Thoughts on 78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene (2017)

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe’s feature-length video essay on the iconic shower scene from Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) refers to the 78 shots and 52 cuts it took to make the scene happen. A similarly large number of people were interviewed for 78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene (2017), including academics, critics, crew from the 1998 Gus Van Sant remake, admirers in the business, and even Marli Renfro, Janet Leigh’s body double. Alongside these are archival footage (or sometimes just audio) of Hitch himself and others who’d already passed away. I think it’s safe to say that this is the most comprehensive and in-depth discussion of the scene you’ll ever come across.

The shower scene is Psycho‘s core, Psycho distills many of Hitchcock’s themes and motifs, and the film (with the help of some others, Hitch and not) was pivotal in marking and pushing the cultural changes that exploded the proprieties of the fifties and sparked the disquiet and uproar of the sixties. 78/52 traces this argument, however, in reverse order, and it only works because Psycho has become so deeply embedded in popular culture worldwide.

One could thus say that this documentary is doing something other than what we usually expect a documentary to do, namely illuminate and enlighten—though it also does that. By building on what we already know and including interviews with people who had nothing to do with Psycho, even showing us their reactions to a screening of the film, 78/52 is more interested in sharing the director’s passion for the scene and the film, shared with those he interviews. What a number of critics don’t seem to get is that, powered by the passion for criticism, it’s not only informative but also uncanny in evoking a sense of community. We bask together in the warm glow of Hitchcock’s revelatory achievement.

Of course, the documentary wouldn’t work as well if Philippe just grabbed any ol’ people. Instead, he interviews luminaries such as Guillermo del Toro and Elijah Wood, adding more authority to his proceedings than if he’d chosen someone from outside, even a film critic like me (though I wouldn’t object!). This is for the same reason why Film Crit Hulk differentiates between the respective levels of cinematic perceptiveness of outside cinephiles and critics (Level 3) and people who work in the biz (Level 4): Going through the process of actually making a film gives you a whole new perspective on the craftsmanship and the art.

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