78/52 (Fantastic Fest): Equal Parts Celebration and Inspiration


Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Guillermo del Toro, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Eli Roth, Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, and more

Directed by Alexandre O. Philippe

After North By Northwest, Alfred Hitchcock could have made anything he wanted; and he surprised everyone when he decided to make a B-horror movie. Hitchcock wanted to show that he could beat the drive-in directors at their own game and make the most shocking slasher movie of all time. We all love Psycho. But do we fully appreciate Psycho? I didn’t.

The new documentary 78/52 from Alexandre O. Philippe (The People vs. George Lucas, Doc of the Dead) meticulously breaks down the classic shower scene from its construction and execution to its lasting legacy. The documentary’s greatest accomplishment is exploring what, on the surface, appears to be a fairly straight orward thriller and dissecting it to reveal a subtle masterwork.

Incredibly, the shower scene is comprised of 78 setups and 52 cuts, a staggering amount of work for a sequence that only lasts for what amounts to a little over a minute. Featuring actors and filmmakers spanning generations, decades of film artistry are represented; and each and every one of them are still in rapture over Hitchcock’s mastery. Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Bret Easton Ellis, Elijah Wood, Mick Garris, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Karyn Kusama are just of few of the talents that continue to marvel at Hitchcock’s horror opus.

In a smart directing choice, Philippe has his subjects discuss the shower scene while they’re actually watching it in real time, so they don’t just come off like sterile talking heads. They’re in the moment, discussing and re-discovering the iconic sequence, and it’s infectious. It’s not surprising to see these craftsmen discuss Hitchcock’s brilliance; what’s interesting is to see how much new inspiration they’re gaining from watching his most iconic moment.

It’s also fascinating to realize how much of the film builds up to the shower scene, creating tension and foreshadowing when the viewer doesn’t even realize it. Marion Crane driving through the pouring rain as the windshield wipers slash back and forth or Norman’s reluctance to show her the bathroom in the hotel room are all setting us up for the inevitable. The painting that Norman removes to spy on Marion is one in particular that kind of blew my mind.

This is a documentary made for and by film lovers that celebrates the past but inspires the filmmaking of the future. Hitchcock changed cinema with the shower scene in Psycho and inspired countless filmmakers to keep reinventing the wheel.


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