Friday, June 28, 2013

Reel Connection: Hitchcock's Inspiration for the Bates House in "Psycho" (1960): Edward Hopper painting: "The House by the Railroad"


I'm going to briefly discuss a point I actually mentioned in a previous post about Psycho, but I feel its worth the elaboration. As I have stressed over and over again, Hitchcock, a great art lover, was influenced by the pieces he saw and the artists who created them. He also appreciated the thematic weight, if you will, a painting or sculpture could convey. In this post however, I am going to discuss a profound influence on Hitchcock: the great American realist painter, Edward Hopper.
Hitch touring the house in the famed trailer
Hopper has always been one of my favorite painters. On a mere aesthetic note, his works transport a viewer to the 20s and 30s, when his most prolific work was created. More importantly, Hopper is able to convey stories and feelings in his paintings: most notably the profound loneliness that he felt in large urban areas. Consider, his most famous work, the oft-parodied Nighthawks, where a group of city-dwellers sit in a small diner in the wee small hours, silent, not speaking, not making a human connection. This individual despair, or at last deep sadness, can be felt in many of his works.
Nighthawks (1942)
Obviously, Hitchcock's images, if you will, also told deeper human stories and because Hopper and Hitch occupied the same time it is no surprise that Hitch found himself in front of some of Hopper's work. In particular, he found himself in front of a painting titled The House by the Railroad, painted by Hopper in 1925 (and currently owned, but not shown, by MoMA). If you just glance at the painting (or read the post title), you'll know what it influenced.
House by the Railroad (1925)

The Bates House of course! And this is no mere speculation, Hitch openly acknowledged the influence of the painting on his design of the house. And really, it works. On a mere architectural note, both are uncannily similar Victorians with a tall main tower and small porch out front. There are differences, yes, but in the most basic sense, they are very similar.
Psycho (1960)
Consider also, the Hopper painting is located next to an abandoned railway track, seemingly inconsequential, yet included in the painting's title. The Bates Motel is also near a small pre-interstate highway road, leading to its lackluster business. Both homes are seemingly left behind in the midst of transportation progress.
House by the Railroad (1925): detail
Finally, and most importantly, both houses are lonely, eerily lonely. No one sits in the window of the Hopper house, no one sits on the porch: modern times have left the house alone and abandoned. In a similar way, the Bates House, located high on a hill, far away from everything, is also incredibly lonely. Is it loneliness that drives Norman to his extreme criminal insanity? Or is it the stifling aura of Victorian prudery, inside and out of the house, that creates such a terrifying reaction? Regardless, the lonely house is above all very... just plain creepy. And even if you take out Hitchcock's beliefs about loneliness, about the human condition: you have a scary movie. And what goes with a scary movie? A scary, looming, dark house, to ominously signal to the terrifying events to come. And we can thank Hopper for inspiring this house we love to hate.
The Psycho set in 1960
Of note, the set for the Bates House was used and recycled by Universal for years. It showed up in a Western film, the later Psycho remakes, even in an episode of Murder, She Wrote. It's been moved, renovated, un-renovated, but stands: a lonely reminder of one of the greatest horror films ever made. 
from the Murder, She Wrote episode "Incident on Lot #7"
I have to say, as great as I think this post is, if you enjoy it, you should check out a series of Hopper-related posts that the "Alfred Hitchcock Geek" blog has. While I came up with the concept on my own, I did have to look at his post for some inspiration. If you love Hitchcock, you should definitely check out his posts: they are incredibly well written and interesting. I've included a link to his Psycho post here, and I encourage you to spend a lot of time reading his stuff- I promise, it's worthwhile. 

5 comments:

  1. Hi there - Very nice article. Thanks for linking back to my posts about Hitchcock and Hopper at Alfred Hitchcock Geek. Much appreciated!

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    1. Thanks for the compliment. I hope that you'll follow the blog in the future!

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  2. Wow, just watching the 2013/2014 movie "The Appearing" and there in all the glory it the Bates House, looks a bit tatty now, but definitely the house, same steps up the enbankment to the house. Bob Maddison

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  3. The reproduction used in the series Bates Motel is currently a minor tourist attraction in Langley BC. It's on 272nd Street at approximately 10th Avenue, and can be seen in Google Maps street view. The series has been renewed for at least another season, but I'm not sure what's going to happen to it once the series ends. I believe it's only a façade, not a complete house.

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  4. Another Hopper's work that inspired Hitchcock was "from Williamsburg Bridge", at the MET (NY). Check for the woman sitting by the window.

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