Alfred Hitchcock changed cinema in a shocking burst of murder in his 1960 film Psycho. Since audiences first saw the iconic shower scene where Janet Leigh is brutally stabbed to death by ‘Mother’, it has reverberated in cinema, influenced the medium and became a violent moment cemented in pop culture.
Documentary filmmaker Alexandre O. Philippe (The People vs. George Lucas) examines the 45-second ‘shower scene’ with the help of a host of participants, including filmmakers, editors, writers and historians who discuss the artistry, examine the deeper symbolism within it and the film as a whole and the revolutionary impact the Master of Suspense left when he directed Leigh to step under that shower spout.
78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene (the title coming from the 78 camera setups and 52 film edits that make up the scene) is as comprehensive an exploration of the famed scene from Psycho that fans could hope to see. You might think that there has been enough that has been written and discussed about the scene there wouldn’t be any new ground to cover or to learn from it. However, Philippe and the participants go deep with admiration and enthusiasm unearthing even more that you can take away from Hitchcock’s legendary loo scene.
It’s not just Leigh’s Marion Crane’s famous murder that is discussed, but also Psycho itself in more broad strokes. It has always fascinated me the deeper details that Hitchcock used in the film. You might not be aware of the significance of that painting Hitchcock choose to use or pick up the numerous motifs of ‘mothers’ that pop throughout the film, but they are there and when you learn of them your admiration for Hitchcock’s film gets raised even higher.
The interviews range from Mick Garris, Peter Bogdanovich, Danny Elfman, Guillermo del Toro and my favorite famed film editor extraordinare Walter Murch, who breaks down the shower sequence, commenting and reasoning the intention of it’s construction shot by shot in quite a compelling way.
Hitchcock, Leigh, Anthony Perkins and screenwriter Joseph Stefano show up in archival interviews. Leigh’s body double Marli Renfro offers her memories of filming the scene. There certainly is no shortage of insight provided into that shower scene and I certainly learned several new things. I also thought it was amusing how editor Amy E. Duddleston who worked on Gus Van Sant’s 1998 Psycho remake admits the failure of trying to recapture the power of Hitch’s shower scene.
It is amazing that sixty years on we’re all still talking about the shower scene and still learning things from Hitchcock. This documentary might not be for casual moviegoers, but for fans of Hitchcock, Psycho and film geeks – they’ll be in heaven.
Here’s a short clip from the doc