The shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is one of the most studied, revered, and parodied sequences in all of cinema. In 1960, the gruesome killing of a main character shocked millions of curious moviegoers. In the twenty-first century, audiences are just as rapt by the moment’s power and menace. In 78/52, named after the number of camera setups and cuts within the seminal scene, we hear from directors, actors, editors, and craftspeople who remain awed by this key moment of cultural history.
There have been many books, films, and cultural tributes to the “Master of Suspense.” (One recent example was the bare-bones doc Hitchcock/Truffaut). But 78/52 captures, with insight and energy, the scope of the filmmaker’s artistry. Unlike the aforementioned Kent Jones film, Alexandre O. Philippe’s doc hears from a rich and varied collection of creative voices. Oscar-winning editors and sound designers, horror auteurs, and even Janet Leigh’s body double give fascinating analyses of each shot, stylistic decision, and screen direction.
Philippe relies on a trove of film and TV clips to provide helpful visual evidence. While situating the social context of Psycho’s release, the director draws on segments of Hitchcock and his macabre humour. (The doc even has a sinister score, an homage to Bernard Herrmann’s iconic strings.) However, given the archival clips, a few mocked-up re-creations of certain scenes from Psycho look cheap and feel superfluous. Regardless, even the most versed Hitchcock fan will probably learn something from the cultural experts featured here. 78/52 is cinephilia at its most absorbing.