Review: “78/52” Delivers A Compelling Look At Hitchcock’s Infamous Shower Scene For Buffs As Well As Casual Fans

Alexandre O. Phillipe’s fascinating documentary film is a compelling look at one of the most famous sequences in cinema history: Hitchcock’s shower scene. With a vast array of speakers from all walks of movie-making life, 78/52 reveals the intricacies of Hitchcock’s genius and why Psycho, and the shower scene in particular, remains so revered.

That a filmmaker’s entire body of work can be defined by a single scene is testament to how pivotal, influential and technically accomplished that scene is. There are not many directors whose work would merit such specific attention. But Alfred Hitchcock is no ordinary filmmaker. His 1960 thriller Psycho is no ordinary film. And the scene which has become one of cinema’s most infamous, is without any doubt, an extraordinary moment that has transcended the screen. Like Spielberg’s Jaws turning people away from swimming in the sea, Hitchcock’s shower scene in Psycho made people think twice about closing their eyes during their routine ablutions.

It is this brief but significant sequence in Hitchcock’s seminal black and white masterpiece that is the focus of writer-director Alexandre O. Phillipe’s fascinating documentary 78/52. A satisfyingly exhaustive exploration of the scene, incorporating detailed coverage of the staging, sound design, editing and score, 78/52 is never anything less than engaging. Importantly, it’s not overbearing in its film school approach either.

The film, which takes its name from the number of set-ups (78) and the number of cuts (52) to create Hitchcock’s shower scene, has a good mix of anecdote and analysis from a wide array of speakers to interest everyone from the casual fan to the screen academic. Phillipe’s combination of interviewees – from historians, scholars and critics to actors Jamie Lee Curtis and Elijah Wood, director Eli Roth, composer Danny Elfman and Academy Award winning editor Walter Murch – ensures a consistently engaging and comprehensive look at Marion Crane’s demise. We also get to enjoy The Last Picture Show director Peter Bogdanovich’s brilliant Hitchcock impression.

Curtis, whose mother Janet Leigh played the shower scene victim Marion Crane in Psycho, is one of the most recognisable faces in 78/52 but it’s an unsung hero of the scene, and one of the few people still alive to have worked on the film, who provides some of the most compelling tales. Marli Renfro, a former Playboy cover girl and Leigh’s body double, shares her first-hand knowledge working with Hitchcock on the scene.

Yet, 78/52 is at its most effective when the likes of editors such as Murch (who famously worked on Apocalypse Now, The Godfather and The English Patient), Bob Murawski (probably best known for editing Sam Raimi’s movies including Spider-Man), and Amy E. Duddleston (who edited Gus Van Sant’s 1998 remake of Psycho), remark on the scene’s dramatic engineering shot by shot, and at times, frame by frame.

For those interested in the filmmaking process, particularly editing, it’s riveting, insightful stuff. For everyone else, it’s wonderfully enlightening, showcasing the dramatic potential of the moving image. And, as detailed as it is, with intricate discussion of pacing, framing, the placing of a hand, the angle of the camera, the beats of the score, it’s never less than intriguing. Indeed, casual viewers will be shocked at the amount of attention and detail Hitchcock put into the sequence. Phillipe’s film beautifully celebrates that.

In fact, 78/52 acknowledges the fact Hitchcock wasn’t simply the man who made the “shower scene”. With Bogdanovich recalling his experiences of Hitchcock, the man who spent years documenting the English filmmaker’s work is one of several speakers who reference how Psycho fits into Hitchcock’s oeuvre and, by widening the scope, how it was such a big hit in 1960, its influence on movies following its release, and why it remains a treasured cinema classic.

Phillipe’s coverage of the scene is as comprehensive as his line-up of interviewees. It’s a list that is similarly exhaustive. From family members of the cast and crew (including Oz Perkins, Anthony Perkins’ son and Hitchcock’s granddaughter Tere Carrubba) providing a few anecdotes to the likes of Bret Easton Ellis, Guillermo del Toro, Leigh Whannell and Neil Marshall remarking on how the shower scene impacted their own appreciation of cinema, 78/52 covers a lot of bases. Phillipe’s skill, however, is in ensuring this encyclopaedic combination of knowledge never overwhelms. He finds a compelling middle ground between film as art and film as entertainment.

78/52, film review, four stars

Written by Dan Stephens

Directed by: Alexandre O. Philippe
Written by: Alexandre O. Philippe
Starring: Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Marli Renfro, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley
Released: 1989 / Genre: Documentary
Country: USA / IMDB
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Top 10 Films reviewed 78/52 courtesy of Dogwoof. The film was released in cinemas November 3.

Dan Stephens
About the Author
Dan Stephens is the founder and editor of Top 10 Films. He's usually pondering his next list, often inspired by his adoration for 1980s Hollywood, a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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