How many movie sequences have taken on the mythic power of the shower scene in Psycho? Few, if any, I would say. It is for that reason that Alexandre O. Philippe has been able to build an entire feature film around this legendary moment in movie (and pop culture) history. I found it mesmerizing.
The title refers to 78 camera set-ups and 52 cuts, but 78/52 deals with more than just that landmark scene: it explains why Psycho was a game-changer for Hollywood and for audiences. Some of this has become movie lore but none of it seems redundant in the context of this valuable documentary.
Peter Bogdanovich provides a first-hand account of seeing Psycho when it was new. (Ever the showman, Hitchcock refused to allow moviegoers to enter the theater after the film had begun. This gambit was unprecedented—and a huge success.) Janet Leigh’s daughter Jamie Lee Curtis and Anthony Perkins’ son Osgood Perkins weigh in with their memories and we hear from the one survivor who was involved in the shooting of the scene, Leigh’s nude body double Marli Renfro. (Phillipe doesn’t deal with the controversy over Saul Bass’ claim that he actually shot the scene after meticulously storyboarding it. Janet Leigh refuted this assertion, but she wasn’t present when insert shots were made or when Renfro stepped in, so the question remains unanswered.)
Other admirers who appear on camera with cogent observations include:
Guillermo del Toro, Bret Easton Ellis, Eli Roth, Karyn Kusama, Walter Murch, Danny Elfman, and Elijah Wood. Each one adds something of value to our appreciation of Pyscho and its unique place in movie history. If you’re any kind of film buff, 78/52 is a must-see.