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78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene

| November 16, 2017

Movies about movies are fascinating in that the history inherent in each one’s material forces upon an ostensible cultural importance despite the quality of the film itself. Within narrative films, the self-reflexive discussion of the art form is something that I’m predisposed to like—just take a look as some of my favorite movies. Such a voice seems to function inversely in the context of documentary films, though, as was the case with the messy and incredibly amateurish Room 237 a few years back. 78/52 as a whole operates towards the center of this hit-or-miss spectrum. The passion is palpable and the knowledge is plentiful, but as a feature-length documentary, it repeats itself to diminishing results. It settles on the type of mise-en-scène analysis present in entry level film classes, an especially arbitrary endpoint when’re subject is also one of the most studied films of all time.

A 91-minute documentary all about the shower scene from Psycho, 78/52 covers topics ranging from the context of the scene within the film and the context of film within the time of its release. Talking heads from various actors, a few critics, a plethora of editors, and directors from Eli Roth to Karyn Kusama are featured prominently to discuss the minutiae of the scene, its look at the female body, its undercurrent of nihilism, and more. It’s everything that you would want with the enthusiasm that’s needed, but it isn’t entirely discussed at a cohesive pace or with consistent attention to its several topics.

In another weird self-reflexive way, it’s a bit funny to even write about 78/52 given that the movie can sometimes be that relative that monopolizes an entire conversation over Thanksgiving dinner. This movie knows that it has stuff to say, and that functions both as its biggest asset and its biggest flaw. Director Alexandre O. Philippe uses this thesis paper of a movie to create a sense of admiration for the work at hand and the different ways in which people can interpret it, from philosophical, cultural, technical, and feminist perspectives. All of these insights are displayed with the utmost respect, and thankfully all of these insights are deserving of such respect. The movie also succeeds technically, the archival footage plentiful and editor Chad Herschberger’s work smooth, helping to cement the bursts of humor when they do show themselves.

Where the film falters is as it progresses, and as it progresses is when it seems to run out of content to share with its audience. It’s odd because the movie is clearly targeted towards the cinephile crowd and has the intent to inform, and yet it so often falls back on obvious factoids and analyses in its latter half. When 78/52 seems to have emptied itself, Philippe instead goes on to show those being featured gawking at the brilliance of Hitchcock’s filmmaking, almost as if to try to vicariously rejuvenate audience interest when it starts to wane. Instead it comes off as extraneous, and the movie as whole ultimately feels about 20 minutes longer than it should have been despite its already-brief runtime.

Everyone knows that Psycho is masterful, and it’s perfectly fine to geek out over its qualities—that can even be quite fun. However, that doesn’t entirely work when the audience already shares that passion as well as a notable chunk of what is being passed off as new information. 78/52 is an entertaining watch; it’s a watch that can even be a bit moving in its love. But art’s legacy is just as crucial as the art itself, and when the legacy is often sidestepped in favor of material less fresh and a montage of homages at the end, what starts off as sharpened and giddy fades towards the vicinity of repetition.

About the Author:

Senior year film student at Columbia College Chicago, Hollywood Film Festival pre-screener, and Best Social Media Presence for North Farmington High School's 2014 senior mock elections. Firmly believes that ".gif" is pronounced "jiff".
Filed in: Video and DVD

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