78/52 Hitchcock’s Shower Scene @ The Ross

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I am sure you have a story to tell of the first time you saw Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. I am sure you have a story to tell of your response to the notorious shower scene in that film. My own experience is that it messed with my sense of safety in private spaces. Hitchcock warned me that no matter how secure is a door’s lock, privacy can be invaded and there would be nothing I could do about it.

Well, Alexandre O. Philippe’s documentary 78/52 Hitchcock’s Shower Scene takes us behind the scenes of Marion Crane’s murder by Mother as she takes a shower before turning in for the evening at the infamous Bates Motel. Philippe has an impressive line-up of talking heads to facilitate the telling of his story: Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Torro, Ilyanna Douglas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Lee’s daughter, and Osgood Perkins, the son of Tony Perkins. Archival footage of Janet Leigh, the star of Psycho, as well as Alfred Hitchcock generates insight on the man behind the curtain.

One striking element to 78/52 is Philippe’s contextualization of the film. Points of reference include the civil rights and women’s liberation movements, the in cold blood murder of the Clutter family in 1959, and how the outbreak of juvenile delinquency cast an exhaustive eye on mothers. Even more important, Philippe notes a tear in the seams of 1950s idealism, in particular the changing roles of women. Something was about to give; it had to, and Philippe delivers a remarkable and incisive analysis of Hitchcock’s move into the space of that breach.

Hitchcock announced to the world of filmmaking: It is time for a change and here it is 78 camera set-ups and 52 cuts later: Psycho, the murder of the movie’s female star early in the film by a cross-dresser. Enter the era of the modern film. Filmmaker Karyn Kusama notes that Marion Crane’s brutal murder is “the first modern expression of the female body under assault”, and Alfred Hitchcock left no stone unturned to render shock to the assault.

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Marli Renfro, Janet Leigh’s body double

As did Hitchcock dismember the body of Marion Crane, so do the interviewees cut apart the shower scene in the film. The shot-by-shot analysis by each of them feeds audience hunger to know more about its composition. Each analysis is remarkable, and this documentary will serve as an informative introduction to film analysis and film review. The attention to detail is astonishing. Did you know that Hitchcock ordered a horde of melons—yes, as in watermelon, honeydew, casaba, crenshaw, cantaloupe–to get the perfect sound of a knife stabbing flesh? The casaba won! Bernard Hermann, the motion picture conductor who composed the unforgettable shrieks, appears in raw footage. Yet, one of the delights in the documentary is the interview with Marli Renfro, Janet Lee’s body double. Now 79 years old, Renfro gently claims her historical significant in playing Lee’s body double. It is a joy to hear her behind-the-scenes story.

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