Alexander O. Phillipe’s compulsively watchable documentary on the 3 minute show sequence from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is finally getting a commercial release from IFC. And here they have cut a wonderful ‘talking heads’ sans talking heads trailer using the re-staging moments from the film. It pulls you in. And as all the critics quotes (curiously mostly nerd sites over more prestigious outlets) say, it is indeed an excellent examination of cinemas most famous murder. 78 Shots, 52 cuts, aka 78/52 comes to theatres and VOD on Oct. 13, 2017.
Director: Alexandre O. Phillipe (Doc of the Dead, The People vs. George Lucas)
A Documentary on Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, specifically the shower scene.
Producers: Kerry Deignan Roy, Robert Muratore
Starring: Walter Murch, Elijah Whood, Karyn Kusama, Peter Bogdanovich, Danny Elfman, Jamie Lee-Curtis
MPAA Rating: PG
Running time: 129 min.
In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller PSYCHO redefined the horror landscape.
In the process of bringing his cinematic vision to life, Hitchcock was afforded a whopping seven days to film the iconic shower scene. From the moment the shower faucet is turned on to the moment the Marion Crane meets her fate, a mere 146 seconds pass. In two minutes and twenty-six seconds, there are 78 setups and 52 cuts.
78/52 is an examination of that incredible cinematic execution, the psychology at play, and how it affected pop culture for years to come.
Throughout the doc, PSYCHO’s shower scene is broken down detail by detail – including precisely which melon was used to create the sound effect of the knife stabbing the skin. Artists and fans of all sorts discuss the impact and psychology of the work, all in tones that are equal parts reverie and delight.
There is an inherent joy in seeing the talent gathered for 78/52 just watch PSYCHO. Elijah Wood, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Guillermo del Toro are but a few of the fans that gather for the documentary. Repeatedly, the documentary pauses for a moment, and we can see studious delight on their famous faces as they watch Hitchcock’s twisted tale unfold before their eyes.
PSYCHO is a film about coveting through watching. So, what about it do these fans covet? What, in turn, do we?
The temptation with a documentary like this is to geek-out a little too hard. Hitchcock is a master who has inspired volumes. His works have been broken down frame-by-frame and studied to the enth degree. Could there possibly be more to say? Well yes, as it turns out.
As we close in on sixty years past the PSYCHO’s release, it’s easy to take for granted the films place in the lexicon. Like STAR WARS, THE WIZARD OF OZ, and JAWS, PSYCHO has become “something other”. It is a touchstone, cinematic shorthand, something people know even if they don’t know – but there’s the rub. So very many now do not know PSYCHO. With that in mind, the time is right to examine the work, and concentrate so much time on the most iconic scene in this truly iconic work.
For films like 78/52, the trick is to find the sweet spot. Remind people of things they may have heard before, bring ideas to the table that few may have considered, and wrap it all up with talk of impact and legacy on works that would follow. If the film doesn’t do enough, it gets met with a shrug. If the film does too much, it loses the audience. The happy medium is about as wide as a knife’s edge.
Happily, 78/52 knows just how to wield that knife.
As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!
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Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Charles Bennett, Edwin Greenwood, Anthony Armstrong, Gerald Savory
Based on a Novel by: Josephine Tey
Starring: Nova Pilbeam, Derrick De Marney, Percy Marmont, Edward Rigby
Producer: Edward Black
Running Time: 83 min
BBFC Certificate: U
I‘ve always been a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock, I even wrote my University dissertation on his collaborations with composer Bernard Herrmann, but there are still a number of gaps in his filmography that I need to fill. I’ve seen pretty much all of his most famous work, particularly his phenomenal run of films through the 50’s and 60’s, but there are a number of his early British films that I haven’t seen. This period in his career doesn’t always get the love and attention that it deserves. Granted, many of these older titles haven’t aged as well as classics like Rear Window or North by Northwest, but there is much to admire and enjoy in his early work. The 39 Steps remains one of my favourite Hitchcock films for instance and I was surprised by how much I liked what he himself considered his true directorial debut, The Lodger when I was sent it to review a couple of years ago.
This brings me to Young and Innocent (a.k.a. The Girl Was Young), a film which I hadn’t seen before now, even though I had a DVD copy on my shelf gathering dust over several years (this happens far too often than I care to admit – shopping addiction is a dangerous thing). Coming in 1937, this, his 22nd feature film as sole director, is actually almost mid-career for Hitchcock in terms of volume, although he’d only been directing features for little over a decade. Taking the ‘wrong man’ mistaken identity formula he’d had great success with on The 39 Steps, Young and Innocent sees Derrick De Marney star as Robert Tisdall, a young man accused of murdering an actress whose body washes up on a beach. He’s innocent of course and escapes from the law to prove it because they won’t listen to him. Along the way he enlists the help of a police constable’s daughter, Erica (Nova Pilbeam), who believes his story and falls for his charms.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Eliot Stannard & Alfred Hitchcock (uncredited)
Based on the Novel by: Marie Belloc Lowndes
Starring: June, Ivor Novello, Marie Ault, Malcolm Keen
Producers: Michael Balcon, Carlyle Blackwell
Running Time: 88 min
BBFC Certificate: PG
Although regarded as one of the greatest of all film directors, Alfred Hitchcock’s early British work is often pushed aside in favour of his later films, produced after he made the move over to Hollywood. There are a number of reasons for this – with the big studios behind him, his later films were always going to get better distribution. Also I guess silent and early black and white films are never going to be quite as popular with modern audiences. Overall though, the general consensus is that the films he made between the mid 40’s and early 60’s are far superior. I guess that consensus bled into my viewing choices too as even though I’m a great fan of the director, I hadn’t seen anything prior to 1934’s The Man Who Knew Too Much – Hitchcock’s 18th feature film. Well, with the BFI running an epic celebration of his work throughout the year, including the restoration of his early silent films and after Vertigo knocked Citizen Kane off the top spot of Sight and Sound’s highly regarded top 10 films of all time list, what better time to look back through the full extent of his career, starting with what Hitchcock calls his first true film, The Lodger (he’d directed two prior to this, but I guess he either wasn’t happy with the results or the studios hadn’t given him the control he wanted).
The Lodger opens in true Hitchcock style with the scream of a murdered woman and subsequent discovery of her body. This is one of a series of grisly murders that has been plaguing London. Every Tuesday another body is found with the calling card of ‘The Avenger’. All of the victims are fair-haired and the young and beautiful Daisy (June) fears for her safety, being a blonde herself. Her boyfriend Joe (Malcolm Keen) is a dashing police detective though who is assigned the case, putting her mind at ease. During this time, a mysterious lodger (Ivor Novello) takes up residence in Daisy’s parents’ house. As the links between the killer and this lodger grow, Daisy’s mother (Marie Ault) suspects the worse and when Daisy and the unusual yet dashing stranger fall in love, all around her worry about his true intentions.
The Lodger is an excellent case for reappraising Hitchcock’s early work. Even from this, his third film (or first if you asked him), there are multiple examples of his signature techniques and obsessions, and they work as effectively here as in his more popular 50’s work. As well as the usual cameo (which I missed to be honest – probably note-taking at the time) you have the blonde woman fixation, plenty of suspenseful and tense scenes, a case of mistaken identity and most noticeably, a rich vein of dark humour throughout. Right from the beginning we have people making light of the murders, with a mischievous man teasing a terrified onlooker at the scene of the first crime. It’s this humour and light handling of very dark subject matter that helps The Lodger remain a highly enjoyable experience 85 years later. Paced very well, without a wasted minute, the film breezes by. People praise Hitchcock’s handling of suspense and clever filmmaking techniques, but one of his key strengths is in making films that are a lot of fun to watch. I’ve certainly never seen a boring film from the director.
[I’m reprinting this article I posted on The Frame yesterday in support of the For the Love of Film blogathon and fundraiser, which continues until tomorrow. This year, hosts Marilyn Ferdinand, Farran Smith Nehme and Roderick Heath have dedicated the week to Alfred Hitchcock, whose early (non-directorial) work The White Shadow will be the beneficiary of any money earned during the event, to support the National Film Preservation Foundation’s desire to stream the film online for free. Be sure to donate so you can see this very-nearly lost film yourself!]
We excitedly gathered on the sidewalk, anticipating being let into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ own screening room, the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills. VIPs slipped by, headed toward the bar or lounge in their finery, while the rest of us waited, patient but anxious to begin the evening’s entertainment. Any screening at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre is a treat, a step into a more opulent past presented by the self-appointed guardians of Hollywood history, but this was no ordinary screening. This was the very first appearance of an early, long-thought-lost Hitchcock film pretty much since its original release in 1924. Well, technically Hitchcock was the Assistant Director on the film (and he tended to get in on every part of production he could in those early days, so likely he was doing much more), the second of two collaborations with director Graham Cutts and actress Betty Compson, apparently rushed into production to capitalize on the popularity of the first, Woman to Woman. According to producer Michael Balcon, “it was as big a flop as Woman to Woman had been a success.” But Woman to Woman remains a lost film, and in any case, The White Shadow could’ve been a terrible movie and we still would’ve been ecstatic to see it.
Our excitement was first of all out of curiosity to see if we could see any glimpses of Hitchcock in the film’s style, but also simply because here’s a film that has been thought lost for decades, turned up (partially at least) in an archive in New Zealand, along with a bunch of other long-lost films. If we can still locate treasure troves like this in 2011, what else might still be out there, waiting for intrepid archivists to find it, figure out what it is, and restore it so the world can rediscover it?
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: John Steinbeck, Jo Swerling & Ben Hecht (uncredited)
Based on a story idea by: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Tallulah Bankhead, John Hodiak, Walter Slezak, Mary Anderson
Producers: Alfred Hitchcock & Kenneth Macgowan
Running Time: 98 min
BBFC Certificate: U
When I was first getting into films as a young teenager, Lifeboat was always one of my ‘go to’ titles when I wanted to impress people with my knowledge and appreciation of film. Back then I only tended to watch the Casablancas and Gone With the Winds of the film world, I rarely ventured beyond ‘the canon’, so I felt like I was unlocking some hidden gem when I discovered the relatively unappreciated Lifeboat. I can remember liking the film a lot and for the decade or two that followed I’ve always brought it up in Hitchcock conversations as his ‘underrated classic’. Of course it’s not actually the most rare of films, but it does tend to get pushed aside in favour of titles like Psycho, Rear Window and Vertigo. These and many other of Hitchcock’s bonafide classics are rightly worthy of their status, but I always felt this needed a little more recognition. Well, I haven’t actually seen the film since those early days, until the fine people at Eureka offered me the chance to review their meticulously restored Masters of Cinema edition. Of course I jumped at the chance and have finally settled down with the film that had stuck with me for over half of my life, so what do I think of it now?
For those of you that haven’t heard of Lifeboat, it’s a film that Hitchcock produced for 20th Century Fox during the Second World War in the first few years of his move to the USA. With David O. Selznick leaving producing duties to help with the war effort, Hitchcock saw his chance to make a picture on his own terms, so he came up with the story behind Lifeboat. This idea was then brought to John Steinbeck to produce a script, which was later adapted by Jo Swerling & Ben Hecht (uncredited). The film is about the rag-tag group of survivors of a ship torpedoed by the Germans during the war and how they cope together on a lifeboat as it drifts across the ocean, hopefully towards rescue. The waters are further muddied however by the arrival of one last survivor, a German from aboard the very submarine that put them in this situation.
Old movies may not have much in the way of actual sex or nudity, but they make up for it with rich innuendo. Hitchcock is one of the best at this in nearly all of his films, but the North by Northwest flirtation scene on the train between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint – strangers at the time, but already with designs on each other, whether in good faith or not – harks back to another famous seduction not directed by the master of suspense. When Saint pulls Grant’s hand closer and takes her time blowing out the match he’s just used to light her cigarette, spending a sultry glance at him through the flame, it’s hard not to think “You just have to put your lips together and blow.” Whether blowing out matches with Eva Marie Saint or whistling with Lauren Bacall, these scenes stick with me much more strongly than the more explicit ones of today.
We’re into October now, so expect to see a concentration of posts about horror films from us this month – Bob has already started his annual horror capsule posts (see part 1 here). This particular post actually originates thanks to a friend asking me if I had a post anywhere talking about classic horror films that relied on atmosphere and creepy chills rather than gore and jump scares. Given that creepy atmospheric horror films are my favorite kind (in fact, the only kind of horror films I’d watch until a couple of years ago), I happily said I’d put one together this week, just in time to plan some classic Halloween viewing for the month of October. I’ve chosen fifteen films, ranged between atmospheric, disturbing, creepy, culty, and just plain enjoyable, trying to stay a bit off the beaten path, though there are a few quite well-known films in here. (Note that some may have a modicum of bloodiness, especially moving into the color films of the ’60s (Hammer, Bava, Corman), but it’s very restrained and unrealistic compared with the gorefests of later years.) I’m sure there are a lot more than just these – please feel free to add more in the comments. I’d love to find more films like these myself, since, as I said, they’re my favorite.
There are a number of good silent film choices here, but this one is a little under-the-radar unless you’re a real classic horror or silent film aficionado. Benjamin Christensen’s Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages purports to be a documentary depicting the history of witchcraft from the middle ages through the Puritan era and to modern day (which Christensen connects via the modern “hysteric” – his thesis, such as it is, is that witches in earlier eras suffered from misdiagnosed mental illness, hardly an original thought with him), but really, it’s an excuse to gleefully show flights of fancy into the devil’s lair, detail objects of torture, and basically let his imagination run wild. It’s stylistically flamboyant, too, and though a lot of it is humorous now (the modern day parts are particularly earnest in a laughable way), a good portion of it is genuinely creepy and it’s definitely an unforgettable visual experience.
1922 Denmark. Director: Benjamin Christensen. Starring: Benjamin Christensen, Maren Pedersen.
Other silent films to try: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, The Phantom of the Opera.
Suspense as a genre can be distinguished from mystery by the simple fact that in a mystery, you don’t know whodunit until the very end, and in suspense, you do – the suspense comes from the fact that you know more than the characters, or that you AND the characters know the truth but cannot get out of a dangerous situation. Suspense works because we’re caught between our knowledge and our helplessness – a situation ripe for exploiting audience identification. Alfred Hitchcock excelled at suspense, and this brief scene from Shadow of a Doubt shows why.
Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) has returned to his small-town extended family, sending his namesake niece (Teresa Wright) into fits of joy. But we know not everything is right with Uncle Charlie – he’s fled his city apartment quickly, with a large wad of cash and two men tailing him. Hitchcock leaves a bit of mystery at this point, as we don’t know for nearly an hour what exactly he’s running from – not until young Charlie get suspicious and looks up a newspaper clipping that Uncle Charlie had tried to hide. But she’s still not sure (as we definitely are, since we have more clues to piece together and don’t have Charlie’s adoration for her uncle to overcome), and leads the conversation to poke at Charlie’s insecurities.
Welcome to The Final Four (ROUND FIVE) of the RowThree March Madness pool! The four divisions of contenders have finally come together looking to advance to the championship game. It’s up to you to decide who advances. Look through each bracket within all five divisions and make your choice. After a few days the polls will close and we’ll see who advances to the next round. There can be only one victor. (Note: there is a fifth set of brackets we’re calling the Consolation Division – a group of 16 directors we really wanted to see compete but weren’t quite “worthy” of the big dance. This round is now over – see the results below).
We’re down to The Final Four(!) and the divisions finally meet up to clash it out. As expected it’s all of our number one seeds competing for the title of champion. What wasn’t expected (at least by me) was the fact that voting has actually gotten easier as subsequent rounds ensue. That said, who do you pick now? Kurosawa or Tarantino? Are you going with the master pioneer or the talented “rip-off” artist? Do you vote for the master of suspense and thrills or Billy Wilder and his status as Hollywood’s “Golden” boy? No pick is right and no pick is wrong; you just gotta go with your gut.
And it’s all over in the consolation division and the Queen’s royal touch seems to have paid off for Sir Ridley Scott as he beat out all of the competition, including the likes of Mike Leigh, Wes Craven, Sam Raimi and Joel Schumacher among others, to take home the NIT trophy. So congratulations Mr. Scott – now go make a good movie!
SCHEDULE (begins – ends):
Round 1: 3/9 – 3/13
Round 2: 3/14 – 3/18
Round 3: 3/19 – 3/23
Round 4: 3/24 – 3/27
Round 5: 3/28 – 3/30
Round 6: 3/31 – 4/1
The same rules from round one still apply: