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Gazing into the Abyss: Michael Rawdon's Journal


The Trouble with Harry, and Psycho

It's been a fairly unbelievably productive couple of days.

For starters, yesterday I finished and mailed my taxes. They weren't easy: I moved across the country, meaning I had to fill out two different state tax forms (Wisconsin and California). I exercised stock options, meaning I had to fill out (three!) Alternative Minimum Tax forms. I sold stock, meaning I had to fill out schedule D. And I had to figure out how my moving expenses worked out. On top of all that, it turns out my former employer drastically under-withheld my taxes for the two months I was there. Why, I'm not sure; it probably wasn't entirely their fault, indeed wasn't really anyone's fault. I have various theories, but having verified that I don't have any "phantom money" floating around out there somewhere, I don't really care much at this point.

The net result is that I wrote out three checks which came to a huge bottom line. And Eleanor thought that she owed a bundle of dough. Hah!

Well, taking stock of my 1999 finances, it turns out that my savings are almost exactly where they were at the beginning of the year, but that I now own a new car. So it's not like I got nothing out of the deal! And 2000 should shape up to be better, overall.


Having been caught in tax hell for most of my free time over the last week, I spent today catching up on everything else: I wrote out checks for all my bills (including my car insurance, which is itself rather steep), wrote checks to order a couple of things (a comic book I got from eBay, and some Giants tickets I'm buying from a guy in my fantasy league), tidied up around the house a bit, did laundry, and even went jogging!

I also watched my Red Sox beat the living daylights out of the poor Athletics, 14-2, which was kind of amusing to see. The Sox bats have been rather quiet so far this year (other than über-god Carl Everett and his prophet, Brian Daubach) so it was nice to see them wake up.

Oh, and in all fairness to reader J.D. Roth, I did notice that the Seattle Mariners similarly pounded the Blue Jays into the ground, 17-6, though I will (smart-aleck that I am) note that the Sox had a better run differential! (Yes, J.D., I'm just yanking your chain...)


By the way, last night I did go up to Borrone where I met with Lucy, for a while, probably out last Borrone meeting for a while, since she's moving up nort' next weekend and will likely not make the drive down nearly as often.

I also finished Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban while there, which I enjoyed quite a bit. It's not quite as raw and fresh as the first book, but it is very polished and more sophisticated overall. It'll be interesting to see what she comes up with next.


Last weekend, by the way, Newton decided that he wanted to just lie on top of my computer - which is a tower model - and which looked basically pretty silly, what with the modem sitting up there and all:

I wanted to get a couple of shots of him, but he quickly decided that my walking around with the digicam was just too interesting and he had to check it out:


To wrap up this very busy couple of days, I met The Whumpster tonight to catch a couple of Hitchcock films:

The Trouble With Harry (1955) is a little bit suspense, but also quite a bit of broad comedy. The middle-aged Captain Wiles (Edmund Gwenn) comes across a body on a hillside, and thinks that he must have shot him, as he was illegally out shooting at rabbits. He resolves to hide the body, but suddenly that patch of hillside becomes grand central station, with myriad people walking through it. Peculiarly (though not sinisterly), everyone either doesn't notice the body, or is indifferent to it. Eventually, young artist Sam Marlowe (John Forsyth) takes an interest in it, and helps Wiles bury it. He also learns that the man is Harry Worp (Philip Truex, whose acting seems a little stiff - ho-ho!), estranged husband of Jennifer Rogers (Shirley MacLaine, who seems almost unrecognizable by contrast with today), with whom Marlowe falls in love.

The film is basically a farce, with the ongoing question of what to do with Harry's body (and you probably thought it was all over when they buried him - ha!), a romance between Marlowe and Jennifer, and between the Captain and the spinster Ivy Gravely (Mildred Natwick), with amusing asides involving Marlowe's paintings and Jennifer's young son along the way. It's a pretty amusing picture, and it worth seeing, not in the least for the lovely fall countryside in which it's set.

Psycho, needless to say, is a very different film. It's probably one of the five films which are most part of our cultural heritage. The other four? Off the top of my head, I'd pick Gone With the Wind, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, and Star Wars. Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn", Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, "Play it, Sam", Orson Welles, "Rosebud", Alfred Hitchcock, and The Film Which Changed the Face of Blockbuster Movies in 1977; what more could you want?

It's hardly worth recounting the plot, though if by chance you haven't seen the film and aren't familiar with it, I strongly urge you to just skip the rest of this section and go see it.

Marion Crane (Janet Leigh, who spends about a third of the film's first half in various stages of undress, albeit without actual nudity) steals $40,000 from her employer and leaves Arizona to meet her boyfriend Sam (John Gavin, who is unaware of all this) in California. She stops at the Bates Motel outside of town, where she strikes up a conversation with the proprietor, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). In the famous "shower scene", Crane is knifed to death, and Bates cleans up the mess and hides the body, blaming the murder on his elderly mother. Marion's sister Lila (Vera Miles), along with Sam, are left to investigate what happened.

It's been years since I've seen this film, and I'd completely forgotten about the entire first half of the film, especially the whole embezzlement angle. The first half of the film is classic Hitchcock and could fit into any of a half-dozen other films of his: The attention to detail of the hot Arizona weather and dire straits that Sam is in as a result of his divorce, leading Marion to steal the money. Marion is spotted leaving town by her boss, and is followed for a time by a suspicious police officer. Clearly in a tough spot, and with Sam not knowing anything about it, surely every audience member at the time was thinking, "Boy, how's she going to get out of this one? Will she redeem herself somewhat?" It's not, after all, that different from, say, Strangers on a Train.

In the most famous left turn of all time, Hitchcock not only destroys his audiences' expectations and produces an entirely different film, but also lays the groundwork for twenty years of skin-and-slasher flicks with the shower scene. Although not perhaps "tasteful", the scene doesn't actually feature any nudity, and by today's standards the method of not quite showing the stabbing seems not entirely convincing (nor does the final confrontation between Vera and Bates, at which our audience erupted in laughter). And yet, it all works, even if the psychiatrist's explanation of Bates' psyche at the end drags a bit. Perkins and Leigh make the film all by themselves.

My favorite Hitchcock film remains North by Northwest, but Psycho is clearly a seminal moment in movie history, something you can basically point to as a turning point. And, it's a fine film worth seeing even today.

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