Review: ’78/52′

dfn-78-52-300Watching Alexandre Philippe’s 78/52 excavate, study and comment on the now infamous ‘shower scene’ in Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece Psycho is like being enveloped in the most fascinating film studies course imaginable.

Ever wonder about the history and various interpretations of the painting removed by Anthony Perkins to spy on Janet Leigh in her hotel room through a tiny peephole? Or the fabulous allegory of the loooong driving scene Leigh stars in before reaching the Bates Motel in which a rainstorm literally ‘showers’ over her? If so, it’s all here and more.

Taking its cue from like minded film-on-film studies such as Rodney Ascher’s compulsively articulated Room 237 (2012) — in which the filmmaker looks at Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) to unearth so many ideas about its imagery and numerology that one could call it ‘The Tao of Kubrick” — 78/52 both idolizes and adds to the worship-praise of Psycho with his effort as well.

Collecting a variety of talking heads including Peter Bodganovich, Danny Elfman, Jamie Lee Curtis and Martin Scorsese, 78/52 mainly stays focused on the shower scene itself and the numerous ways cinema is edited and persuasively brought to the audience. On a grander level though, the documentary exposes the true mastery of Hitchcock as a filmmaker in the way he recapitulated the words on page into tense, evocative images. And, yes, all this from one scene.

Perhaps the most striking example of this includes the actual text of the screenplay written by Joseph Stefano adapted from Robert Bloch’s source novel. Overlapped on the screen and spoken aloud, the shower scene as written certainly maintains its pulp/harlequin origins. It sounds nasty and terrible, full of head thuds and oozing blood.

Indeed, pieces and parts of these words are there, but ultimately the scene becomes a Rorschach test for cinema lovers. Upon its initial release, viewers swore they glimpsed full frontal nudity by Leigh and the knife wounds were overly grotesque as they entered the actresses’ body. It’s the illusion of violence this scene emanates that makes it a case study in editing classrooms today. One may not like Psycho, but as Philippe’s film suggests, it’s hard not to respect it.

Getting past the perfunctory gushing speech by filmmakers throughout 78/52 (of course we know Scorsese and Guillermo Del Toro love this movie!) remains the only obvious thing about the film. One tidbit of information given by Peter Bogdanovich goes beyond the norm however. He describes how he was there during New York City’s first Friday screening of the film. At 10:30 in the morning no less. When confronted with this scene, he recollects how the audience reacted, their constant hum of screams growing louder and louder by the second. If that’s not a watershed moment in movies, I don’t know what is.

78/52 opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, October 27 at the Alamo Drafthouse Cedars location.