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DVD Review: 78/52 – “Addictive”

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Released on DVD in the UK on the 11th of December, 78/52 is a documentary about the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The title is a reference to the 78 set-ups and 52 cuts that make up the absolutely iconic sequence that ripped apart cinema’s definition of horror.

One entire week out of the four weeks scheduled to shoot Psycho – a quarter of the film’s production schedule – was dedicated to the infamous shower scene, but writer-director Alexandre O. Philippe (Doc of the Dead) goes even further: devoting his entire reverent ninety minute black and white documentary to just two minutes of Hitch’s masterpiece.

The film features interviews with a top-tier of film makers and fans, including: editor Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now), Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show), Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water), Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween), writer Osgood Perkins (Anthony Perkins’ son), composer Danny Elfman (Batman), Eli Roth (Hostel), Elijah Wood (The Faculty), writer Bret Easton Ellis (American Psycho), Marli Renfro (the body double for Janet Leigh in Psycho), Karyn Kusama (Jennifer’s Body), Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers).

78/52 picks apart each shot of the shower scene as it occurs, analysing framing editing sound and performance, as well as throwing in interesting trivia and opinion, and – where relevant – history on how what is happening reflects on what was happening in America, cinema, and Hitch’s life at the time of the film’s production.

Two minutes sounds like little to have an entire feature-length documentary revolve around, but 78/52 flies by. The talent is all sat in armchairs, or on a sofa, in a recreation of a Bates Motel room and explain their thoughts and reaction to each shot of the shower scene from the point-of-view of the editing, writing and direction; or how it has affected or influenced them and their own work.

Marli Renfro was Janet Leigh’s body double as Marion Crane, and hearing the memories and insight from somebody that was actually there elevates the film beyond a think piece to a fascinating and valuable document, complete with eye witness accounts of Psycho’s stars, director, and playing dead while being ragged and carried about wrapped in plastic.

Del Toro’s input is as loveable and unique as you would expect, while Danny Elfman’s contributions are also from a uniquely tied-to-the-property viewpoint – having scored the Gus van Sant colour shot-for-shot remake of Psycho. Not ignoring the existence of van Sant’s curious 1998 experiment is wise as his crew’s frustration at their version of the shower scene still not working – even though it had been constructed identically – is pure testament to the magic and power of Hitchcock and the lightning in a bottle he captured in 1960.

Some elements of inferred meaning and strangers explaining what the director was thinking and what this was a comment on can feel like a bit of a stretch – as per the documentary on The Shining: Room 237 – and the extremely abrupt ending is spell-breaking, but 78/52 is still an essential watch. Alexandre O. Philippe’s passion piece film is an addictive and obsessive, microscopic autopsy of one of the most powerful and influential scenes ever filmed.

The DVD itself is nicely presented, with 5.1 surround and 2.0 stereo audio options, as well as the following bonus material: Director Alexandre O. Philippe in conversation with Danny Leigh, extended versions of the interviews with Guillermo del Toro and Walter Murch, a Melon featurette about the choice and use of stabbing melons to replicate the sound of Marion being stabbed, a piece on the recording of the 78/52 score, a Psycho intro by Alexandre and Ben Mankiewicz and the film’s theatrical trailer.

78/52 is released on DVD on the 11th of December.

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