Wednesday, 29 November 2017

78/52 review

Comprised of 78 shots and 52 cuts, the shower scene in Psycho is one of the most famous moments in cinema history, shocking audiences by killing off its lead character less than half way into the film. Quite easily one of the most studied and discussed moments in cinema history, this new documentary aims to pull back the shower curtain to reveal unknown facts about the film and the process of making that iconic scene.


78/52 is a deep dive down the plughole, with talking head contributions from Bret Easton Ellis, Leigh Whannell, Karyn Kusama, Janet Leigh's body double, Eli Roth, Scott Spiegel, Walter Murch, Guillermo del Toro and Jamie Lee Curtis to name but a few, all who have opinions about Marion Crane's last moments. It's worth questioning how much dissection is necessary or even asked for. Although the approach is more populist that academic, anyone who has ever studied cinema will have studied the films of Alfred Hitchcock, and in particular his most memorable scene. This is film theory presented as fact, and is therefore unlikely to appeal to an audience unfamiliar with Psycho.

It may be talking into a bathroom-shaped echo chamber populated by film obsessives, but there's an appealing degree of theorist confirmation to documentaries of this ilk. Adopting a similar format to the Stanley Kubrick/The Shining dissection Room 238 but with far less crazy (or are they?) conspiracy theories, 78/52 is able to offer new readings that may prove educational to some; for example the foreshadowing in the films early scenes where Marion drives with rain lashing down on her windshield with wiper blades slashing across. 

It's not just the shot structure and editing that gets put under the microscope. Bernard Hermann's iconic string score come under close scrutiny, as does the foley artistry of the scene. How do you recreate the sound of stabbing? The answer, melons. There is some efforts to put Psycho within the context of Hitchcock's other films of the era, but mostly to point out how much it stands alone in his filmography. Shot in black and white on a small budget with the crew from his television show, on paper it should not have been the success it was.

Gus van Sant's shot for shot remake of Psycho is also given a fair amount of attention, for whilst being ultimately a failure that couldn't recreate Psycho's specific charm and shock levels, was at the very least an interesting document on how it's very hard to duplicate film history. The film delves into how the influence of the shower scene and its meticulous construction has been felt across cinema from Jurassic Park to Raging Bull and beyond. Educational without too much pandering, what also works for this film is that, despite it not being able to emulate the same level of tension as the Master of Suspense, it is able to create some sort of sustained dread. This is particularly noticeable in the final sequences of the film, as the scene and the documentary reach their crescendos.

One for fans and film obsessives who like to pore over every detail of the films they love, 78/52 is a great documentary that's well worth checking in and checking out.

Verdict
4/5

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