78/52 review alfred hitchcockYear: 2017
Director(s): Alexandre O. Philippe
Writer(s): n/a
Region of Origin: US

Rating: n/a
Black & White, 91 mins

Synopsis: An unprecedented look at the iconic shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. (Source)

It’s easy to take much of what we see in movies for granted. What lasts on screen for a matter of seconds, however, in reality takes months to prep and days to shoot. Alexandre O. Philippe’s 78/52 is here to make sure we don’t make this mistake with one of cinema’s most infamous moments – Psycho’s shower scene. Alfred Hitchcock’s most shocking murder is still elaborately constructed and wholly transgressive by today’s standards, a timeless sequence comprised of 78 shots and 52 cuts. In the best way, Philippe’s doc explores how a single moment encapsulated the angst of a nation in flux, taking us from its concept to execution with sinister aplomb. Whether you’re a cinephile or casual admirer of Hitch’s legacy, this rapturous doc that takes us into the mind of a gleeful madman.

The film begins with a look at Hitch’s body of work, including the shadowy figures and ideas which would lead up to moment in question. A revolving door of greats reminisce on their own experience with the master’s films, culminating in Psycho’s first impressions and how it would shape their aspirations and careers. Heavyweights such as Peter Bogdanovich, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Karyn Kusama, Mick Garris and more offer insightful points of view, while Janet Leigh’s own body double, Marli Renfro, and daughter Jamie Lee Curtis go even deeper. All of this does well to provide context for Psycho and Hitch’s inspirations, juxtaposing his use of violence and irreverent sense of humor.

78/52 review spectrevisionWhen the doc makes its way to the iconic scene, no stone is left unturned. First up, we learn of how frequent Hitch collaborator Saul Bass was brought in to storyboard the sequence, including an overview that takes us from sketch to finished product. From here, scholars, participants and filmmakers go into the poetry of each shot, the cleansing nature of the water and its liberation from guilt, the jarring cuts that foreshadow a dark fate, and finally the visceral shot of a knife stabbing downward. It’s incredible to see how much Hitch was able to get out of these shots, implying horror which would naturally be a source of dispute for an uptight ratings board. Throughout, interviewees get to watch the scene and react to it, while other moments present archival footage of Hitch playing on an antique television, itself placed within a haunting replica of one of the Bates’ empty rooms. In the end, it’s clear that Hitch’s horrific sequence was designed independently of the film, offering a pure moment of expression that may never be replicated again.

From minute to minute, there’s a lot to digest in Philippe’s brisk, fascinating doc. At its best, it proves how a master created the ultimate dialogue between viewer and art, going as far as to betray his audience by invading the most sacred of places with an act of unforgettable violence. While the shower scene and Psycho’s legacy may speak for themselves, Philippe’s film reminds us how penetrating horror can be when put in the right hands. 78/52 is tons of fun, going beyond film school 101 to show how a transcendent scene went on to influence everything after it, eventually becoming embedded in the heart of pop culture as we know it.