5 years in the past, Vertigo dethroned longtime champion Citizen Kane within the once-per-decade Sight And Sound ballot, turning into movie critics’ consensus alternative for the best film ever made. Survey those self same critics in regards to the single biggest scene in cinema historical past, nevertheless, and a distinct Hitchcock film would virtually certainly emerge triumphant. Psycho’s notorious bathe sequence, which kills off ostensible protagonist Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) earlier than the film is even half over, astonishes each as a virtuosic piece of filmmaking and as an unprecedented narrative rug-pull; it’s so iconic (and therefore so regularly parodied) that nearly everybody turns into conscious of its existence nicely earlier than they really see the bathe curtain yanked apart and listen to Bernard Herrmann’s shrieking staccato strings. Alexandre O. Philippe’s documentary 78/52 devotes 92 minutes to analyzing these 45 horrifying seconds—a ratio of two minutes per second! But someway it nonetheless appears overly breezy and insufficiently detailed, simply skimming the floor.
Perhaps the title is partially accountable. 78/52 refers back to the variety of digital camera setups (78) and the variety of cuts (52, not counting the unseen cuts made by the butcher’s knife) that represent the bathe scene. That’s wonky sufficient to recommend a really shut formal evaluation, specializing in components of craft—and this can be a scene that will completely profit from that kind of shut look. As an alternative, one might simply assume, after watching just some minutes of the film, that its title refers to 78 anecdotes relayed by 52 speaking heads. Philippe (The Folks Vs. George Lucas) shoots all kinds of administrators, actors, technicians, and teachers speaking in regards to the scene (and sometimes about Psycho extra typically), in black and white, on the Bates Motel set at Common Studios. Some are folks you’d anticipate (Jamie Lee Curtis, OuncesPerkins, Peter Bogdanovich); others are seemingly random (Illeana Douglas? Elijah Wooden? The man who directed From Nightfall Until Daybreak 2: Texas Blood Cash?). A couple of supply attention-grabbing observations, whereas most state the apparent or simply gush like fanboys. It’s a disappointingly standard method to a decidedly unorthodox topic.
Fortunately, the topic itself is all however inexhaustible. 78/52 is at its greatest in cinema research mode, inspecting particular compositional and modifying selections made by Hitchcock and his collaborators: destructive house drawing one’s eye to the place “Mom” will quickly seem; the exceptional transition from an optical impact (the spiral round Marion’s useless eye) to “reside” footage; a disorienting leap reduce that makes it appear as if Marion’s physique has been slammed into the wall. Broader subjects, just like the bathe scene inspiring a advertising and marketing marketing campaign that will completely alter American moviegoing habits—earlier than Psycho, folks repeatedly confirmed up midway by way of the function, and even on the finish, then caught round for the subsequent present to see what they’d missed—don’t get practically as a lot consideration as they advantage. Do you know that one in every of Raging Bull’s combat sequences mimics the bathe scene shot for shot? Philippe locations the 2 aspect by aspect, which is fascinating, however strikes on to the subsequent merchandise after just some seconds, earlier than Scorsese’s sly homage may even correctly register. 78/52’s irritating lack of rigor is epitomized by its remaining picture, which is Psycho-related however has nothing in anyway to do with the bathe scene. Hitchcock invested way more thought, care, and talent in simply 45 seconds of brutality than this complete feature-length tribute does to his genius.