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Review: 78/52 takes a fascinating deep dive into the Psycho shower scene

The documentary 78/52 examines the iconic shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

3 out of 4 stars

Title
78/52
Directed by
Alexandre O. Philippe
Starring
Jamie Lee Curtis, Elijah Wood and Peter Bogdanovich
Genre
Documentary
Country
USA
Language
English
Year
2017

There is no shortage of films about films. The oft-fraught process of making a movie is inherently dramatic and bursting with tension, providing even the greenest of documentarians with enough rich material to fuel a full-length feature of their own.

Films about single film scenes, however, represent unexplored territory. Which is why 78/52 is such an enticing prospect – a deep dive into one of the most influential moments in cinema history: the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho.

Requiring 78 camera setups and 52 cuts, the just-under-three-minute scene is given a fascinating postmortem here via interviews with historians, collaborators and Hitchcock acolytes. Over the course of 90 minutes – just 19 minutes less than the entirety of Hitchcock's 1960 film – director Alexandre O. Philippe unpacks an entire semester's worth of cinema studies, eventually coming to a unified theory of how one on-screen murder became the perfect "image of the uncaring universe."

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The film only stumbles, ironically, in fortifying the very male gaze Hitchcock himself was attempting to deconstruct. Like the 2015 doc Hitchcock/Truffaut, the number of male talking heads here drowns out any female perspective – even though director Karyn Kusama offers the most enlightened view of all: "This was the first modern expression of the female body under assault," she says, "and in some ways its most pure expression, because it is devastating."

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