Slo-Mo Psycho

Blog by Keir Roper-Caldbeck | 30 Apr 2010

When Douglas Gordon first showed 24 Hour Psycho ten years ago at the Tramway, my reaction was: “OK, I get it, so I don't have to go and see it”. As usual, I was wrong. Like much of the best conceptual art, what seemed an all too obvious concept was a subtle and allusive piece of art. The work made Gordon an international star and became a touchstone for the contemporary art scene. It has even inspired Don DeLillo's latest novel. So when I heard that the artist had returned to Glasgow with an updated version, 24 Hour Psycho Back and Forth and To and Fro, I scuttled down Tramway.

After my eyes adjusted to the darkness and I stopped worrying about walking into a pillar, I turned my attention to the screens hanging in the middle of the room. Where the original version projected the film onto a single screen, the new version uses two, placed side-by-side, with the film running forwards on one and in reverse on the other. At first, I was surprised how fast things seemed to move. Characters crossed rooms at a reasonable clip, books were opened in less than a minute. It didn't seem much slower than Dances with Wolves. But as time passed the glacial pace revealed itself: brief exchanges of dialogue stretched for half an hour; faces loomed in close up for small eternities, their features rolling like ocean swells. I became mesmerised by Janet Leigh's brassiere (bra is too small a word for such a wonder of lace and heavy engineering); a stuffed toy rabbit stared back at me until I had to look away. Hovering between the still and the moving image, the film opened up to reveal its secrets. I felt as if I could explore the spaces between the frames, pausing to examine the tiniest details of Hitchcock's construction of a Freudian nightmare. At the same time the imperceptibly shifting image drew me in, hypnotising me with its detail, catching me in the dark passions and inexorable unwinding of the plot.

Since going to see 24 Hour Psycho, the frame advance button on my DVD player has taken a battering. First in was Psycho itself so that I could watch the shower scene which I'd missed at the gallery, but I've found that even the most mundane films are invested with a new significance when watched frame by frame. Only Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel has proved resistant, the fast forward button a better option. Mostly, however, I think about that darkened room where the Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins simultaneously advance towards, and retreat from, their destiny with excruciating slowness, over and over, day after day, in a cinematic seventh circle of Hell.