In 2000, the critic Andrew Sarris, one of the original champions of “Psycho,” wrote of how a student had spotted a hidden meaning in Hitchcock’s editing of a scene with Sheriff Chambers (John McIntire). He credited the student with having given him a fresh eye on a film he thought he knew backward and forward.
One testament to the infinite richness of Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece is that it can sustain a film like Alexandre O. Philippe’s documentary “78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene.” Although “78/52” discusses the significance of “Psycho” as a whole, Mr. Philippe’s movie is primarily devoted to a close reading of just one sequence: the 78 camera setups and 52 edits that yielded the sudden, violent, waterlogged demise of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh). Even moviegoers who know “Psycho” backward and forward — who consider it a sacred text and who have read Stephen Rebello’s excellent book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of ‘Psycho’” — are bound to learn something new from the movie, which addresses the shower scene from critical, historical, theoretical and technical angles, down to the blinding white of the bathroom tiles.
Many of the original cast and crew members are no longer alive and are featured only in archival interviews, although seeing Marli Renfro, the pinup model who served as Janet Leigh’s body double, is a special treat. Much of the movie’s appeal lies in the more off-kilter observations: The curator Timothy Standring discusses the particular version of “Susanna and the Elders” that hangs over Norman Bates’s peephole and notes that, of all the renditions of that scene, the one Hitchcock used strongly connotes voyeurism. Guillermo del Toro expounds on how the shower scene expresses Hitchcock’s Catholic sense of guilt — it shows Marion, who has committed adultery and theft, trying to cleanse herself of a sin that can’t be washed away.
But given that the shower scene is perhaps the most brilliantly edited sequence in movie history, it’s no surprise that the editors have much to say. Walter Murch, who took part in creating a tribute to the shower scene in “The Conversation,” annotates portions of Hitchcock’s sequence cut by cut. Amy E. Duddleston, the editor of Gus Van Sant’s 1998 not-quite replica of a remake, looks at the differences between the original and her version, pondering why hers didn’t play. Mr. Rebello relays a funny anecdote (also in his book) about how Hitchcock selected just the right variety of melon — casaba — to mimic the sound of a knife piercing flesh.
Not all the interviews are equally sharp (it’s not clear why Elijah Wood had to be here), and it’s easy to tell who is dabbling and who has pored over the sequence again and again to understand its effect. It’s a screen moment to treat with total reverence — and so enduring it could sustain “78/52: Part 2.”
Continue reading the main story