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78/52 is for Hitchcock Obsessives and the Cinematically Curious (Sundance Review)

If spending an hour and a half dissecting the shower scene from Psycho sounds like your thing, there’s no need to read the rest of this review. Just keep an eye out for Alexandre O. Philippe’s 78/52 and buy some popcorn.

If it doesn’t automatically send shivers down your spine, trust that Philippe will make you care deeply about the 78 scene set-ups and 52 editing cuts that comprise 3 minutes of art-changing madness.

That’s mostly because the movie strikes an impressive balance between nerding out about Psycho and keeping the jargon at a minimum. It’s also because Psycho isn’t some obscure nugget of cinephile compulsion; it’s one of the most popular movies of all time, and the shower scene is an indelible part of our collective cultural language.

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The iconic moment–which filmmaker Richard Stanley calls Hitch’s “revenge on Hollywood”–is broken down by an impressive and entertaining array of talking heads that range from academics like Sonoma State’s infectiously enthusiastic Marco Calavita; to technical experts like editors Amy Duddleston and Bob Murawski, and sound genius Walter Murch; to famous movie-crazed faces like Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Elijah Wood, Karyn Kusama, and Eli Roth.

The mix of minds creates an engaging, ongoing conversation where music informs visuals, visuals inform psyche, psyche informs staging, and it all folds back in on itself. The conversation itself is a celebration of the brilliant, hard-won, invisible details that add up to an outstanding film scene that should offer novice cinephiles and casual film fans an awareness about why some movies suck, some movies are great, and some movies become immortal.

The most important insights come from Marli Renfro, Janet Leigh’s nude body double, who delivers a flurry of first-hand experience and information, re-framing the undertaking as both a miraculous human endeavor and an artistic stab at greatness that would make or break the whole movie. If you’re scratching your head over why Hitch spent a week shooting Renfro for her 45 seconds of screen time, she makes it clear how high the stakes were for a sequence that bucked the censors and challenged average filmgoers.

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Almost everyone knows that Alfred Hitchcock used his well-earned respect and Leigh’s massive stardom to get the film made and to get unsuspecting, Cary Grant-cooing audiences into the theater, but 78/52 delivers on what drew Hitchcock to this project in particular and gives us a thorough, fascinating look into the process of bringing it to black and white life. It somehow explains the magic trick in granular detail without ruining the magic trick. Quite the opposite, it only enhances the appreciation.

This is a movie for everyone masquerading as niche entertainment, made by a group of people interested not only in what kind of melon was used during the shower scene to approximate the stabbing sound, but how many types of melons were tested. If you’re slightly interested in how movies get made, it’s a treat, but even massive Hitchcock geeks (like me) should learn at least a thing or two with a huge, creepy smile on their faces.

4 out of 5 chocolate-syrup-covered burritos

4-burritos

Images: Exhibit A Pictures

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