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78/52 (2017) review

November 10, 2017

78:52sundance

 

written by: Alexandre O. Phillipe
produced by: Robert Muratore and Kerry Geignan Roy
directed by: Alexandre O. Phillipe
rated: not rated
runtime: 91 min.
U.S. release date: October 13, 2017 (limited) and November 10, 2017 (at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago, IL and available on VOD, Amazon & iTunes)

 

Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece “Psycho” was controversial when it came out back in 1960 and left an indelible mark on cinema on many levels, but especially for filmmakers. It became the most well-known film by the director, specifically for the infamous shower scene at the Bates Motel. Now, a documentary called “78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene” from Swiss-born director Alexandre O. Phillipe looks at that violent scene in detail, breaking down how it was accomplished, the response from the audience at the time and how influential it’s been in movies and beyond. It’s a scene worthy of extensive study, something this obsessive, fun and informative film offers up, reminding us of movie magic. 

Outside of movies, whenever a friend or family member has held up a kitchen knife and imitated a “Ching-ching-ching” sound (or maybe that’s just my friends and family members), you can thank “Psycho” and its maestro composer, Bernard Hermann, by extension. Whenever we see someone get murdered in a movie or a television show, up close with quick edits, it’s due to the impact of that one scene from “Psycho”. The average moviegoer probably doesn’t think about how one scene can leave such an indelible mark on our culture, one that’s passed on for generations and the purpose of “78/52” is to introduce to or remind us of just that.

 

78:52shower

 

Like the documentary “Room 237” did for Kubrick’s “The Shining”, this documentary revisits “Psycho” as a whole, but specifically that shocking scene where Janet Leigh’s character is fatally cut down. At the time, it was unprecedented that someone who audiences thought would be the main character is suddenly killed off, but it’s in that moment that we start to realize just who the titular character truly is. It’s incredibly powerful how that shift is cemented by that one scene and it’s one of many reasons why “Psycho” is so unique.

The title refers to Hitchcock’s 78 camera setups and 52 edits over the three violent minutes, something that may only be of interest for film enthusiasts and filmmakers, but Phillipe draws in those who may not typically be into “behind-the-scenes” details or Blu-ray “Special Features”, providing an infectious film class for unsuspecting viewers. While watching, it occurred to me just how long three minutes can feel while when watching a character’s life slowly end. Death like this had never been shot before, nor had it been presented to audiences before. Hitchcock may have considered it his “little black joke” and was surprised that anyone took it seriously – but how could we not?

Each shot of the scene was storyboarded in detail by the legendary artist Saul Bass and expertly edited by George Tomasini, but think about how it would play out with no volume. Still shocking sure, for sure, but take away Hermann’s music and it greatly loses its jolting and unnerving impact. “78/52” goes over how certain optical effects were employed to make the scene happen, touching on things we now take for granted like how a camera shoots a shower head with water spraying head-on at viewers or why the scene was framed at times with Leigh off to the right, leaving open space to the left. Going over all of this shot-by-shot is simply fascinating and provides a greater appreciation and understanding for film as art, rather than dismissing a scene like this as pure shock value.

 

78:52watching

 

 

Considering the subject, it’s no surprise that Phillipe (who previously helmed “The People vs. George Lucas” and “Doc of the Dead”) has assembled a plethora of interview subjects for his film, which he spreads throughout the film. We hear from family members of the cast and director, like actress Jamie Lee Curtis and director Osgood Perkins. Other filmmakers, such as Richard Stanley, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro and Karen Kusama offer their observations of the scene and how it changed cinema, altering the way death (particularly female death) was portrayed on the big-screen. I would’ve preferred to hear less from Eli Roth and Elijah Wood and more from veteran editor Walter Murch – who shared how a bathroom scene he edited in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation” was inspired by Hitchcock’s scene – but such a diverse gathering reminds us how fandom isn’t just for those of us outside the movie-making business.

However, the most intriguing inclusion is of Leigh’s body double for the shower scene, Marli Renfro, who at the time was a 21-year-old pinup model and recollects here her experience on the set for seven days. It made me think how a documentary focused solely on body doubles (not stunt doubles) would be quite intriguing as they’re one of many unsung participants that make movies happen.

Like “Psycho”, Phillipe has shot his documentary in black-and-white, no doubt in homage to the film. Of course, Hitchcock did so to get around studio censors who would no doubt cringe at the sight of blood swilling down a shower drain.  I knew Hitchcock has a proclivity for exploring voyeurism in his films, but what I hadn’t considered before was the historical context of “Psycho” and how the mention and inclusion of mothers is something that continuously pops up in his films. Phillipe and his guests touch on that here, offering even more insight surrounding that remarkable scene.

 

78:52shower

RATING: ***

 

“78/52” producer Kerry Deignan Roy conducts a Q&A after the 7 pm screening tonight and introduces the 9:30 pm screening at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago, IL

 

78:52 poster

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