My final task of the week involves watching a famous movie clip three different ways, and seeing how everything fits together; since today is all about tricks and treats for freaks and geeks, I figured I’d celebrate the festival formerly known as Samhain like everyone else, and watch a movie that fits the theme. There can be only one scene for me to review here, which begs the question…
LOOK AT THIS!
This clip, from American Psycho, starts off with a high-angle shot, of a man having one too many shots of his own, sitting in a chair, slightly focused left-of-center. We smash cut to a close-up of the album cover for Fore! by Huey Lewis & The News, as the drunken man seems to shrug off his friend’s query; once again, we have a high-angle shot, to emphasize that this first man is the pawn of the piece.
The next shot we have is a long take of another man – a medium-range shot, from the waist up – with the camera panning and scanning from right to left, following this man as he walks, while also telling the audience that things are already falling out of favor. The first shot of the two men together shows the second man walking past the first, to his bathroom, both right-of-center, hinting that this second man is the voice of reason in this scene.
We cut to the interior of the bathroom, as the second man walks into another close-up shot – a POV shot, specifically – while he puts on a raincoat, over his three-piece suit, while continuing to speak, uninterrupted. We smash cut to an extreme close-up of a pill bottle on the bathroom sink, identifying this second man as “Patrick Bateman.”
When we return to the POV shot from before, a match cut ensues, as Bateman takes a drink of water from the glass on the sink, showing fluid continuity between shots, and providing the illusion of everything occurring in real time. The look on Patrick’s face takes on a more serious tone, as he leaves the bathroom, picking up his axe along the way.
Another medium-long shot of the living room follows, as Pat briefly “moonwalks” across the floor, to keep the axe hidden from his friend’s view until necessary. His friend is too drunk to notice what’s going on, even as Pat temporarily makes him the voice of reason, by placing his axe left-of-center, near the kitchen door.
After a close-up of the axe, we cut to a medium shot of Pat’s drunken friend, as he tries to get Pat’s attention; the next shot, the first of two medium shots of the first man with his back turned, has the first man try to carry on the conversation, despite his current state. All Pat can do, in the next shot, a brief POV close-up shot, is smile at him.
The next shot shows the first man pointing out the raincoat Pat’s now wearing, with Pat continuing to smile as he admits to this new addition to his outfit. As for the camerawork, Pat’s friend’s head is shown in the foreground, disoriented as he is, as Pat himself comes up from the background, to put the final pieces in place.
This leads to another medium shot of Pat, turning on the radio; the following medium shot makes Pat the voice of reason again, as he walks off, right to left, adding to the feeling that a bad decision’s about to be made. What follows is a low-angle, medium close-up shot of Pat holding onto his axe, providing one last visual clue of who’s really in charge here, before jump-cutting to a close-up of Pat’s friend, the second shot with his back turned, turning around a little too late.
Everything takes a turn for the worse from this point on, as Pat rushes in on his friend for the first chop from his axe, leading into another close-up shot, emphasizing Pat’s implied anger at him, which is also the third consecutive solo shot of Pat’s with a left-of-center focus, essentially hinting at Pat’s lack of sanity. A quick close-up of blood being spilt on the floor of the house is shown, before returning to a POV shot of Pat, in a full-blown state of rage; the close-up is now fully centered, objectifying Pat’s bloodied face as an example of sweet revenge.
This POV shot is also a long take, as the camera pans and scans from left to right as Pat walks over to his couch, basically telling the viewing audience that things are returning to normal, and you won’t have to worry about any lapses in Pat’s psyche for now. The scene ends as Pat starts smoking cigars over the corpse of the second man, with a slight right-of-center focus on Pat, implying that Pat got what he wanted, as the second man is gone from his life.
It should be noted that, throughout the entirety of this scene, everything is shot in high-quality light, giving Pat’s house the feel of a sterile environment, further suggesting that the assault was pre-meditated.
LISTEN TO THIS!
The audio portion of this review starts with the sound of someone rummaging through their CD collection, before casually asking if someone else likes Huey Lewis and the News; a second voice quickly responds to this, despite sounding ill, by saying that “they’re okay.” The first man walks through the house, while speaking his opinion of the band’s history to that point, with the enthusiasm of an expert in popular music; there are a few pauses from time to time, for the first man to catch his breath, and allow him to maintain composure throughout the scene, even when he inevitably snaps.
When he steps into the bedroom, the foley artist is getting the point across that the first man’s clearly putting on another layer of clothing, over his current outfit, and taking a drink, while continuing his speech, with more enthusiasm than before. Once the first man walks out of the bathroom, he continues building up to his big pay-off by placing something close by him, out of the second man’s line of sight; while the first man does this, his enthusiasm continues to increase, exponentially.
Speaking of which, the second man, now called “Allen,” quickly tries to speak up, but his apparent illness has left him slurring his speech like a drunk man. The quick response time between the two gives off the illusion that these two men were life-long friends, and knew each other perfectly; the pacing of each other’s lines adds to the lighthearted whimsy of the illusion, playing up the laughter while preparing for the imminent tragedy.
The second man may be sick, but he isn’t stupid: He quickly notices the “Style” section of several unidentified newspapers laid out on the floor, in immaculate fashion, and that the first man is now wearing a raincoat. The rest of the audio juggles the remaining dialogue with the opening verses of the Huey Lewis and the News hit, “Hip to Be Square,” and does it well; this is also where the first man goes into a level of hysterics not heard since Joan Crawford discovered wire hangers in her daughter’s closet.
In one final act of subtlety, after the first man walks over to his murder weapon, you can barely hear the sound of him picking it up, over the sound of “Hip to Be Square” blaring throughout the house. One thing you can hear, however, is the first man screaming bloody murder at the second man, who he now calls “Paul,” as he violently clubs him to death, with very few clicks and pops after the first man apparently walks away from the crime scene, as “Hip to Be Square” continues to play, full-blast and uninterrupted.
The final draft of this scene starts with a drunken man trying to keep himself awake, while his friend talks to start a conversation with him about Huey Lewis and the News; the first man, despite being too drunk to speak, tells his friend that the band is “okay,” albeit with a look of indifference. The second man starts providing a lecture to him about the band’s history, walking throughout the room in a calm demeanor, before entering the bathroom to prepare himself for what’s to come.
After a water break, the second man, Patrick Bateman, sets the final preparations for his revenge into motion by placing an axe by the kitchen door; from there, the drunken man, who Pat calls “Allen,” starts to point out the newspapers lining the floor, and the raincoat that Pat’s wearing now. It’s a classic case of “too little, too late,” though, as “Hip to Be Square” starts to play, Pat says Allen’s real name – Paul – and starts hacking away in a blood-curdling frenzy, thankful that the music’s just loud enough to cover up the murder, thus keeping the neighbors from calling the police on Pat, for the death of his friend.
It is this scene, combining the audio and visual aesthetics that were previously displayed here, that more than lives up to the name, American Psycho; for starters, the combination of the sterile environment and extremely loud music does feel like something a serial killer, like Patrick Bateman, would use to his advantage, to set up any of his potential victims for their downfall, much less one like Allen/Paul. On the other hand, the friendly movements and dialogue the two gentlemen shared before things really got gruesome, as well as the fact that the song in question – “Hip to Be Square” – is as upbeat as they come, only adds to the irony; what originally appeared to be a conversation between friends, over drinks and pop rock music, would degenerate into a massacre, all because Pat couldn’t keep everything together for long.
The end result is a prime example – from my perspective, at least – of the whole being better than the sum of the parts; from the subtle build-up orchestrated by Pat and Allen/Paul, to Pat’s big breakdown and subsequent recovery, all while treating everything that happens as if it’s a normal, fact-of-life occurrence, the murder of Allen/Paul in American Psycho is a master class in making movies, both in, and of, itself. This is the type of footage modern directors need to see, in order to know how to tell a proper story with their camerawork, as well as something modern film critics need to see, in order to know how much effort really goes into the flicks they only think are flops.