Trailer: 78/52


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.

Hot Docs 2017 Review: 78/52


 
 
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.

 

 

My original posting of this review can be found at TheMatinee.ca

 


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.

2014 TCM Film Festival: Touch of Evil

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I knew this TCM Film Festival was going to be a brief one for me, as having a one-year-old daughter lessens ones flexibility considerably, even with a very considerate husband. My major goal was to find one thing that he and I could go to together since he was going to spend a lot of the rest of the time alone with our daughter while I galavanted off to watch movies. As soon as I looked at the schedule, it was clear which film that would be. We both name Touch of Evil as likely our favorite Orson Welles film (yes, over Citizen Kane), and have done so long before we even knew each other. The chance to see it at the TCL Chinese (no, I’m still not used to calling it that) in the version cut according to Orson Welles’ notes – it was just meant to be.

Going to a movie at the TCM Film Festival when one of you has a pass and the other is depending on the standby line is something of a stressful situation, but thankfully we got there early and he got in fine. It was the first time I had been in the Chinese theatre since TCL bought and remodeled it, and I’m a bit ambivalent on the new look. The decor is as resplendent as ever, but it’s all stadium seating now, which results in some 230 fewer seats (though 900 seats is still a lot) and generally makes it feel much less communal than it did before. It’s still a great way to see a movie, but it didn’t feel as much like a classic movie palace experience. But I’m being nostalgic for a time I never knew.

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Blu-Ray Review: Touch of Evil

Director: Orson Welles
Screenplay: Orson Welles, Paul Monash (additional scenes – original theatrical release) & Franklin Coen (contributing writer for reshoots)
Based on a novel by: Whit Masterson
Starring: Charlton Heston, Orson Welles, Janet Leigh, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff
Producers: Albert Zugsmith, Rick Schmidlin (1998 restoration)
Country: USA
Running Time: 96/109/111 min
Year: 1958
BBFC Certificate: 12

In watching this latest Blu-Ray release of Touch of Evil, it was only the second viewing of the film for me, my first only being around a year ago. I loved it the first time, but now it’s sailed right into my all time favourites.

Orson Welles’ final Hollywood film is one with a troubled past. As is often the case with Welles’ work, the studio behind it meddled with the final cut. Whilst the director was off in Mexico working on the ill-fated Don Quixote, Universal’s production head Ed Muhl brought in a new editor and Harry Keller to direct additional scenes with Welles barred from set. When a rough cut was finally screened for Welles, he wrote a furious 58 page memo to Muhl detailing a host of changes to be made to the film. A new 109 minute version of the film (known as the “Preview Version”, officially released after being discovered in the 70’s) was produced with a few of these tweaks made, but the film remained untrue to Welles’ vision. Worse than this, when the film was released theatrically in 1958, it was a hacked up again into a 96 minute version. However, in 1998, Rick Schmidlin approached Universal with the idea of taking Welles’ memo and re-editing the film to follow his instructions, using footage available from the Preview Version and other sources. Unfortunately not all of the raw takes were available to follow the memo exactly and of course Welles wasn’t on hand to supervise, so there’s still no definitive director’s cut of the film. To most cinephiles though, this 1998 version is as close as you’ll get. This is the version I watched fully for the purposes of this review although I watched the Preview Version with a commentary over and I’m not sure which version I saw previously.

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Hidden Treasures – Week of Sept. 14th

Welcome to the latest installment of Hidden Treasures.

(click on MORE below to view clips / trailers from this week’s films)

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Spellbound (1945)
Right out of the gate, Spellbound had all the makings of being something very special. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, one of the most respected filmmakers in cinematic history, and starring screen legend Ingrid Bergman as well as a fresh newcomer named Gregory Peck, it was a movie destined for greatness. Yet remarkably, neither Spellbound’s director nor it’s stars could overshadow the film’s most famous scene; a dream sequence designed by none other than Salvador Dali, one of the most prolific surrealist artists of the 20th century.

Dr. Edwardes (Gregory Peck) has recently taken over as director of the Green Manors mental asylum, replacing the very popular Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll). Before long, resident psychiatrist Constance Peterson (Ingrid Bergman) starts to sense that something is very wrong with their new administrator. After doing some research, she discovers that the man calling himself Edwardes is not only an imposter, but one who suffers from amnesia as well. On top of that, this man also believes he may have killed the real Dr. Edwardes, even though he can’t actually remember doing so. For assistance, Dr. Peterson asks her mentor, Dr. Brulov (Michael Chekhov), to examine the imposter, all the while realizing that the man she’s helping may, in fact, be a killer.

“I was determined to break with the traditional way of handling dream sequences”, Hitchcock told Francois Truffaut in 1962. “I wanted Dali because of the architectural sharpness of his work”. It proved to be a very successful collaboration. Rarely had such vivid imagery been produced for the screen; tables and chairs were held in place by human legs, large curtains were emblazoned with staring eyeballs, and a faceless man pushed a skier off a high roof, all the while holding what appeared to be a wheel in his hand. The whole sequence runs for only two minutes and 40 seconds, yet, despite it’s almost cameo appearance, stands out as a breathtaking collection of images that are as compelling as they are bizarre.

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The Vikings (1958)
The casting of Ernest Borgnine as a Viking Chieftain in Richard Fleischer’s 1958 action epic, The Vikings, was a stroke of pure genius. Borgnine is very convincing as Kirk Douglas’ father (despite the fact he was a year younger than Douglas); a king who harbors both a marauder’s stature and a Viking’s penchant for violence. This lust for violence is a trait his character would share with just about every other one in this film.

Set in the Dark Ages, when raiders from the North were wreaking havoc over all of Europe, The Vikings weaves a tale of two men who have more in common than either imagined. Einar (Douglas) is a Viking prince who has just kidnapped Morgana (Janet Leigh), a Welsh Princess betrothed to marry the English King, Aella (Frank Thring). Before long, Einar has fallen in love with Morgana, but she has, in turn, fallen in love with Eric (Tony Curtis), a hot-blooded slave who had insulted Einar on several occasions. What none of them realize is that Eric and Einar are half brothers, each a son of the Viking chieftain Ragnar (Borgnine). Driven by their love for Morgana and a deep hatred for one another, Eric and Einar recognize that a showdown is brewing, and to the victor will go the spoils.

Both director Fleischer and star Douglas (who also served as the film’s producer) sought to make The Vikings as realistic a portrayal of Viking society as was possible at that time. Portions of the movie were shot on location in the Fjords of Norway, and Fleischer spent a considerable amount of time at a Viking museum in Oslo, where he learned to design, among other things, the magnificent ships used throughout the film. This realism, however, was not limited to the settings and props. As Einar, Kirk Douglas is splendidly brash and arrogant, a Viking warrior in every way imaginable; drinking heavily, carousing with women, and living for the thrill of battle. The role of Einar was certainly not a glamorous one, nor was it very sympathetic, yet Douglas turns in a performance bursting with gusto and personality. This, coupled with the film’s painstaking attempts at accuracy, succeeds in carrying us back to the Dark Ages, recreating a most dreadful period mankind’s history.

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In America (2002)
So what is it that keeps director Jim Sheridan’s In America from slipping into the category of a truly sappy melodrama? At first glance, not much. Many of the standard clichés are here: a tragic death, a difficult pregnancy, a terminally ill neighbor, etc, etc. Sounds like a television movie of the week, doesn’t it? Well, I’m here to tell you that if you dismiss In America with a ‘been there, done that’ attitude, you’ll only be depriving yourself of a wonderful experience. Jim Sheridan has been called a master storyteller, and In America may be his crowning achievement.

Johnny (Paddy Considine), an actor who hopes to make it on Broadway, moves his family from Canada to New York City. With him are his wife, Sarah (Samantha Morton), and their two daughters Christy and Ariel (played by real-life sisters Sarah and Emma Bolger). Once in New York, Johnny hopes to not only start a new life, but leave behind the tragedy of losing his only son, Frankie, who died as the result of a fall. Finding work in New York isn’t easy for Johnny, who struggles with Frankie’s death on a daily basis, yet he finds the strength to carry on through the love and support of his young family.

One thing that saves In America from the lowly fate of becoming just another standard melodrama is its excellent performances (along with the wonderful turns of Considine and Morton are those of the Bolger sisters, who shine in every scene they appear in, bringing light to a family suffering incredible torments). Yet the pivotal character of the entire film is one who never appears on-screen: the deceased son, Frankie. Johnny has never fully recovered from Frankie’s death, and at one point says, “The last time I talked with God, I made a deal with him to take me instead of Frankie. Instead, he took us both”. Johnny walks through life as if he were a ghost, devoid of all feeling, which is a definite drawback for a man trying to get a job as an actor.

In America takes all the stereotypical plot lines and molds them around a wonderful small family, with characters that breathe life into each and every scene. It is a perfect example of how a standard formula, when injected with warmth and energy, can still seem entirely fresh.

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(click on MORE below to view clips / trailers from this week’s films)
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The Films of John Carpenter: The Fog (1980)

Director John Carpenter has referred to The Fog, his 1980 horror film, as a “learning experience”. “We shot the movie I wrote”, Carpenter explains, “finished it with the music and everything…and it didn’t work. I saw the completed movie and it was terrible. I had a movie that didn’t work, and I knew it in my heart.” At that point, Carpenter went back to Avco-Embassy, the production company financing the picture, and told them that he needed to re-shoot, re-cut and re-score a movie they were hoping to release in three months time. It was a bold move, yet Carpenter and his crew worked long and hard over the next three months, transforming The Fog into something the director felt was much more feasible. The result? A film that works…a film that scares the hell out of you…and a movie that I enjoyed immensely.

Antonio Bay, a California coastal town, is about to celebrate its 100th anniversary, but the planned festivities set to commemorate this centennial are threatened when the local priest, Father Malone (Hal Holbrook), uncovers his grandfather’s diary, detailing the true circumstances under which the town was founded. Exactly 100 years earlier, six conspirators caused the deaths of a ship full of lepers by luring them towards the shoreline with a campfire, where their vessel broke apart on the rocks, killing everyone aboard. It seems that one of the victims on this ship was the town’s leading citizen, a wealthy man with no descendants who had contracted leprosy, and whose money was then used to construct, among other things, the local church that still stands to this day. However, guilty consciences aren’t the only things that the townsfolk of Antonio Bay have to worry about, for a thick, threatening fog has also descended upon the community, one suggesting that the spirits of the lepers have risen from the sea, and are seeking their vengeance on the town’s current residents.

Before I go any further, I must confess that I’ve always been a sucker for sea-faring stories, especially ones that center on shipwrecks (as a kid, I would look in marvel at the Sindia, a 19th century merchant ship that ran aground on the beaches of Ocean City, New Jersey in 1901, and the remains of which were visible until finally sinking into the sand forever in the mid 1990’s). Then, throw a ghost story on top of it, like Carpenter does with The Fog, and you got me hook, line and sinker. So understand, right off the bat, that my opinions on The Fog may be a bit biased. That said, however, I had one hell of a good time with this movie.

Carpenter did such an expert job at constructing the final film that all traces of the problems with the original cut have been eliminated entirely. In fact, the thrills and frights of The Fog get under way pretty quickly, immediately dragging viewers to the edge of their seat and keeping them there for the duration. The Fog opens with Mr. Machen (John Houseman) telling the story of the shipwreck to a group of kids around a campfire (one of Carpenter’s ‘added’ scenes), explaining how, every year at that time, the crew rises from the depths, seeking the light that lured them to their doom. This is an effective pre-title sequence, yet is just the beginning. Once the clock strikes midnight, the entire town starts to go haywire. Car alarms sound for no reason, dogs bark uncontrollably, lights dim, and convenience store shelves rattle, all this occurring before the opening credits have even finished! These very first scenes are jarring, unexpected, and ultimately very effectual.

…And then the fog rolls in, releasing the fury of hell on Antonio Bay, the details of which I will leave for you to discover on your own. Do yourself a favor and follow this piece of advice: watch John Carpenter’s The Fog as soon as you can.

The next film in my stroll down Carpenter lane is one I’ve been anticipating since the beginning of this series: Escape from New York, starring Kurt Russell. Look for it on Row Three in two weeks time.