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Written By:

Peter Turner

Go to any film class in any town or city in the world and one of the first things you’re likely to see is the shower scene in Psycho. Take it from someone who sat through his fair share of film studies classes, both as a student and teacher. Whether it’s for the art of editing, for Hitchcock as auteur, for the horror genre or for the crafting of film music, Psycho is a million film lecturer’s go-to text when it comes to teaching the craft of moviemaking, and the rewards of close analysis.

There’s already been enough ink spilled and enough documentaries on Hitchcock so it’s a tough subject to say something fresh about. With 78/52, director Alexandre O. Philippe takes the approach of honing in on that one famous sequence; the Psycho shower scene. Hitchcock’s most famous set piece is put under the microscope, subjected to rigorous analysis, and (excuse the pun) showered with praise by a gaggle of talking heads including critics, directors, actors, editors and professors.

Philippe has assembled an impressive list of some of the master of suspense’s biggest fans and all are eager to pore over the minute details of the sequence that has 78 cuts and 52 camera setups (hence the title). Famous faces from the world of film featured in the documentary include Peter Bogdanovich, Eli Roth, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis and, somewhat strangely, Elijah Wood. But it’s not all big names and 78/52 is often most interesting when offering the perspectives of lesser known names, such as Playboy cover girl Marli Renfro, the woman who stood in for Janet Leigh through much of the shooting of the infamous scene.

Although 90 minutes might seem a slightly long amount of time to dissect a single scene, no doubt anyone who has sat through a film theory lecture will both find much of the content familiar, and much of the analysis either invigorating, or mind numbing. Even though the focus is primarily on the stabbing, 78/52 actually takes its time getting there, exploring Hitchcock’s intentions, his knack for self-promotion and the impact this scene had on cinema, and maybe even society itself.

Hitchcock fans may have heard much of this before, with a good deal of time spent discussing the director’s themes of obsession, voyeurism and relationships with mothers, but 78/52 is at its best when it lets the likes of editor Walter Murch discuss the cutting pace, or composer Danny Elfman praise Bernard Hermann’s game-changing score.

78/52 even does something we’d probably all rather it didn’t. Philippe does not ignore Gus Van Sant’s slavish remake and throws up some interesting contrasts between the original and its much-maligned Anne Heche starring homage.

Destined to be used in a thousand film classes for the foreseeable future, this is a film teacher’s wet dream. For fans of Hitchcock, this may throw up the odd insight, but the majority may already be familiar with much of the details here. For everyone else who has ever thought studying film would suck all the joy out of actually watching films, stay well clear.


Expected Rating: 8

Actual Rating:

Peter Turner

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