Monday, 22 May 2017

78/52



One of the most famous scenes in film history lasted 52 seconds and had 78 cuts; thus the title of this very enjoyable documentary from Alexander Philippe. The scene in question is the shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. 78/52 focuses on that scene and its influence on the future of film while also looking more broadly at Psycho as a whole (as well as at some of Hitchcock’s other films).

Coincidentally, just a week before watching 78/52, I had read (in one sitting) David Thomson’s magnificent book, The Moment of Psycho: How Alfred Hitchcock Taught America to Love Murder, which focuses on precisely the same themes. Thomson is one of the many interviewees in 78/52, but he gets only two short quotes, which is one of the film’s many flaws. 

The 78/52 interviewees include film directors, Hitchcock family members and people involved in the making of Psycho. These are all logical choices. However, the interviewees also include young actors, like Elijah Wood, who comment on the shower scene as they sit on a couch and watch it. While some of the comments are entertaining, many are less than insightful and the interviews allow for too much repetition, making the film about twenty minutes longer than its content justifies.

Another problem with the interviewees is that they are almost all men. Given the subject matter, which focuses in part on how the role of women in film (especially violent films) was impacted by the shower scene, this is a glaring error in judgment (IMHO). For example, if Philippe is going to show a group of young male actors commenting on the shower scene, he should at least have had another group of young female actors doing the same.

Related to this is my biggest complaint: the lack of follow-up to the film’s observations regarding the way Psycho influenced the countless slasher films of the 70’s and 80’s, films that objectified women and linked voyeurism and female nudity with gruesome violence. Thomson’s book analyses this brilliantly, while 78/52 simply observes the phenomenon (maybe because a number of the directors being interviewed had made these slasher films). If the film is suggesting in any way (and I believe it is) that these slasher films were a positive addition to film history, that alone would prevent me from giving the film the four stars much of it deserves.

Nevertheless, remember that 78/52’s flaws did not stop me from thoroughly enjoying this documentary. Among its many highlights were the careful examination of the painting that Hitchcock used to cover Norman’s spy hole and the brief comments by director Peter Bogdanovich, who said that when he left the theatre after watching Psycho on opening day, he felt as if he had just been raped. This is an incredibly profound comment that needs some serious attention and/or elaboration, but again the film just leaves it hanging there. 

Ah well, 78/52 was so beautifully-filmed and so much fun for me (as a film buff) to watch that I must give it a solid ***+. My mug is up. 

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