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New Release Review - 78/52

78/52 review
Documentary focussed on cinema's most infamous shower scene.







Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Alexandre O Philippe

78/52 poster


"Not another bloody Hitchcock documentary!" you might exclaim. No other filmmaker has been the subject of such analysis as Alfred Hitchcock, and if I have to listen to him relate his well-worn anecdote of being imprisoned as a child one more time I'll scream as loudly as one of his blonde heroines.

Alexandre O Philippe's documentary, 78/52, isn't thankfully yet another overview of Hitchcock's work. Instead, Philippe's film narrows its focus not only on one movie, Psycho, but one specific scene, the infamous murder of fugitive Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) while taking a shower at the Bates Motel (whoops, spoiler alert!).

78/52

I have to confess that for me, Psycho isn't a personal favourite among Hitchcock's work, and if I ranked his movies it would struggle to break the top half. That's a testament to the strength of Hitch's CV, as Psycho is still one hell of a movie, and as this doc attests to, it's one of his most important contributions to cinema, changing as it did the way violence could be represented on screen.

Philippe assembles a huge cast of contributors. Some boast direct connections to the film, like Leigh's body double Marli Renfro,  her daughter Jamie Lee Curtis, and Anthony Perkins' son Osgood. Others are filmmakers whose approach to their own work has been shaped by studying Hitchcock, like Guillermo del Toro, Karyn Kusama and Eli Roth. Meanwhile, others are simply fans, like actors Elijah Wood and Ileana Douglas, and the Godfather of movie geekdom Peter Bogdanovich, who once again breaks out his Hitchcock impersonation here.

78/52

Perhaps the most insightful contributions come from legendary editor Walter Murch. Where most of the other talking heads simply gush and foist platitudes on Hitchcock, the always stoic Murch calls on his own vast experience of assembling strips of film to dish out some fascinating technical nuggets, such as how Hitch broke the 180 degree stage-line rule so that Leigh/Renfro's body would appear on the same side of the screen as the plunging knife in the reverse angles, creating a psychological illusion of physical impact between the two.

With a few exceptions, most of Phillipe's contributors come from the indie film sphere, which may be reflective of a limited budget, and as such the omissions are notable. Any definitive discussion of Psycho's shower scene is incomplete without including the likes of Brian de Palma, Hitchock's number one filmmaking fan; Martin Scorsese, who studied the sequence when creating the boxing set-pieces of Raging Bull; and Gus Van Sant, who went so far as to remake the film shot for shot in 1998.

78/52

Along with Hitchcock, much praise is given to composer Bernard Herrmann, whose iconic string score has transcended cinema to become shorthand for the sound of murder. Oddly, Saul Bass's name never comes up; a bizarre omission, given his much debated role in designing the sequence.

For a 90 minute documentary examining a 45 second sequence, 78/52 doesn't provide nearly as much insight as you might like, but if you're a fan of Hitch, there's enough to make it an entertaining if not educational experience. I'm still baffled by the title, which press releases claim refers to the scene consisting of 78 shots and 52 cuts, which of course is a mathematical impossibility.

78/52 is in UK/ROI cinemas now.



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