Hot Docs 2017: 78/52
Alexandre O. Philippe’s 78/52, an examination of the iconic shower scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, begins with a somewhat cheeky re-enactment of Marion Crane’s fateful stopover at the Bates Motel. Yet, this opening belies the almost reverent quality with which Philippe dissects the “most famous scene in movie history”. As he brings in interviewees to discuss the scene, Philippe gradually contextualizes – both with broader historical narrative and with footage from Psycho’s many filmic inspirations – what the scene meant to audience members in 1960 and what it has meant to audience members for the last fifty-seven years. Every cut, every angle, every frame is examined in almost obsessive detail. What results is a documentary that bestows the viewer with not simply a greater understanding of the legendary scene itself, but also of the cultural impact of the scene and the film – Psycho – as a whole.
Where 78/52 truly shines, though, is in its exploration of the film’s tendrils that extend to its contemporaries, antecedents, and followers. Philippe notes everything from Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People and Leopard Man to the Coen Brothers’ Barton Fink and Gasper Noé’s Irréversible, weaving in cutaways to illustrate his points to, often, brilliant effect. Further, Philippe even goes so far as to examine the way these influences ebbed and flowed across the world over the years. He notes how in the decade post-Psycho, Italian giallo directors like Mario Bava and Dario Argento kept the new subgenre of the slasher alive before it returned stateside in a big way in the late seventies and eighties with films like Halloween and Black Christmas. The documentary is pregnant with examples and makes great use of its knowledgeable subjects – including notable directors such as Guillermo del Toro.
Ultimately, though, much of this film’s mileage relies upon your interest in Psycho and the technical choices that go into editing, blocking, and shooting a scene. If you have a great deal of interest in the making of Psycho or you simply want to see cinephiles geek out over one of the most iconic scenes in history, give 78/52 a watch.