It’d be an arduous task to contemplate a more significant moment in the history of cinema than that of the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s masterful slasher Psycho. As not only would its value of shock go on to define the representation of violence and sex for years onwards, it has definitively etched itself into the lexicon of popular culture. Many would ruminate the twist reveal of The Empire Strikes Back or perhaps the chestburster sequence from Alien could rival it, but none appear able to quite match the revolutionary impact that Hitchcock so expertly conveyed. The film brought the issue of spoilers to the forefront, it imbued a terror that couldn’t be shook by a far-fetched plot, it shattered taboos, elevated the concept of an audacious narrative decision and broke conventions both filmic and societal. And it all stemmed from that one scene.
This is where 78/52 comes into focus. Helmed by Alexandre O. Phillipe, who is no stranger to tackling cultural phenomenas with films such as Doc of the Dead and The People vs. George Lucas, 78/52 is an extensive cinematic examination that encapsulates on every angle what makes this three-minute sequence utterly subversive. Operating as a brisk and enthusiastic film class, 78/52 lovingly evaluates the grisly scene through the guise of anecdotes, insights and theories from filmmakers and scholars alike. Captivating as a percipient homage that showcases both the director and interviewees are students of Hitchcock just as much as they are theorists to his expertise. Put simply, for those who are fans of the filmmaking process, this film is required viewing.
The title refers to the 78 camera set-ups and the 52 cuts that were ultimately required to craft the finished rendition of the shower scene. Yet, 78/52 transcends more than just the creation and the film’s central thesis of diverse deconstruction finds Phillipe delivering rewarding results. It features an overabundance of talented luminaries including Peter Bogdanovich, Bret Easton Ellis, Eli Roth, Jamie Lee Curtis, Elijah Wood, Guillermo del Toro and Neil Marshall among others. All delve in and all supply intelligent discussion to the conversation while they watch the film themselves. Fundamentally, 78/52 is a film about people watching Psycho and it is nothing short of riveting.
Filmmakers, writers and historians all have their say. Early on Karyn Kusama heralds Psycho as the “first real expression of the female body under assault”. While Eli Roth is quick to note just how much the sequence altered the horror genre. No longer was the ghost or the monster the pinnacle, they have been overtaken by man. Objectively scarier as it was a fate that you couldn’t escape, it was a scenario that could stretch past fantasy. The film is littered with excellent observations that is able to bring additional context to what we’ve already seen and feared. With this clear sense of ardour from all on board serving as quite the investing experience.
Another touchpoint highlights how deeply the scene’s legacy had left an imprint towards their own craft. We hear Martin Scorsese detail how he implemented Hitchcock’s shot list beat by beat in a pivotal fight sequence in his film Raging Bull. As well as renowned editor Walter Murch, who admits the bathroom sequence in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation was edited in a manner akin to an inverse version of the shower scene. Yet, perhaps the most compelling admirations is that of editor Amy Duddleston and composer Danny Elfman when it came to replicating the scene in Gus Van Sant’s ill-fated remake of the film. As both illuminate their imminent frustrations in both attempting and failing at recreating the impression the sequence had left, citing that some moments deserve to be left untouched. For film enthusiasts, the material leaves a fascinating mark.
In addition, even when the focus isn’t directly dictated by opinions, Phillipe tends to find little difficulty in evoking strong material. When the emphasis is placed towards Hitchcock’s meticulous approach it is endlessly fascinating. With one of the film’s most inherent strengths being how effortlessly it can detail a minuet moment and reveal (to a comprehensive degree) Hitchcock’s true intention behind it. There are discussions based on sociology that broadly divulges social context and underlying themes. Moreover, the analysis towards the stature of voyeurism is both haunting and perspicacious. The manner in which 78/52 showcases Hitchcock’s erudition is dexterous and large in part plays like a love letter to that erudition.
If there is any minor drawbacks for 78/52, for some it is irrefutable that the innately worship-like levels of veneration will get on some nerves. In regards to the film’s identity, it can easily be touted as a film made by a fan first and a documentarian second. It is a film that functions through its praise, which doesn’t exactly open the door for variant dispositions. Although with that said, it is hard to not be consumed by the vitality of appreciation which is weaved in such a loving fashion. 78/52 remains well-researched, finely constructed and greatly informative, making minor complaints remain just that when all aspects are considered.
Above all else, 78/52 is an absorbing piece of film analysis. Within the confines of a singular scene, Phillipe lures us into the exploration of a near mythic moment that cemented a truly magnificent auteur. The film’s structure and seamless ability to balance a variety of voices lends well to a film that effectually delivers engaging information as well as forging a glowing reminder as to how frightening the sequence remains to this day. 78/52 broadens what made such a celebrated moment endure such an endearing legacy. Providing an enjoyable approach that only adds to the appreciation one has for Hitchcock’s masterpiece. In the growing sub-genres of films about filmmaking, 78/52 joins the ranks as one of the best.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)