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DVD Review

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78/52: 78 Shots and 52 Cuts That Changed Cinema Forever


Distributor: Dogwoof
RRP: £15.99
Certificate: 15
Release Date: 11 December 2017

In 78 setups and 52 cuts, the deliriously choreographed two-minute shower sequence in Psycho ripped apart cinema’s definition of horror. With black-and-white film-geek reverence, director Alexandre O. Philippe breaks down this most notorious and essential scene shot for shot, enlisting the help of film buffs and filmmakers alike - including Guillermo del Toro, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Eli Roth and Peter Bogdanovich. 78/52 examines Janet Leigh’s terrified facial expressions and the blink-and-you-miss-it camera work, not just within the context of the film but also with an eye toward America’s changing social mores - revealing how one bloody, chaotic on-screen death killed off chaste cinema and eerily predicted a decade of unprecedented violence and upheaval...

If studying film at University taught me one thing, it's that you can over think and put more importance on movies - way more than was ever intended by the director at the time. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. As production schedules and shooting days are tight and there's an ever encroaching deadline to get the finished movie in front of the censor, very few films, if any, are ever totally the way the director envisaged. Movies are very much collaborative efforts between many artists and professionals of their trade, but to read too much into their construction - as though the director knew he was shaping the future of film making - is laughable.

Think of all the movies that were panned by critics, yet the masses have turned them into cult films that have then gone on to inspire other directors work and become part of popular culture. The critics at the time disagreed but with hindsight, movie historians write book after book about who the director's vision paved the way for what was to come.

Yes, for it's time Psycho's narrative was groundbreaking and the visual style (filmed like a TV episode) was unusual, but if even a tenth of what critics believe when they deconstruct the filming of the movie was the intention of the director I'd be very surprised.

In amongst all the nonsense spewed out, we learn that a lot of the movie was trial and error. We learn that Hitchcock was taken aback by the public reaction to the shower scene. That in itself would seem to indicate that everyone tends to read too much into how it was created. There's a number of continuity errors that weren't spotted - but these are explained as Hitchcock being funny or clever or having some other agenda - rather than sloppy editing due to time constraints. Schedules are so tight, and other people are involved. It wasn't Hitchcock who spotted that one take couldn't be used because Leigh could be seen breathing when she was supposed to be dead. The storyboards, which were rigorously followed, were illustrated by Saul Bass a graphic designer and Academy Award-winning filmmaker, and it's very doubtful that Hitchcock brought him in and told him what to draw. It's more likely that Bass came up with his own ideas or there was a strong collaboration between the two on the look of the scenes.

Also we discover that Hitchcock wasn't convinced that the shower scene would work as intended until Bernard Hermann's music was overlaid. Again, illustrating the collaborative effort and the hit and miss aspect of how movies are pieced together.

We also "learn" that Hitchcock was a genius, filming the shower scene over seven days (way too long for such a short scene) with a body double standing in for Leigh. Was it genius? Did Hitchcock know that this scene would be pivotal, especially as it was extremely short in the original novel? Or is it more likely, knowing what a bit of an old perv he was, that Hitchcock wanted to spend a week filming a naked woman for his own pleasure?

What was interesting to learn was that before Psycho the double bill was very much the way cinema audiences consumed films. You'd wander over to the cinema, go in halfway through the film, watch it to the end and then watch the second film and after that finished you'd continue to watch the first film up to the point you came in. Hitchcock didn't want this with Psycho, as the film doesn't work unless you see it from the start, and so cinema policy was to not let people into the cinema after the movie started. How many cinema owners adhered to that is unclear. It's not like it's enforceable.

You can read just about anything into any scene in a movie. But if this documentary is to be believed, Hitchcock was the world's smartest man. Tricking the film censors, knowing that the shower scene would shape the future of filmmaking and guessing that he would change the way the public consumed films by asking cinemas to not admit anyone after the film started... It's all very doubtful isn't it.

The censors part is also a bit of an odd one. I suspect Hitchcock did change some elements, but still tried to get away with some things, and then as the storyteller and joker he was known to be, he told everyone he resubmitted the movie without changing a thing.

Extras include Director Alexandre O. Philippe in conversation with Danny Leigh (43 min, 30 sec where Leigh's style of questioning, to open up the debate, acts more as a platform for him to show how "knowledgeable" he is on Hitchcock's work and his mind set); Extended Interview with Guillermo del Toro (22 min, 10 sec); Extended Interview with Walter Murch (23 min, 12 sec) Melon Featurette (2 min, 51 sec which looks at the 27 varieties of melon experimented on for the stabbing scene); Recording the 78/52 Score (18 min, 44 sec showing the musicians playing); Theatrical Trailer (1 min, 22 sec).

Yes, it's an important movie and yes, Hitchcock was a master at his art, but I think way too much is being read into things and events that the director hoped will come off. Some did, some didn't. 78/52 is an interesting documentary, but some of the waxing lyrical about how Hitchcock was a true visionary is a little hard to swallow.


Darren Rea

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