When I was younger I was quite the voracious reader. Everywhere I would go my mind would be engrossed in the pages of a good book. At dinner, on the toilet, while walking. My mother utterly hated it!
But what killed my love of reading was (ironically) school. Specifically my A-Level course in English Literature. Maybe it was just my teachers, but as we dived into several novels and stories, our lessons tended to be centred around explaining everything. Like “Why were the curtains in the hotel room blue?”, or “Why were four shots fired rather than six?”
Of course, now I know that dissection is the whole point of an English Literature course. But back then I found the needling of every minor aspect to be utterly tedious.
My point, however, is that sometimes going into too much detail just ends up killing any kind of love you had for the original. Case in point, Prometheus. Did we really need to know what the Space Jockey was? Doesn’t that just take away from the mystery when we now watch Alien?
So considering that this is a 90 minute documentary about one 3 minute scene, surely 78/52 must be scraping the bottom of the barrel?
Titled after the 78 camera setups and 52 edits that make up the infamous “shower” scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho; this black and white-shot documentary takes us on the deepest of dives into the background, creation and impact of said scene.
Helped along by a variety of knowledgeable filmmakers and writers, such as Eli Roth and Bret Easton Ellis; 78/52 takes cinematic essays to a whole new level in its exploration of just how much that one scene changed the face of cinema.
During the documentary there’s a line that director Guillermo del Toro exudes with much confidence when talking about the notorious shower scene:
“You knew you were in the hands of a master. And there was nothing to do but submit.”
And after seeing 78/52, it’s hard not to agree.
Having built his craft on films such as The People vs. George Lucas and Doc of the Dead, Swiss-born director Alexandre O. Philippe uses his immense skill in the realm of documentaries to portray the masterful talent Hitchcock had behind the camera.
While technically intercutting between them, the film consists of three aspects in its exploration of the shower scene: the origins, the production and the impact. Each one commented upon by an all-star list of talking heads. Though some are oddly out of place (Elijah Wood, anyone?); most bring an authoritative voice to the proceedings. Once again Del Toro gives the most engaging insight, suggesting that the scene was heavily influenced by Hitchcock’s Catholicism.
Another such voice is original nude body-double for Janet Leigh, Marli Renfro; a former Playboy model. While the other voices are mere commentary, as the last surviving member of the cast, Renfro is the only one with direct experience; and the documentary is all the more captivating for it. She is a woman forgotten by film history, but overwhelming pivotal to its current existence.
Indeed, in this day and age of sexual crimes coming to light, the documentary makes the interesting point that it was Psycho that changed the nature of violence and sexuality for decades to come. Said best by Karyn Kusama, the director of Jennifer’s Body, the shower scene is, in her opinion…
“the first modern expression of the female body under assault.”
And Hitchcock, though he may have pled otherwise, was not ignorant to that fact, as the documentary details that he allocated an entire week out of a 13 week shoot just for the shower scene. Without a doubt, he was aware of the raw power that shocking scene would have on American audiences.
But he couldn’t have known of the long lasting influence said scene would have on the work of thousands of filmmakers. Killing your main character long before the final credits, the clash of sexual undercurrents and violence, the pioneering of quick cuts. 78/52 quite rightly points out that, thought these things are all common today, at the time they were ingeniously creative in their originality.
With its forensic-like approach to the infamous shower scene, there’s no doubt that 78/52 is the very essence of a film made by film fans, for film fans. In only 90 minutes Philippe takes what could have been a very dry topic; and breathes a new sense of wonder and engrossment into it.
Fortunately, even for those with little prior knowledge of Psycho, this is still a skillfully made documentary exploring a scene utterly unrivalled in cinematic history.