Psycho (1960) was revolutionary, it’s hard to fathom just how one film managed to change to entire direction of cinema, striking fear into the hearts of studio executives and audience members alike in away that they had never encountered before. There was nudity, blood, violence, sex and other taboos which all seem like something contemporary audiences have become accustomed to.
It seems almost alien to us to consider that before 1960, men and women weren’t seen sharing a bed together let alone a couple having an affair, but this was how Psycho opened with a soaring zoom into the seedy hotel room. It’s a hell of a introduction to what would seem to be our main character, Marion (Janet Leigh).
However, it wasn’t Leigh in the shower in the film’s most infamous scene, it was her body double Marli Renfro. And, it is Renfro who we are introduced to first in Alexandre O Philippe’s documentary. Shot in crisp black and white, we see Renfro among others watching the shower scene in the motel room where Marion checked in for the last time, it seems eerily surreal and one can’t help but wonder what old Hitch would have thought about this?
78/52 refers to the 78 camera setups and 52 cuts, which make up the shower scene in Psycho. And the film goes into a long of background information about the inception of the film, detailing how the commercial and critical failure of Vertigo (1959) led to Hitchcock eager to try something new and daring.
78/52 is more than just a simple historical documentary, it is also a swan song to the short sequence which shaped the direction of cinema. Many well known self confessed cinephiles from the film and entertainment industry offer their thoughts and reactions to the shower scene. People ranging from the likes of David Thomson, Sam Raimi, Eli Roth, Peter Bogdanovich, Bret Easton Ellis and Guillermo del Toro who all share the same passion for cinema and opinion that Psycho was a groundbreaking film.
Itis refreshing to see so many revered and admired individuals coming together to praise something that inspired them. As a huge fan of the works of Roth, Bogdanovich, Ellis and Del Toro, I find it fascinating to hear about their influences and inspirations. And, anyone who is a fan of any of their work will find their input and interpretation of this scene very interesting.
Of course, what is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the documentary is the discussion of socio-economic context of the time when Psycho was released. The film discusses how society was gripped in a moral panic, between the increase of delinquent teenagers, postwar blues, the increase in depression and therapy and the decline of the Nuclear family. Psycho is a representation of all that fear and distrust which was occuring at the time.
The documentary also discusses the change of the role of women within the film industry, with women becoming reduced to being the final girl and the victim of cinema. Bogdanovich discusses about billing of the studio system: how women were routinely above the title before the second world war, but male stars began to take their place, and this is represented with the how the murder of Marion Crane.
As a film graduate there is already quite a lot I know about film history and especially Psycho, however I still found the documentary an enjoyable and an engaging watch. It would make a perfect companion piece to Hitchcock/Truffaut (2015) which was a documentary with audio and video footage from the French new wave director Francois Truffaut interviewing Alfred Hitchcock in 1962.
Certainly, 78/52 should be used as a good introduction for aspiring filmmakers into the complexities of art and the craftsmanship of filmmaking. My only criticism is at sometimes it feels like just a series of “Reaction” clips from YouTube but I was willing to overlook to this due to the obvious passion from those being interviewed for the film. At the end of the documentary, you will be left with the sudden urge to check in at the Bates Motel and rewatch Psycho.