Documentaries are always tough for me to review. The majority of them (and this is no exception) are made up of talking heads. There’s nothing very exciting happening visually. Everything boils down to the content of what those talking heads are saying. There are some notable exceptions, of course. If asked what my favorite documentary is, I can quickly answer Man On Wire. Man On Wire manages to make itself feel like a heist film instead of an academic study of it subject.
78/52 is an interesting film in that it doesn’t really breakdown the cultural significance of the film Psycho, it breaks down the cultural significance of a single scene in the film Psycho. It’s able to do this, of course, because the shower scene is one of the single most significant scenes in the history of film. If you don’t believe me, just watch the movie for yourself. There is no shortage of people who are willing to tell you how significant this scene is.
Here is just a partial list of the people who make an appearance to heap praise on the scene in question: Peter Bogdanovich, Jamie Lee Curtis, Guillermo del Toro, Danny Elfman, Bret Easton Ellis, Mick Garris, Eli Roth and Elijah Wood. What they add to the discussion varies. The point they are all trying to make remains the same, however. With this one scene Hitchcock changed cinema forever. He broke the rules for who can be killed off in a film and when they can be killed off, he changed the movie going habits of our entire society by refusing to allow anyone admission after the film had started and he created the slasher sub-genre (I know, this could be debated by more or less).
How much enjoyment you get out of 78/52 will depend on how much enjoyment you get out of watching a single scene mulled over and examined down to the tiniest detail. Personally, I found it fascinating. There was at least one other person in the room watching with me who found it much less so. I can’t fault anyone who doesn’t enjoy their time spent with this movie. 91 minutes is a long time to sit and watch people breakdown one scene and essentially make the same point over and over again, even if they are making it in different ways. And what is the point they are making? That Hitchcock was a genius who changed film forever? Did anyone really doubt that before watching this documentary?
That’s the biggest problem that 78/52 has to overcome with the audience. The brilliance of Hitchcock as a director, Psycho as a film and the shower scene as a landmark in movie history is pretty well established. Do we really need an hour and a half long documentary on the subject? No, we don’t. If you’re a cinema nerd who loves these films are you going to enjoy it? Yes, you are.