Norman Bates meets Jorge Luis Borges
Back in 1998, when the Gus Van Sant remake of PSYCHO came out, I pulled a bit of a hoax in the pages of Cinefantastique magazine, comparing the film to Pierre Menard’s rewrite of DON QUIXOTE. The joke was that there is no such person as Menard; he was invented by author Jorge Luis Borges in the short story “Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote.”
In the story, the somewhat unhinged Menard hits upon the idea of rewriting the Cervantes novel word for word as it was originally written. The point of Borges’ story is that, although textually identical, Menard’s version reads differently because it was written in a different context.
You can see why this story would occur to me in the context of the Van Sant remake. Van Sant pretty much duplicated Hitchcock’s masterpiece, shot for shot, but it could not recapture the original because it was made and viewed during a different era, with a different audience, and a different cultural context — including, among other things, the existence of a 38-year-old movie by the name of PSYCHO.
Anyway, I thought I was being extremely clever when I made this comparison between Van Sant and Menard, but it turns out I was not the only one. A Google search for “borges, van sant” puts my review at the top, but there are also two reviews by writters at the Village Voice who hit upon the same point that I did.
If you’re interested, you can read Michael Atikinson’s review here and J. Hoberman’s take on the film here. And of course you can find my old review posted here