did, and thus few ways for us to piece their lives together. One of the saddest sights to this day is St. Michael’s Flags in Manchester, a small park where allegedly forty thousand people, most of them cot­ton workers, lie buried in unmarked graves, one on top of the other, ‘an almost industrial process of burying the dead.’ Ellen Hootton was one of these rare exceptions. Unlike millions of others, she entered the histori­cal record when in June 1833 she was called before His Majesty’s Factory Inquiry Commission, which was charged with investigating child labor in British textile mills. Though only ten when she appeared before the committee and frightened, she was already a seasoned worker, a two-year veteran of the cotton mill. Ellen had drawn public attention because a group of middle-class Manchester activists concerned with labor condi­tions in the factories sprouting in and around their city had sought to use her case to highlight the abuse of children. They asserted that she was a child slave, forced to work not just in metaphorical chains, but in real ones, penalized by a brutal overseer.
“The commission, determined to show that the girl was a ‘notorious liar’ who could not be trusted, questioned Ellen, her mother, Mary, and her overseer William Swanton, as well as factory manager John Finch. Yet despite their efforts to whitewash the case, the accusations proved to be essentially true: Ellen was the only child of Mary Hootton, a single mother, who was herself a handloom weaver barely able to make a living. Until she turned seven, Ellen had received some child support from her father, also a weaver, but once that expired her mother brought her down to a nearby factory to add to the family’s meager income. After as many as five months of unpaid labor (it was said that she had to learn the trade first), she became one of the many children working at Eccles’ Spinning Mill. When asked about her workday, Ellen said it began at five-thirty in the morning and ended at eight in the evening, with two breaks, one for breakfast and one for lunch. The overseer, Mr. Swanton, explained that Ellen worked in a room with twenty-five others, three adults, the rest children. She was, in her own words, a ‘piecer at throstles’ — a tedious job that entailed repairing and reknotting broken threads as they were pulled onto the bobbin of the mule. With constant breakage, often sev­eral times a minute, she only had a few seconds to finish her task.
Men, women, and young children worked in the cotton mills in Lancashire, England
“It was all but impossible to keep up with the speed of the machine as it moved back and forth, so she sometimes had ‘her ends down’  — that is, she had not attached the loose and broken ends of the thread fast enough. Such errors were costly. Ellen reported being beaten by Swanton ‘twice a week’ until her ‘head was sore with his hands.’ Swanton denied the frequency of the beatings, but admitted using ‘a scrap’ discipline the girl. Her mother, who called her daughter ‘a naughty, stupid girl,’ testi­fied that she approved of such corporal punishment, and had even asked Swanton to be more severe to put an end to her habit of running away. Life was hard for Mary Hootton, she desperately needed the girl’s wages, and she begged Swanton repeatedly to keep on the girl, despite all the troubles. As Mary said, ‘I cries many a times.’
“The beatings, however, were not the worst treatment Ellen experi­enced at Swanton’s hands. One day, when she arrived late to work, Swan­ton penalized her even more severely: He hung an iron weight around her neck (there was no agreement about whether it weighed sixteen or twenty pounds) and made her walk up and down the factory floor. The other children heckled her, and as a result, ‘she fell down several times while fighting with the other hands. She fought them with the stick.’ Even today, nearly two hundred years lacer, the pain of the girl’s life, from the tedium of her work to the violence of her abuse, is hard to fathom. …
“Like Ellen Hootton, thousands and, by the 1850s, millions of workers streamed into the world’s newly built factories to operate the machines that produced cotton thread and cloth. The ability to mobilize so many women, children, and men to work in factories was awe-inspiring. Many a contemporary was overwhelmed by the sight of hundreds or even thou­sands of workers walking to and from their places of toil. Every morn­ing before sunrise, thousands of workers walked down narrow paths in the Vosges to the factories in the valley, crawled out of dormitory beds just up the hill from Quarry Bank Mill, left their struggling farms above the Llobregat River, and made their way through crowded Manchester streets toone of the dozens of mills lining its putrid canals. At night they returned to sparse dormitories where they slept several to a bed, or to cold and drafty cottages, or to densely populated and poorly constructed working-class neighborhoods in Barcelona, Chemnitz, or Lowell.
“The world had seen extreme poverty and labor exploitation for cen­turies, but it had never seen a sea of humanity organizing every aspect of their lives around the rhythms of machine production. For at least twelve hours a day, six days a week, women, children, and men fed machines, operated machines, repaired machines, and supervised machines.”

Empire of Cotton: A Global History

Author: Sven Beckert
Publisher: Vintage Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC
Copyright 2014 by Sven Beckert
Pages: 176-179
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