As a fan, scholar and student of Alfred Hitchcock films and knowing in September 2020, that his beloved and most celebrated in at least the horror genre Psycho turns 60-years, which led me to writing several different reviews and featured various podcasts to talk about my favorite film of his, I thought it only fitting to review this documentary, it is a detailed 91-minutes long analysis of one of the famous scenes in cinema, yes that ‘shower scene’ which many labeled as the true start of modern psychotic cinema, the blending of sex and violence, sin and innocence, corrupted morals, a reflection of what society truly is, and that monsters hide in plain sight. His revolutionary style, format would go on to inspire so many filmmakers especially Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) with the action of tricking one’s mind of what they thought they saw initially was penetration when actually none happens.
Therefore Alexandre O. Philippe (Memory: The Origins of Alien ) presents an interesting film that’s truly only for the diehard Hitchcock fans and cinema creators of all disciplines who do examine scenes as detectives and artists. As for those unaware the title “78/52” (refers to the entirety of the legendary sequence 180-seconds of film that tallies as 78 camera set-ups and 52 cuts). Although, it took 40 interviewees and at least 90-minutes to breakdown every aspect of the scene as well as a few other tidbits and how Hitchcock also revolutionized the theater experience. Even if you think you knew about the movie, this shall send your mind into overdrive as it’s element is peeled back exposing new information that impacts not the scene but transcending that to viewers and throughout the industry for countless future generations of filmmakers. The film is in black and white just like Psycho was, he starts with a woman driving on a black top road in the lonely desert with the rain starting to fall and finally she stops at the Bates Motel. It is from here several people grace the screen to discuss the virtually every angle of the shower scene, Philippe generously shows many images of Psycho.
The film has interviewees watching the shower scene play via an old porthole television set, all done in representing the 1960s era, each time they express their passion for both the complexity of delivery how the sounds and Composer Bernard Hermann’s music work to build-up the tension and the constant subliminal suggestive elements that surround this one moment, with no one touching that score, not altering a note, all of it frozen and immortalized in time. There’s an intriguing interview with Marli Renfro, who was a model and an occasional Playboy Bunny, who starred as Janet Leigh’s body double in the shower scene for some the graphic up-close shooting where she was topless and even admitted she offered to do it fully nude, however Hitchcock emphatically decline her offer.
A lot of truly fascinating tidbits are expressed throughout the movie, showing how little almost obscure particles blend together to create a lasting moment filled with impactful meaning and emotion, that shocked audiences of then, and have gone on to inspire other scenes of today with their version tributes. The style of layout winds itself nicely with discussion, which dig deep into analytic details and the vast commentary, from Eli Roth, Peter Bogdanovich and even Guillermo del Toro, and wonderfully are vintage interviews with the Master of Suspense himself Alfred Hitchcock. The documentary makes to separate and stands apart from his outstanding work from the 1950s with such classics Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958) and finally North By Northwest (1959) all released in sweeping color and wonderful sets, this shows him returning to old school, abandoning the big budgets but continued his precision filmmaking. Although curious to learn that Hitchcock poured countless hours into storyboarding the entire scene in the shower, a process of 7-days unheard of then and likely even today. Then there’s inclusion of Psycho (1998) the suggested shot-for-shot remake, that met with resistance from diehard fans, a familiar material even too many casual movie fans as well as filmgoers generations removed from its shocking advent.
There’s not much to speak negatively about concerning this documentary, aside from perhaps interview some younger fans, or individuals with different cultural backgrounds, but honestly the overall manner fulfills the 90-minute benchmark wonderfully. The inclusion of Filmmaker Osgood Perkins, Anthony’s son is a nice addition, though he picks from a bag of popcorn during his private forced screening moment; a missed opportunity should have had eating candy corn like his father did in the actual movie. For the most part the director keeps everything focused in the same direction, allowing the ‘talking-heads’ to express themselves freely, some are fleeting moments for name recognition providing no lasting dialogue, though one can imagine the numerous hours of deleted footage, and nightmarish process of cataloging it; choosing the precise frames for the film.
The distinguished editor Walter Murch gives a much insightful play-by-play for the known directors and those aspiring to claim their rightful spot in the profession, it also extends to storyboard artists, editors, and screenwriters. However, in the bonus features with in depth-interview, in subsection under “Psycho Production, Exhibition and Structure” he makes a statement I tend to heavily disagree with, it involves why make this movie in the first place. Walter states (and this is paraphrased) “…Hitchcock was looking for something different, wanted paired down and curious more about television shooting than features…and wanted to make a feature film with this method…” Let’s take this in step, first in 1959 Hitchcock, released North By Northwest [NBN], which was and adventure, mystery thriller with lots on action sequences, the studios approached him to do the first James Bond film Dr. No (1962), however his classic retort I did it already, hence referring to NBN, this is a very true statement watch both for the similarities. He did seek something new, noticing the culture changing and hence movies needed to adjust too, namely Ed Gein’s horrific crimes discovered in November 1957. As for the television show Alfred Hitchcock Presents ran from 1955 to 1961, and while he did direct and produced a few, he loved the attention as guest host appearance in 268 episodes, while only directing 17, averaging three episodes a year, a far cry from becoming enthralled with the small screen, as Walter eludes to. So what was the turning point, a few things, Hitch was chauffeured everywhere, when returning from the studio he saw long lines by a theater and lots of media attention, curious he learned about it, a man named William Castle who considered himself the ‘dime store Hitchcock’ and was using sensation promotional. It was from there that Alfred decide to venture into a new film genre for him, though he did touch on the murders in other films, suggested gruesomeness in Rear Window (1954) but this time more explicit, he wanted to establish to everyone he was the Master of Suspense regardless of genre. He used his loyal television crew, their sworn devotion of secrecy and funded the project himself and reaped the rewards, keeping the rights secure until his passing.
While this documentary to many serves as a passionate film which shows the enduring testament of longevity of one little scene with the magnificent impact across multiple levels and avenues in the cinematic and culture aspects of it. At times the movie does bog down as the material covering the art on the walls and other structure pieces of décor become endless discovery however this portion likely intended to the all-important set designers, again, almost every position in a crew finds a niche for themselves. Sometimes to learn all about a movie requires the time and depth to examine the genius behind the mere images on the screen, the analysis of understanding the shock and almost overlooked suspense in the build-up of the terrorizing scene facing audiences in 1960. The scene has since been parodied in High Anxiety (1977), Lego Psycho and countless television episodes and homage paid to it from The Funhouse (1981), Dressed to Kill (1980) and even the Scream Queen series, with Jamie Lee Curtis.
- 78 Shots & 52 Cuts That Changed Cinema Forever
IMDb Rating: 7.3
Baron’s Rating: 7.5/10