Film Review: One Legendary Scene Takes on New Meaning in 78/52

Image courtesy of Music Box Theatre

For both uber-film nerds and casual fans of director Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 ground-breaking Psycho, the documentary 78/52 is a compact film studies program that examines the power of camerawork, editing, and music, all of which were combined to make the three-minute shower sequence that redefined how violence, nudity (or the perception of it), and terror were portrayed in popular movies. Taking its titles from the number of camera set-ups (78) and the number of edit (52) in the scene, this work from writer-director Alexandre O. Philippe (The People vs. George Lucas, Doc of the Dead) interviewed film historians, other filmmakers, Hitchcock enthusiasts, and even a few people who worked on Psycho, who talk about the actual shooting of the movie and its impact on horror and suspense films that followed.

One of the most interesting moments in 78/52 is the interview with Marli Renfro, who was actress Janet Leigh’s body double for much of the shower scene. She actually breaks down which individual shots were of her. Particularly revealing insight comes from the likes of Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Eli Roth, Karyn Kusama, and composer Danny Elfman, who gives some of the most interesting analysis of the chopping strings that accompany each swing of the killer’s knife.

And while it may seem like overkill to spend 90 minutes analyzing a single sequence, the end result is sheer bliss. Truthfully, after seeing this movie, my mind began racing to other landmark film sequences director Philippe and his team could tackle. Few cinematic moments had the impact of Psycho’s shower scene, but I could have listened to film lovers and movie makers wax poetic about those three minutes for much longer. 78/52 is a movie not only for movie enthusiasts but it may also create new screen junkies, which is the ultimate achievement.

The film opens today at the Music Box Theatre.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.