New documentary spends 92 minutes on 3 minutes of film, Hitchcock’s famous shower scene from ‘Psycho’
Everyone knows that filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock had his obsessions. Since Hitchcock’s heyday in the 1950s and ’60s, new generations of filmmakers and film fans have become equally obsessed with the work of The Master of Suspense.
One of those Hitchcock aficionados is Swiss filmmaker Alexandre O. Philippe. Although he has been studying The Master since he was 5, Philippe’s most recent obsession has been what the Village Voice calls “a gloriously nerdy deep dive” into the three-minute shower scene in the 1960 film “Psycho.” In this scene – barely halfway into the movie – thieving secretary Marion Crane, portrayed by film star Janet Leigh, is slashed to death at the creepy Bates Motel in mid-shower by a shadowy “Mother” figure.
Philippe’s 2017 documentary “78/52” is a frame-by-frame celebration of what Philippe calls “the single most iconic and significant scene in the history of motion picture arts and sciences.” The 92-minute documentary “looks at a brief three minutes of cinema the way it’s never been looked at before,” says the Los Angeles Times.
On Monday, April 16, at 7 p.m. in East Tennessee State University’s Ball Hall Auditorium, room 127, Mary B. Martin School of the Arts at ETSU will present a screening of the documentary film “78/52” as part of the South Arts Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers. The screening is free and open to the public and will be followed by a Q&A and reception with the filmmaker.
Philippe started hosting move nights for family friends at his home in Switzerland by the time he was 10 or 12, generally screening Hitchcock films, providing an introduction to the film before and a question-and-answer session afterward. While he has produced films previously, like “Doc of the Dead” and “The People vs. George Lucas” with his master’s degree from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Philippe’s passion for Hitchcock has continued unabated.
“Part of the great appeal of watching [Hitchcock’s movies] is that we’re so far from having connected all the dots,” Philippe tells The Criterion Collection. “I keep having epiphanies. I keep making discoveries.”
In “78/52,” Philippe unearths more treasure in Bates Motel-tinged interviews with filmmakers and horror aficionados such as Guillermo del Toro and Peter Bogdanovich; other filmmakers, including Karyn Kusama and Danny Elfman; editors and sound designers, including Walter Murch; star Janet Leigh’s daughter Jamie Lee Curtis; costar Anthony Perkins’ son Osgood; and, Leigh’s body double, then-Playboy model Marli Renfro.
“Even moviegoers who know ‘Psycho’ backward and forward – who consider it a sacred text … – are bound to learn something new from the movie,” says The New York Times, “which addresses the shower scene from critical, historical, theoretical and technical angles, down to the blinding white of the bathroom tiles.”
The “Psycho” scene opened a Pandora’s box in the film industry, Philippe says, and much of it through the illusion – or “magic trick” as he calls it – created in the brief shower scene and its carefully crafted 78 camera set-ups and 52 deft cuts in the editing room. “He created a perfect illusion,” Phillipe says in the Criterion interview. “Famously, the censors who watched ‘Psycho’ for the first time said, ‘You can’t release it; we saw nudity. We saw the knife puncturing her skin.’ And [Hitchcock] said, ‘No, you didn’t see any of that. That’s all in your head.’ ”
“78/52” is a perfect film to close the 2017-18 Southern Circuit film series, says Anita DeAngelis, director of film series sponsor Mary B. Martin School of the Arts “If you are a fan of Hitchcock or a student of film, this is a documentary you won’t want to miss,” DeAngelis adds. “ ‘78/52’ is a great combination of serious study, research and interviews and a sense of fun, much along the lines of Hitchcock’s own quirky humor.”
The Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers is a program of South Arts. Southern Circuit screenings are funded in part by a grant from South Arts in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts. South Arts, founded in 1975, is a nonprofit regional arts organization building on the South’s unique heritage and enhancing the public value of the arts.