In June, 1960, when Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (available on DVD) first opened in New York, neither the public nor the press had any idea what it was about. Contrary to all accepted policy, there were no advance screenings, and no synopsis or story outline was supplied to critics or reporters. The very first time the media saw the movie was the same morning the public did—-the 10:00 a.m. running at the (now long gone) DeMille Theater at 47th Street and Broadway. One thousand eager paying customers filled the downstairs, and five hundred members of the press were in the balcony—-myself included. It was the single most memorable performance of a film I’ve ever attended. Not the most pleasant one.
It is difficult—-now that Psycho has been studied, endlessly imitated, sequelled four times, remade “officially” in 1998, been available for home viewing over three decades, and talked about incessantly for fifty years—-to imagine the impact the picture had in its first few months of life. This inexpensive (less than a million) black-and-white little film not only changed the way people went to see movies—-no one was allowed in after the feature had begun, an unheard of idea then—-but permanently altered the experience itself. Psycho was the first time movie-going stopped being safe. Psycho was a physical assault.
“They couldn’t stand him. They just couldn’t stand him,” Depp says of Disney’s reaction to his controversial interpretation of Sparrow. “I think it was Michael Eisner, the head of Disney at the time, who was quoted as saying, ‘He’s ruining the movie.’ Depp reveals to Smith, however, that he remained unfazed by the studio’s hysteria. “Upper-echelon Disney-ites, going, What’s wrong with him? Is he, you know, like some kind of weird simpleton? Is he drunk? By the way, is he gay?… And so I actually told this woman who was the Disney-ite… ‘But didn’t you know that all my characters are gay?’ Which really made her nervous.”—Johnny Depp, making everyone at Disney clutch their pearls