78/52

Studio: IFC Midnight
Directed by Alexandre O. Phillippe

Nov 03, 2017 Web Exclusive
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It’s hard to make a documentary on one of the most iconic sequences in cinematic history. Ultimately, what else is there to say about Norman Bates slashing away at Marion Crane in the shower? Director Alexandre O. Philippe manages to bring interesting perspectives and big names to examine the visual and meticulous brilliance behind the violence. Similar to Rodney Ascher’s Room 237, 78/52 is an examination that offers varying critiques and opinions on a legendary horror classic. The runtime may be a bit bloated with too many talking heads to focus on a deep exploration, but 78/52 is an ode to dedicated fans and the shocking murder on screen that changed modern American cinema forever.

The title cleverly refers to Alfred Hitchcock’s 78 camera setups and 52 cuts over the course of the under-three-minute slasher sequence in Psycho. The detailed storyboards and carefully crafted set design was something Hitchcock obsessed over and methodically fashioned over seven days. This seamlessly aligns with great masters such as Guillermo del Toro and Peter Bogdanovich as they testify on visual and stylistic techniques made for the particular scene. They speak genuinely with admiration and deep curiosity. 78/52 is undoubtedly at its best when the documentary reads more like an essay. It’s when Phillipe brings in irrelevant and odd sources to the discussion that often muddles the overall power of the thesis. Less is more here as there are just too many viewpoints to unpack on such a short sequence. The shower scene is beyond iconic as depicted in parodied pop-culture favorites like The Simpsons and Looney Tunes. It’s frustrating that 78/52 neglects different sides and thought-provoking conversations surrounding the film as a whole. Karyn Kusam’s point on “the female body under assault” and even the Raging Bull fight sequence homage are fascinating topics. Yet we’re quickly pushed onto the next subject before anything is further elaborated. Much like Walter Murch’s breakdown on the montage of cuts, these fresh perspectives are incredibly compelling. It’s a bit of tease and disappointing that there isn’t more time spent on these subjects.

The true pleasure and entertainment comes from the film class setup in which a round table discussion is built over the shower scene and the large impacts it has had on film theory and the moviegoing experience. Like plunging a knife into a casaba melon, this love letter to Hitchcock and the shower scene might be too gushy for devotees. However, the fascinating shot-by-shot breakdown on the shower scene makes for an incredibly engrossing featurette that cinephiles can indulge in.

Author rating: 7/10

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