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Review: 78/52

October 13, 2017

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

The first feature film ever made about a single scene, the stunning documentary 78/52 offers a deep dive into the shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, a sequence so iconic that it has almost gone beyond the film itself to take on a life of its own.  As a lifelong Hitchcock fan, I was in cinematic heaven watching this film.

Directed by Alexandre O. Philippe, who explored geek culture in The People vs. George Lucas and zombie movies in Doc of the Dead, 78/52 assembles a group of filmmakers, historians, actors and editors, as well as Janet Leigh’s body double, to dissect the scene frame by frame.

The subjects discuss the amount of symbolism behind every single choice that Alfred Hitchcock made when assembling the sequence, from the composition of the images to the way that they are edited together to give the illusion of showing violence.  They talk about how the scene is further elevated by Bernard Herrmann’s unforgettable shrieking score, and somehow the stabbing sound effects become even more disturbing when we see how they were done using a melon and a slab of steak.

The scene itself took a week to film, and is made up of 78 shots and 52 cuts, which are of course the numbers that give this film its title.  The shower scene is so effective precisely because it broke all the rules, not only blasting through social taboos of the time to lay the groundwork for how violence is depicted and sexulized in the horror genre, but also revolutinizing the filmmaking craft as a whole because of how it was assembled through a series of quick cuts.  The scene also shocked audiences for killing off the main character so early in the film, which was exactly the effect that Alfred Hitchcock wanted.  With his work having become largely accepted in America at the time, he was looking for new ways to make audiences feel uneasy, and to challenge the stringent ratings boards.

With the interviews done in black and white, and some new exterior footage shot on the Universal soundstage that fits in seamlessly with the images from Psycho78/52 reverberates with passion for the filmmaking craft.  It’s an incredible documentary that goes far beyond just being an essay film, not only allowing us to delve deep into perhaps the most famous scene in all of cinema and one of the greatest films of all time, but also becoming a thrilling and beautifully crafted experience in its own right.  I found the film utterly enthralling to watch, and it’s a must see for all cinephiles.

78/52 is now playing in limited release at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

A version of this review originally appeared during the 2017 Hot Docs Film Festival.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. October 14, 2017 12:01 pm

    Impressive.

    Like

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