- Nikki Baughan
- 30 October 2017
This engaging documentary takes a deep dive into a Psycho's seminal shower scene
From its pleasingly cryptic title down, this absorbing documentary should delight film aficionados with its deep dive into one of the most seminal moments in cinema history. Director Alexandre O Philippe lifts the (shower) curtain on *that* sequence in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, drilling down into the seven-day shoot (which included 78 camera set-ups and 52 cuts) of the scene in which Janet Leigh is brutally murdered while in the tub at the Bates Motel.
Although Hitchcock, seen and heard discussing the film in archive TV and radio footage, dismissed Psycho as something of a laughable romp – a way of getting back to basics after Technicolor Hollywood epics like North by Northwest – there's a wealth of theories surrounding its meaning and place in the director's canon. And Philippe has roped in an impressive roster of genre filmmakers and fans – including the likes of actors Elijah Wood and Leigh's daughter Jamie Lee Curtis, filmmakers Eli Roth and Guillermo del Toro, and editor Walter Murch – to debate the various aspects of this singular scene.
These talking heads discuss how it proved pivotal in changing the nature of modern horror; for the first time, cinemagoers were told they were not safe in their bathrooms, let alone their homes. It also spoke to the changing role of women in film who, by the late 1950s, were little more than supporting characters and would continue to be ill-treated; Psycho is, observes genre filmmaker Karyn Kusama, 'the first modern expression of the female body under assault.'
Alongside such sociopolitical musings, there's plenty of anecdotal information about the schematics of the sequence: from the (well-known) fact that the blood was chocolate syrup, to Hitchcock's cover-up of Leigh's deep breath at the end of the scene. Archive material, including Saul Bass's incredibly detailed storyboards, are a delight, even if Jon Hegel's strings prove somewhat overbearing.
Nimbly striking a balance between fun flashback and serious discussion, 78/52 is an engaging and insightful companion piece to a truly influential piece of cinema.
Limited release from Fri 3 Nov.