Psycho was a watershed moment in cinema, and not just because it was the first film to show a flushing toilet.  Alexandre O. Philippe’s documentary 78/52 explores this cultural touchstone through interviews with a myriad of film people, from directors and editors to actors, composers, and critics.  The film begins by exploring the philosophies, style, and films of Alfred Hitchcock as a whole, follows by discussing Psycho specifically, and then completely geeks out over the infamous Shower Sequence.

The documentary is built from interviews with preeminent filmmakers and critics, shot with incredible coverage (there were at least three cameras capturing some of the interviews).  Some of the interviewees are even filmed watching Psycho, offering their off-the-cuff observations as the film rolls.  The resulting effect generates the illusion that the spectator is participating in a cinephile’s dream: a lengthy discussion about Psycho with the likes of Elijah Wood, Peter Bogdonavich, Guillermo del Toro, and many, many others.  It’s like a big, impromptu bar discussion broke out, and everyone has something to say about Hitchcock and Psycho.

The opinions and analyses range from the technical to the critical and intellectual.  Editors like Jeffery Ford and John Venzon meticulously analyze cuts, disorienting breaches of the 180 degree rule, camera movements, the lengths of shots, and everything else in their purview.  Cinematographers discuss the shot compositions and how Hitchcock draws your eyes to certain areas on the screen.  Composers talk about the music.  Fans, directors, and everyone else opines about the philosophical implications of each and every element of the sequence.  It is absolute heaven for anyone interested in understanding the visual language of film, and learning more about how one of the absolute masters manipulated that language.

The passion from the interviewees is infectious, and Philippe should be commended for capturing such excitement while still telling a cohesive and logical story .  78/52 meticulously narrows its focus, beginning with Hitchcock, delving into Psycho, and then laying bare a single scene.  Occasionally it feels like Philippe is too keen to throw random Hitchcock footage on screen, and he indulges some non sequiturs from the interviewees (including a comparison to Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible).  Regardless, the end product is a masterful presentation of the language of cinema, film analysis, and the genius of Alfred Hitchcock.

Thursday, May 4, 9:30 PM, Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema
Friday, May 5, 3:00 PM, Scotiabank

Tickets can be purchased at the Hot Docs website.