You would be hard-pressed to find a film lover who does not name Alfred Hitchcock as a favorite filmmaker. It would be harder still to find a horror fan who does not name Hitchcock’s Psycho as an all-time favorite. The legacy of his 1960 horror classic is boundless, living on in both mainstream and indie film circles, as well as in popular culture, all these years later.
It was the infamous “shower scene,” wherein Janet Leigh’s character Marion Crane is savagely stabbed to death, which scared filmgoers away from their own bathrooms. This scene, intensely shocking and bloody for its time, terrified audiences for decades, all the while challenging the standard for film and pushing the boundaries of taste. This very scene is the central focus of 78/52, Alexandre O. Philippe’s illuminating documentary wherein directors, writers, actors, critics, and editors discuss and analyze the 78 shots and 52 cuts of film that changed cinema forever.
78/52 is the in-depth look back on Psycho that you didn’t know you needed. This film takes a familiar scene we think we already know about and breaks it down into tiny fragments, lovingly dissecting and examining each piece. A bit of Hitchcock’s own filmic history is reflected upon, as is the culture around the time of Psycho’s filming and premiere. This sheds light on the iconic filmmaker’s approach and intentions with his horror masterpiece, enlightening cinephiles and casual moviegoers alike. Relatedly, 78/52 manages to explain technical aspects of the film- such as breaking down the scene by each individual frame and explaining each moment’s significance- without ever talking down to less savvy viewers.
Perhaps most intriguing about Philippe’s documentary is the concept of gathering creatives, a who’s who of the film world from Jamie Lee Curtis to Danny Elfman, and allowing them simply to nerd out and gush about one of their favorite movies. Like Hitchcock was obsessed with perfecting his iconic scene, we see how the obsession extends to those who adore the film and those who would go on to follow in the filmmaker’s footsteps creatively. It is endearing to see how he and his work have so influenced some of Hollywood’s biggest names, made better by the fact that each interviewee has extensive, encyclopedic knowledge of Hitchcock and his Shower Scene. The adoration and respect shown by each of these celebrities towards Psycho, and particularly the making of its one historic moment, invites viewers of 78/52 to share in the delight of being a fan, not only of only Hitchcock’s tour de force, but in the magic of film itself.
If this seems like a niche documentary, don’t be fooled. All 78/52 asks is that you care about film, an added bonus if you are a fan of Psycho and the scene that made it famous. This is also a good choice for curious types- those who may have questions about how a shower head can be filmed straight-on without the lens collecting so much as a drop of water, or how exactly the sound designers got the stabbing noises to be so gruesomely lifelike. These questions, as well as several others, are answered with considerable detail. Luckily, the answers somehow never cross the line to become boring or overwhelming, making them accessible even to those with the shortest of attention spans.
This documentary is simply a must-see and is certainly one of the most innovative love letters to filmmaking. Combining social and cultural context surrounding the film’s making and release with expert technical know-how, 78/52 is an inspiring work which transports its viewers back to the set and premiere of Hitchcock’s transcendent Psycho and, indeed, back to the dreaded bathtub at hand.
78/52 is now available on Amazon Video, iTunes, and Vudu.