The audio commercial for the new Psycho on 777-FILM featured a scene with little girls chanting, “Norman is a psycho! Norman is a psycho!” I got cramps thinking this might be in the movie— that they’d added some corny flashbacks to show how Norman got, you know, that way. Well, after seeing the movie, I wished they had. It turns out Universal is a psycho. They’ve come out with a version that’s exactly like the original— except that the original was really good!
Oh, a few things have been changed. The shower curtain looks a little more patterned. There’s a porn mag in Norman’s house. (I’m surprised it isn’t Inches.) The dead mother’s record— formerly “Eroica”— is now “The World Needs a Melody” by George Jones and Tammy Wynette. And it wasn’t enough for Norman to ogle Marion through a peephole. Now Master Bates has to masturbate as he does so! But mainly, this remake is slavish— and utterly pointless. It’s like a paint-by-numbers copy of the Mona Lisa, with a Walkman added.
Actually, things are fine until Marion (Anne Heche) goes to the Bates Motel— which, by the way, looks just like a place I stayed at in the Hamptons last summer. Heche is subtle and compelling, and the early scenes are suspenseful enough to make you think this audacious experiment was a great idea. But then she meets Norman, and things become psychotically snoozy. Vince Vaughn,who was effectively weird in Clay Pigeons, doesn’t come close to capturing Norm’s creepiness and vulnerability, murdering his own career more than anything else. When Tony Perkins popped candy into his mouth, he infused every suck with menace, but Vaughn seems to be just eating candy. Even the crucial shower scene is botched, with Heche— in her only weak moments— neither taking the erotic pleasure in cleansing herself of guilt the way Janet Leigh did, nor convincing us much in her horror. (No wonder, since the later sight of the tall, hulking Vaughn in drag had the audience in hysterics.)
In the supporting cast, the usually fine Julianne Moore and the mumbly but hot Viggo Mortensen have too many cheekbones between them, and Moore’s reported decision to play Lila as a lesbian stereotypically consists of her being tough, irritable, aggressive, and bossy. So that’s what a lesbian is? Oh, well. Despite some cool moments— the “periwinkle blue” line, the Arbogast demise— history will chalk this up as a visit to motel hell. What next— a frame-by-frame, color remake of Citizen Kane with Jason Patric?
A somewhat more sane idea is Down in the Delta, a woman’s-awakening tale starring one of my faves, Alfre Woodard, and directed by Maya Angelou— sorry, Dr. Maya Angelou, as I was once instructed to call her before she stood me up for a scheduled phoner. Well, by any name, Delta is way too earnest and Lifetimey for me, but it’s one of those admirable ventures you try to cut some slack— and at least it’s not a remake.
At the film’s Laura Belle premiere party, Al Freeman Jr.— who plays Woodard’s country uncle— walked in muttering, “Where are the martinis?” but he wasn’t going to get an answer out of me. Instead, I asked Freeman for some sobering background on the good doctor. He complied, saying, “I first saw her when she was a cabaret performer and she had these long legs. It was jazz, it was primal, it was everything.” It was . . . hard to believe.
Alfre Woodard’s approach is distinctly less raw, as she admitted to me that night. “I never work from my emotional experience,” she said. “They don’t pay enough for me to do that. On the page itself, it should be moving, touching, and funny, so you don’t have to manufacture emotions.” I manufactured a look of shock and wondered how Alfre pulls off such truthful performances without drawing from her own life. She held out her palm and said, “Brother, if I tell you that, you’re gonna have to give me a lot of money!” Sorry, they don’t pay enough for me to do that.
Or to sit through Very Bad Things, whichis a dark, but unfortunately visible comedy with lots of ad-lib dialogue like “I’m not listening to this! I will not hear this! No, don’t tell me this!” After a while, you’re yelling the same thing. It’s no late-breaking news that the movie is neither horrific nor funny, but no one’s noted that the worst part of the whole thing comes when Christian Slater impulsively kisses one of his male friends on the lips— you know, to show just how very psycho he is.
The sicker-than-thou Hurlyburly was such a hot evening in the theater way back in the weighty ’80s, but the belated movie version made me want to hurlyburly. The old magic, simply thrown onto the screen without even new flashbacks to show how the characters got that way, comes off dated and irksome, and Meg Ryan once again tries too hard— and yet not hard enough— to act.
The really effective darkness these days comes in kiddie movies, like the terrifying The Rugrats Movie— yes, I saw it— but alas, the message of the movie completely eluded the audience. As the neglected Rugrats freaked because of their parents’ eternal fussing over the newborn, a couple right in front of me took turns bouncing their baby without any regard for their fuming six-year-old. These parents should be forced to take a shower.
Even neglected children cheer at the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, which, though the elves now rap and Santa talks about getting e-mail, is the same as ever— like Psycho, but far more worth re-creating. The show nicely mixes frolic and sanctimony, and not only does the splashiness never stop, but the camels never poop. And it was great to go back to 70-degree weather afterward.
For nostalgia’s sake, we all donned snow boots to go to the Serenissima Awards dinner at Cipriani, honoring footwear, as my life became more surreal than ever. The event— which included an award presentation to someone named Eli Footer— was MC’d by the well-heeled Paul Sorvino,who admitted, “I’m best known for being the father of someone.” He never told us who. The foot-in-mouth category came up when, at my table, a fashionista loudly announced that her nose was real— i.e., she hadn’t had it clipped— explaining, “I’m not Jewish.” I choked on my risotto, only to have the whole thing completely turn into a scene from Gentleman’s Agreement when another fashion persona chimed in with yet more Jew-stereotyping remarks and a Voice cohort and I had to grandly announce our horror and imperiously storm off (after finishing the entrée, of course).
The same night’s Glammy Awards at Life— honoring the year’s best drag queens and their platform shoes— was a backdrop for a long procession of fake huffs, performed as shtick (though Mona Foot‘s slapping Linda Simpson with an award envelope— I forget why— did get a little too real). Presenter Flotilla DeBarge told the audience, “Don’t fuck with me. I’m an angry black bitch and I’ve got corns, bunions, and gas.” Mona claimed, “Lady Bunny isn’t here. She’s still eating Thanksgiving dinner.” And Shasta Cola totally rocked on that Björk song that goes, “I miss you, but I haven’t met you yet.” By the way, the night’s consensus was that if a bomb had gone off, Vince Vaughn still wouldn’t be the best drag queen in showbiz.