78/52

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

78/52 - an unprecedented look at the iconic shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, the "man behind the curtain," and the screen murder that profoundly changed the course of world cinema.
"Essential viewing for anyone with an interest in the craft of filmmaking."

In 1960, a single scene changed the rules of filmmaking forever. It terrified audiences by breaking down the accepted bounds of terror, and it did so with a style that still infliuences filmmakers today. 78/52 explores the secrets behind the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho.

If an hour and a half long documentary focused on a three minute scene seems excessive, prepare to be surprised. Every minute of this film is packed with insight, information and surprises. Old myths aboout Hitchcock's approach to filmmaking are overturned, whilst a dazzling cast of contributors shares thoughts on the technical work involved. The simple placing of the scene in social context will intrigue many viewers today. It helps to be reminded that seeing a naked woman in the shower - albeit silhouetted through a blurry curtain - was shocking enough at the time that nobody expected it was simply setting the stage for something more extreme.

Similarly shocking was the notion that bad things could happen to someone in a domestic space. In the past, cinema had generally treated the home as sacred, a place that people in danger could flee too. Bad things happened out in the woods, in the old, abandoned quarry or along lonely desert roads - not in the bathroom. In a way, Psycho was the US equivalent of England's real life Road Hill House murder, shattering the myth of a civilisation able to keep the savage at bay.

As these themes and transgressions are dissected, the scene is taken apart shot by shot, exploring every tiny shift of position, ever change of focus. The quantity of innovation involved is brought to light, as are the happy accidents that helped to make it so powerful. Why does it still have a powerful psychological impact today when Gus Van Sant's remake, supposedly an exact reconstruction, does not? In exposing the processes behind the magic, 78/52 does not make watching the magician's work any less wonderful.

Premièred at this year's Fantasia, this documentary is essential viewing for anyone with an interest in the craft of filmmaking, and Hitchcock fans will love it.

Reviewed on: 21 Jul 2017
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A documentary about the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho.


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