DocEdge 17 | 78/52

Psycho

78/52, directed by Alexandre O. Philippe, is without doubts one of the best documentaries I have ever seen. If you love horror, Alfred Hitchcock, or just film in general, this one is for you.

The documentary focuses on the massive impact that the iconic shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho had on the rest of cinema and pop culture. The casual observer will notice countless odes to it in other films – even The Simpsons tips its animated hat to the scene. It features interviews with Marli Renfro (Janet Leigh’s body double for Psycho), Hitchcock’s granddaughter, and many notable names such as Jamie Lee Curtis (Janet Leigh’s daughter and a scream queen legend herself), Elijah Wood, Danny Elfman, Guillermo del Toro, Eli Roth and more.

The passion and deep respect that these famous figures of cinema from all areas of the profession have for this particular scene is clear, absorbing and contagious.

78/52 is a documentary that, like its subject, has put a lot of thought into its aesthetic and the atmosphere it creates for the viewer. It begins with the scene of Janet Leigh’s character, Marion Crane, driving in the pouring rain to her fate at The Bates Motel. The slashing of windscreen wipers foreshadows what is to come. The documentary continues themes from Psycho, such as showing many of the interviews in black and white, against old-fashioned patterned wallpaper, or interspersed with foreboding music.

Every facet of the shower scene and its significance for the films that came after it is dissected in great detail – the symbolism, the unique way it was edited, the portrayal of violence towards a female body, sin and retribution, and of course the legendary musical score and cue by composer Bernard Herrmann.

Psycho was a film ahead of its time, not only because it did the unspeakable and killed off the main character early. The horror movie staple of the dramatic string ensemble music that immediately causes your heartbeat to quicken and tells you that something bad is about to happen was perfected in this shower scene.

In 1895, the Lumière brothers showed a film called Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat. Nothing like it had been seen before. The film showed exactly what its title promised, and legend has it that the audience was so terrified they ran over each other trying to escape the theatre, because they thought the train on the screen was actually coming at them. The first horror film was born. This is arguably what Psycho did for its own generation of film – its innovation was managing to put you into the place of the protagonist so that you feel the absolute horror of being stabbed in the sanctity of the bathroom. Hitchcock let you know that no space was safe anymore.

Watching 78/52 is a beautiful way to learn more about a piece of cinematic history.

 

The 12th DocEdge Festival takes place in Wellington 10-21 May and Auckland 24 May – 5 June – www.docedge.nz