In 2012 two films about Hitchcock were released almost simultaneously, but both were problematic disappointments. Hitchcock, starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, focused on Hitch during the filming of Psycho, and TV movie The Girl explored the making of The Birds. 78/52 blows both out of the water.
Director Alexandre Philippe combines insightful close readings of Psycho, particularly the infamous shower scene, with an expertly contextualised account of how it has reverberated through cinema. 78/52 does make reference to much-cited trivia, but always in service of fresh, considered and thought-provoking arguments.
Split-screens are utilised to deftly point out visual rhythms, and the choice of black-and-white photography is a nice touch that smartly recreates Psycho’s use of the medium at a time when Technicolor was becoming king. The conceit of placing interview subjects in creepy motel rooms to rewatch Psycho gives Philippe’s film some of the unsettled, foreboding atmosphere of its subject, though clips of Elijah Wood and two other guys discussing the film feel desperately contrived.
The title refers to the number of camera setups and cuts in Psycho’s shower scene, and though it doesn’t focus much on the logistics of filming, 78/52 does fittingly zero in on the craft of editing. A large proportion of the filmmakers called on for expert opinion are editors rather than directors, the conventional default.
Yet there is a blind spot. In a film so attentive to voyeurism and which dissects a misogynistic act, it’s a bitter disservice that more women weren’t given a voice.
You’d think that watching a load of film buffs analysing Psycho would dissipate some of its chilling power, but that is not the case with 78/52. Philippe even adds some fresh chills of his own, but it’s Mother who gets the final word. Of course.
CAST: Alan Barnette, Justin Benson, Peter Bogdanovich, Marco Calavita
DIRECTOR: Alexandre O. Philippe
SYNOPSIS: An unprecedented look at the iconic shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), the “man behind the curtain”, and the screen murder that profoundly changed the course of world cinema.