There is still abundant life in cinema's most celebrated death scene.




When it comes to films about films different levels of approach are very much in evidence. At the top end of the scale stands a work such as the recent Journey Through French Cinema in which in-depth insights are provided by a filmmaker of note. To represent the opposite extreme I would instance Room 237 (2012) a movie about The Shining largely devoted to the most far-fetched theories about what Kubrick intended his film to mean. Alexandre O. Philippe’s 78/52, a work about Hitchcock’s Psycho with special reference to the famous shower scene (the title refers to the 78 camera set-ups involved and to the 52 edits in that one sequence) is somewhere in the middle.


The fact that Philippe begins with inept reconstructions that remind us of Marion Crane’s drive to the Bates Motel is hardly encouraging and, with a whole batch of contributors featured (some decidedly underused), one is aware that certain of the ideas expressed are overstated and unpersuasive (in particular putting Hitchcock’s film in a social context that goes back to the Second World War and suggesting that Hitchcock’s own psychology is relevant to what he wanted to express in Psycho result in some highly questionable views).


Consequently, it could be argued that my rating for 78/52 is over-generous, but even viewpoints that one disagrees with can be stimulating and I undoubtedly enjoyed Philippe’s film with its comments from academics, film directors, actors and others. Even after all these years (Psycho dates from 1960), the shower scene remains a remarkably effective pièce de resistance that lends itself to detailed analysis and Philippe’s interviewees include Marli Renfro who was Janet Leigh’s body double, while Jamie Lee Curtis and Osgood Perkins are present on behalf of their parents.


Although events that follow the murder of Marion Crane in the film are largely ignored, 78/52 does look beyond that sequence to relate elements in Psycho to earlier Hitchcock films and, towards the end, it traces the influence of Psycho on so many other films (the editor of Gus Van Sant’s literal remake of 1998, Amy E. Duddleston, acknowledges that it didn’t work, while the shooting style of the rape scene in 2002’s Irreversible is quoted as representing the reverse of what Hitchcock did). A pre-echo of one detail in the shower scene is even found in the 1923 version of The Ten Commandments while, in addition to revealing  Saul Bass’s contribution to the working out of this key scene, 78/52 pays tribute to Hitchcock’s soundtrack, be it the use of melon and steak in finding the right sounds for the stabbing knife or underlining the contribution of Bernard Herrmann’s extraordinary score (we are also reminded of his originality through  a brief segment of his music for Robert Wise’s 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still). Although Psycho’s contemporary misjudged masterpiece Peeping Tom is not ignored, a more detailed comparison was called for, so there’s plenty to argue with here. But that doesn’t reduce the pleasure that many a film buff will get from this film.             




Featuring  Marli Renfro, Richard Stanley, Elijah Wood, Karyn Kasuma, Peter Bogdanovich, Eli Roth, Jamie Lee Curtis, Illeana Douglas, Walter Murch, Neil Marshall, Danny Elfman, Guillermo del Toro, Osgood Perkins, Amy E. Duddleston. 


Dir Alexandre O. Philippe, Pro Kerry Deignan Roy, Screenplay Alexandre O. Philippe, Ph Robert Muratore, Ed Chad Herschberger, Music Jon Hegel.


Exhibit A Pictures/ARTE/G.E.I.E./Sensorshot Productions-Dogwoof.
92 mins. USA/France/UK. 2017. Rel: 3 November 2017. Cert. 15.