DVD Review – 78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene

The title refers to the 78 camera setups and 52 cuts that were required to complete perhaps the most famous scene in all of cinema: the shower sequence in Alfred Hitchocck’s Psycho. This documentary is a look at how both that sequence and the film as a whole changed the shape of cinema, and our attitudes to what was able to be shown on screen. Psycho came out in 1960, and of course there had been other boundary-pushing films, but what Hitchcock was able to do with this one sequence just completely turned the tables on the audience in a way that hadn’t been seen before.

The film 78/52 is a mixture of talking heads of various filmmakers and of course footage of Psycho (and other Hitch films); there are even some slightly mis-advised recreations of a few sequences in the very beginning. Interestingly, it doesn’t address the rumours that Saul Bass actually directed the scene (he story-boarded it) or dive much deeper in the perceived misogyny throughout Hitchcock’s work, other than the director Karyn Kusama describing the shower scene as “the first expression of the female body under assault.”

However, it is an interesting dissection of perhaps the single sequence of post-silent cinema that it is mandatory to study if you want to understand how montage works. Many of the commentators featured in the documentary go on about how Hitchcock’s work unconsciously kicked off the violence that would be seen in the decade to come, and he certainly did in many ways. Most of the commentators are people who saw the film on television, on video or on revival programmes, so Peter Bogdanovich is a vital voice, because he was a critic at the time. Bogdanovich says he literally felt “raped” after he saw it for the first time.

The interviews include Guillermo Del Toro, Richard Stanley, Bret Easton Ellis, Mick Garris, Walter Murch and many more. The most notable omission is Gus Van Sant, who of course did a colour remake. Initially it was shot by shot, but in the process he realized you couldn’t do it shot for shot so some more Van Sant shots crept in. Reportedly Van Sant turned down the chance of being interviewed, which is a real shame. However, Danny Elfman, who did the score for the remake, is present and talks about his and Van Sant’s approach to the film and about adapting the iconic Bernard Herrmann’s score.

The disc includes a interview with the doc’s director, Alexandre O. Philippe, extended interviews with Del Toro and Murch, and some other deleted footage from the doc. There is also an intro that Alexandre did for TCM in the States—oh how I wish we had the US version of TCM in the UK. The DVD is out on the 11th of December.

★★★½

Ian Schultz

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