Blu-ray Review: 78/52 – Hitchcock’s Shower Scene

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Shout Factory

Release Date: February 27, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 01:31:46

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio:

5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio

2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English, Spanish

Ratio: 1.78:1

Note: This release comes with a DVD disc that is housed in the same case.

Poster

“Of course, you can’t talk about the shower scene without talking about Psycho, and you can’t talk about Psycho without talking about Hitchcock, and you can’t talk about Hitchcock without talking about other films that influenced him, or films that he influenced, and so on. But everything in 78/52 was very carefully designed to be always, always, always about the shower scene.” -Alexandre O. Philippe (Michael Gingold, Rue-Morgue.com, October 18, 2017)

A lot of people may be asking themselves why anyone would devote a ninety-minute documentary to a single scene, but ninety minutes wasn’t nearly enough to do a proper job if Alexandre O. Philippe’s 78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene is any indication. The shower scene is one of the most audacious scenes in cinema history, and it affected the viewer like a surprise punch to the solar plexus without infuriating them. That takes some doing. Unfortunately, the scene (and in fact the entirety of Psycho) has been parodied, ripped-off, discussed, analyzed, and even re-made so many times at this point that it is probably impossible for the majority of people to experience the scene in that same manner any longer.

In any case, the shower scene deserves to be studied. It is a remarkable moment in a terrific film. 78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene attempts to dissect the reasons this influential scene was so effective. Philippe should certainly be applauded for his effort, but the end result doesn’t quite meet these intentions. The film’s first misstep is the ham-handed re-enactment of Marion Crane’s fateful drive to the Bates Motel. It wasn’t at all necessary and merely serves to distract and irritate those who love the film. However, the most discouraging aspect of this documentary is that it never rises above what people might find in a well-made Blu-ray supplement. It even carries a number of the same flaws—and the most notable of these flaws concerns some of the interview participants. For example, one would assume that a film seeking to dissect one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most infamous scenes would include a greater pool of legitimate authorities on either Hitchcock or cinema in general. The presence of Stephen Rebello, Bill Krohn, David Thomson, and Peter Bogdanovich was probably supposed to fulfill this requirement, but none of these people are prominently featured in the film (although Rebello fares better than the others). Worse, they don’t provide very much insight during the few moments that they are actually featured. Some might point out that Guillermo del Toro can be seen as an authority on Hitchcock (and his contribution is more than welcome).

Unfortunately, competent theorists are buried by participants that have absolutely no business being in the film at all. Such individuals pollute the entire duration of 78/52, and few of them actually add anything pertinent about the subject at hand. For example: Could someone please explain why Elijah Wood, Illeana Douglas, and Eli Roth are featured in the film? How could any of these people be considered an authority on Alfred Hitchcock? Elijah Wood doesn’t even seem to have seen North by Northwest! He looks completely lost when the film is mentioned and later seems surprised to learn about the film’s infamous final shot. Eli Roth throws Hitchcock’s name around quite a bit in his publicity interviews and commentary tracks, but nothing in his films suggest that he has learned anything from him (except perhaps on the most superficial level). The inclusion of such individuals only serve to remind the audience that the statements made throughout the piece can’t be taken seriously. Their very presence undermines the validity of what is good in the film (and it does have its virtues).

Alexandre O. Philippe - Director

Alexandre O. Philippe directed 78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene.

Marli Renfro’s participation is especially appreciated. Her voice is one that has largely been excluded from previous documentaries about Psycho. She recalls what it was like to double for Janet Leigh in the shower scene, and one imagines that some of her recollections will be new discoveries for many viewers. Leigh discusses the scene in some very interesting archival footage from Laurent Bouzereau’s The Making of ‘Psycho, and Tere Carrubba, Jamie Leigh Curtis, and Oz Perkins are also on hand (although their contributions are nominal).

A large number of contemporary filmmakers have been brought in with somewhat mixed results. Justin Benson, for example, doesn’t seem to bring much more than snarky comments about the film to the table, while some of Bob Murawski’s valuable comments are undermined by his tendency to keep criticizing the shape of Mrs. Bates’ head. Murawski is an editor that has worked on a number of films (including a good number of Sam Raimi titles) and one can understand his presence, but it is Walter Murch’s contribution that holds the most promise. Oddly enough,  Amy E. Duddleston’s discussion about trying to replicate the shower scene in Gus Van Sant’s Psycho remake (which this reviewer loathes) is rather interesting as she admits that they were never able to make it work.

Unfortunately, the film’s better elements are buried by too many inappropriate participants, and this results in a documentary that isn’t nearly as focused as the premise promises. Audiences are merely given an abundance of conjecture that is rarely supported by insightful analysis (and they only skim the surface when any effort is actually made). It is an extremely engaging documentary, but the reason for this has more to do with the film being discussed than with the thrill of receiving any truly revelatory insight into the scene that is supposed to be dissected.

One Sheet

The Presentation:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

The two discs are protected in a standard Blu-ray case with related artwork that is reasonably attractive.

The menu also utilizes this artwork and is accompanied by the sound of faint shower water. Overall, it is an above average presentation for a documentary film.

Picture Quality:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

As is usual with documentary films that contain numerous archival elements, the quality of the film’s image fluctuates a great deal depending on the source being used at any given moment. The transfer is certainly solid and newly shot footage always displays an impressive amount of fine detail. All other elements are well rendered as well and are beyond criticism. However, the archival elements are all over the place and some of the footage seems to be sampled from up-scaled standard definition sources (although, this isn’t necessarily the case). Obviously, documentary filmmakers must make do with the materials that they are allowed to use. In any case, the quality falls in line with what one has come to expect from such productions.

Sound Quality:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio options are both strong options with the 5.1 mix obviously offering a slightly more dynamic experience. Obviously, the dialogue driven nature of the film should limit the viewer’s sonic expectations, but music and sound effects do expand the sound design quite a bit. It all sounds very good. The dialogue is clean and intelligible, the music and effects have room to breathe, and everything is mixed for maximum impact.

Special Features:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

Extended Interview with Walter Murch – (55:28)

The inclusion of this lengthy interview adds a bit of legitimacy to the disc. Murch has made a name for himself as an editor and as a sound editor. It is in this capacity that he gives a sort of examination of the shower scene, but he takes it further and actually goes into theories about how the viewer processes images. Obviously, this infuences his own personal approach to editing—even though the collision montage in Psycho purposly goes against this in order to cause slight disorientation in the audience.

Extended Interview with Guillermo Del Toro – (22:13)

It is always interesting to hear Guillermo Del Toro discuss cinema. He is the perfect blend of scholar and fanboy (not to mention the fact that he is a talented filmmaker in his own right). His discourse may be largely theoretical but it is always interesting (despite the fact that one doesn’t always agree with his comments). As with the interview with Walter Murch, this footage was obviously shot to be utilized in the film itself and is therefore presented in black and white.

“Stabbing Melons” with Director Alexandre O. Philippe – (02:52)

It’s difficult to discern why this footage was included on the disc as it doesn’t add anything worthwhile to the proceedings. The viewer is shown a small crew as they set up tables of melons and shoot them (some of the footage being shot is in the film). They mic the melons and proceed to stab them. Finally, the casaba melon used by Alfred Hitchcock is brought out to recreate the sound of the knife cutting into Marion Crane’s flesh.

Theatrical Trailer – (01:23)

IFC took a bit of a risk using so much of the newly shot “Psycho” footage in their trailer for the film. One can imagine a select portion of the intended audience cringing and being turned off by the film completely. However, the moody atmosphere of the images certainly raises a certain amount of interest.

Final Words:

78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene is fun to watch, but it doesn’t really add anything revelatory to our understanding of the film (or of the scene in question). There is an excellent “making of” documentary included on the various Psycho Blu-ray releases that would probably make better use of the viewer’s time. However, anyone interested in the film will find it worth seeing if they happen to get the opportunity. Just don’t shell out any money for the privilege.

Review by: Devon Powell

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Blu-ray Review: Hitchcock

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Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Release Date: 12/March/2013

Region: A

Length: 01:38:20

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC, 32 Mbps)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Alternate Audio:

5.1 French Dolby Digital

5.1 Spanish Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Ratio: 2.40:1

Notes: Includes a DVD, UltraViolet, and iTunes Digital copy. This title is also available on DVD as a separate release.

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“It was really based on Stephen Rebello’s book, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, which is one of the most authoritative, if not the most authoritative, stories of the making of any film. Clearly there are elements of the film that are stylized, but there are also large parts—particularly Hitch’s fights with the motion-picture production code—which happened and have been documented in detail. It’s a true story with elements that have been dramatized for the film, but I think audiences are intelligent. They understand that. We’re not making a documentary. We made a film in the spirit of Hitchcock.” –Sacha Gervasi

The major criticism of Hitchcock seems to be that it is not true to the actual events surrounding the shooting of Psycho. It is evident from the film’s first scene that this particular film has other goals. It is meant to be a fun tribute to the director and not a serious look at the man and his working methods.

Stephen Rebello’s excellent book (Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho) offers Hitchcock fans an amazing amount of detailed information on the production of Psycho. In many ways, it makes sense for audiences to expect the same detailed content in a movie that claims to be based on this book. It should be said that it is obvious to intelligent individuals that certain human elements had to be added in order to make an enjoyable film from the book. The real issue should be whether or not the elements added were effective.

One of the major issues that critics seemed to have with the film involves the conflict between the director and his long-time wife and collaborator, Alma. Focusing on this relationship actually works on a number of levels. This was a logical point of departure for the script. It is interesting to see the subtle hints that she is feeling unappreciated.

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The subplot concerning Whitfield Cook is somewhat questionable from a dramatic standpoint, but its inclusion does seem to have been based on certain possible real-life events. While Alfred Hitchcock was overseas shooting Under Capricorn, Alma left early for America to work on a script with Whitfield Cook (it seems likely that this script was for Stage Fright).

“Mrs. Hitchcock and Whitfield Cook had begun to meet for lunch and dinner at restaurants which, if not quite obscure or out of the way, nonetheless fell outside the regular beat of Hollywood columnists. For the next three weeks, she and her co-writer enjoyed quiet get-togethers at the Ready Room and LaRue’s, discussing the script they were developing…

…After Alma came home from England, she appears to have seized the opportunity of her family’s absence to open her heart to cook. On the evidence of his journal, she said some thing to him on September 20 [1948] that took him by astonished surprise. If she told him of her feelings, he would have been astonished indeed, for according to his journal he spent as much time with men as with women.

Over the next week, meeting purportedly to discuss the script they were collaborating on, Mrs. Hitchcock continued talking. Although there may be other explanations, a fair reading of cook’s journal suggests that she was pressing her case for a different relationship. Cook sincerely liked Alma; he liked her enormously. But he must have been torn. He counted himself a friend to Hitchcock, and wouldn’t want to jeopardize that friendship, nor the work relationship they shared…

…It appears that, on October, 1, after a cozy dinner at a restaurant, they began making love, probably at Bellagio Road. According to Cook’s journal, their sexual foray was ‘complicated by an overseas call.’ A Hitchcockian scene: it must have been the husband himself, phoning at the most vulnerable, dangerous, inopportune time. Probably nothing was confessed; and it was perfectly normal for Cook to be keeping Alma company.

Whatever happened, though, must have reinforced Cook’s better instincts. Over the next week, the two saw each other constantly. They went to restaurants, and to dinner at Constance Collier’s. They drove to Santa Barbra for steaks at Talk of the Town. It appears from Cook’s journals that Alma wept during one of their meetings, perhaps bereft over her friend trying to distance himself. Whether she ever broached the idea of lovemaking again is unclear. But the two intensified their pace on the script, and Mrs. Hitchcock and Cook were inseparable for months to come.” –Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock – A Life in Darkness and Light)

Of course, this occurred a decade before Hitchcock began work on Psycho, and Whitfield Cook’s novel (Taxi to Dubrovnik) was not published until the 1980s.

Changing the timing of real-life events isn’t uncommon when one is adapting a book or real-life events into a screenplay. Sometimes it is necessary in order to simplify a narrative. However, one wonders if Alma’s feelings would have been just as easily (and more subtly) dramatized without this subplot. In any case, it is certainly admirable that the film gives Alma Reville her due.

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Another often criticized element of the film is the scenes between the director and Ed Gein. In the film, Hitchcock has frequent imaginary conversations with Gein that suggest that the director is becoming unbalanced. The truth is that there is not any evidence to suggest that the director was unbalanced during the shooting of Psycho. This element of the story is obviously a device made up by the filmmakers in order to intensify the drama. The problem here is that this device takes the viewer out of the movie, which goes against its purpose.

The final criticism of the film is rather unfair to the filmmakers in many ways. The complaint is that the film simply doesn’t recreate the many ‘behind the scenes’ moments that Rebello’s book describes so very well. The crew was denied the right to use certain iconic sets from the film and was not able recreate footage from Psycho. A more reasonable complaint might be that the filmmakers altered certain events (such as the shooting of the shower scene) in order to imply that the director had become unhinged. The nude model (that might have created a few memorable moments in the film) and other interesting moments from the shooting of the scene are nowhere to be found in the film. These are traded for an uneven (but creatively edited) scene in which Hitchcock becomes unhinged.

It is unfortunate that critics come to these kinds of films with predetermined expectations. A film should be judged on its own terms and not on what a particular viewer might prefer the film to be. Judged as a work of fiction, the film is incredibly entertaining and an engaging wink to Hitchcock fans.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

The Blu-ray and DVD discs are housed in a standard Blu-ray case with reasonably attractive artwork and case is housed in a slipcover with the same cover artwork.

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The animated menus employ footage from the film supported by Danny Elfman’s score.

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

The AVC MPEG-4 transfer is as beautiful as one might expect from a modern film. The ‘film’ was shot in 5k on Red Epic digital cameras and the picture is relatively immaculate. The film seems to be free of nasty compression artifacts, edge enhancement, and DNR. There is some occasional source noise that never becomes distracting and is hardly noticeable. Obviously print damage and dirt isn’t a possible issue on such source elements. Colors are nicely rendered and detail is incredibly crisp as well. The transfer seems to represent its source elements quite admirably.

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Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

The disc’s lossless 5.1 DTS-MA mix serves the film admirably and is a strong (if subtle) track with clear and well prioritized dialogue, with Danny Elfman’s score presented in a wonderfully dynamic presentation. Sound effects are effectively rendered as well. Rear channels also have nice presence and effectively enhance the listening experience. This is a solid track that should please audiences.

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Special Features:

3 of 5 MacGuffins

Audio Commentary with Sacha Gervais and Stephen Rebello

This commentary track will be an interesting and engaging experience for anyone who enjoyed the film. Some might hope for a more detailed discussion about the specific choices made in the adaptation of the film, but most will be satisfied with the general discussion that this track offers listeners.

Deleted Scene – (HD) – (1:42)

This deleted scene includes an introduction by the director explaining why it was written and why it wasn’t used. The scene itself wouldn’t have really added anything to the final film, but it is always interesting to scenes that were cut from a film.

Obsessed with Hitchcock – (HD) – (29:09)

This ‘making of’ documentary is the most comprehensive feature on the disc. It briefly covers most aspects of production and will delight fans of the film. 

Becoming the Master: Hopkins to Hitchcock – (HD) – (12:28)

This feature should have been a part of the ‘making of’ feature included on the disc, but stands alone as an interesting and informative featurette.

Sacha Gervasi’s Behind-the-Scenes Cell Phone Footage – (HD) – (13:31)

It is always nice to see behind the scenes footage, but ones enjoyment is slightly marred by the fact that the footage was shot vertically.

The Story – (HD) – (3:41)

The Cast – (HD) – (4:25)

Hitch and Alma – (HD) – (3:15)

These 3 featurettes come very close to EPK promo territory. Fans of the film will welcome them, but they do not offer much in the way of substantial information.

Danny Elfman Maestro – (HD) – (2:16)

This is essentially several clips of the recording sessions of Danny Elfman’s score.

Remembering Hitchcock – (HD) – (4:44)

Several former Hitchcock associates discuss the film and the man that they knew. Among the more interesting of those interviewed are Jerry Mathers, Veronica Cartwright, and Hilton Green. This was an interesting featurette, but didn’t offer much in the way of actual information.

Hitchcock Cell Phone PSA – (HD) – (0:41)

This is a theatrical spot that theaters played before a film in order to remind them to turn their cell phones off and not to text during the movie. It had the added benefit of promoting the upcoming release of Hitchcock. It is rather an amusing addition to the disc.

Theatrical Trailer – (HD)

The original trailer for the film is also included here.

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Final Words:

Hitchcock might not be a factual account of the creation of Psycho, but it does manage to be a charming entertainment for anyone willing to enjoy it on its own terms. After all, “it’s only a movie.”

Review by: Devon Powell