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Jeffrey Walker: Orchestrating Ali’s Wedding

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78/52 (Revelation Film Festival)

Festival, Review, This Week 2 Comments

American author E. B. White once said, “Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better, but the frog dies in the end.” The same can be said of why anything in storytelling works. Many documentaries about director Alfred Hitchcock have attempted to explain the man and his films, but often talk of their influence rather than why they work. In Alexandre O. Philippe’s documentary 78/52, a microscope is put over one scene from Hitchcock’s films: the shower scene from Psycho. Rather than a dead frog, audiences are left with a dead woman and the best analysis of Hitchcock’s talent.

The shower scene from Psycho is a cultural landmark. It’s been referenced in films, comics, and shows like The Simpsons. Even people who haven’t seen Psycho will know the shrill music accompanying the scene and what it means. 78/52 shows it wasn’t just a fluke it would become popular, with the documentary explaining how much thought Hitchcock put into it (the title of the documentary references the scene’s 78 camera angles and 52 cuts; a lot for a three-minute scene).

The documentary features over 40 interviewees, ranging from film directors, editors, writers, actors, and even Hitchcock’s granddaughter, with each bringing remarkable anecdotes and observations. Janet Leigh’s body double Marli Renfro provides details such as how the only time in the scene we see a knife touch her body was filmed. A sound effect anecdote is enlightening, showing the amount of detail involved in getting the sound right led to Hitchcock listening to his crew stab up to fifty different types of melon.

Along with behind the scenes, interviewees discuss the cultural influences of the time and the impact it made. Director Richard Stanley mentions the film’s significant breaking of taboo by being the first film to ever show a toilet, while director Eli Roth talks of the scene taking place in a shower scaring audiences for invading what was considered a safe space. Academic David Thomson makes a particularly astute observation about the painting used to cover Norman’s peephole being more than just a nice painting; the painting’s subject foreshadows the scene about to take place.

The analysis goes in-depth, with the shower head being compared to God’s eye, the movement of Leigh’s hands, why some shots are blurry, the use of space, and much more. Every interviewee offers a piece of information that blows you away – even exploring how a fight scene from famous cinephile Martin Scorsese’s classic Raging Bull actually imitates the shower scene. The way Philippe films each interview is also impressive: black and white, in a room that’s straight out of the Bates Motel. It’s a wonderfully made choice, making the film flow smoothly without disorientating the viewer by constantly switching between b&w and colour.

There is a lot to take in from 78/52. Analysing a three-minute scene – one which wasn’t even significant in the original novel – could be considered overkill. But, this documentary shows just how brilliant a filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock was. 78/52 is an entertaining film about a scene that not only completely changed the story in a film, but also completely changed cinema.