Directed by: Alexandre O. Philippe
The Harvey Weinstein accusations have hopefully changed Hollywood. But, the most damning thing for Hollywood is how he isn’t the first, or last, man in Hollywood to abuse his power. Many directors, producers and studio heads have preyed on those beneath them, on the vulnerable wanting a career in the movies.
78/52 opens with the story about how Janet Leigh’s body double was cast in Psycho. Marli Renfro is escorted into a room and made to strip down to her underwear in front of Alfred Hitchcock. She then repeats the process for Janet Leigh. The documentary stresses how, as Renfro will be naked for her time in the shower, this is a necessary auditioning step, but it fails to address how eerie this story is with regards to Hitchcock’s infamous fascination with his blonde leading ladies.
Director Alexandre O. Philippe’s documentary spends a lot of time establishing Hitchcock’s outlook on society, linking his conservative early twentieth-century up bringing with his filmography’s moral stances (“loose” women, for example, are often punished). The stream of Hollywood talking heads, including heavy hitters like Guillermo del Toro, Karyn Kusama and Janet Leigh’s daughter, Jamie Leigh-Curtis, try attributing Psycho’s psychology to Hitchcock’s psychology.
It is a nice stab at taking “auteur theory” outside of the classroom, and 78/52 is deliciously nerdy and incredibly accessible, but in light of the Weinstein scandal, no mention of Tippi Hedren and the sexual harassment Hitchcock allegedly put her through plays in bad taste. This isn’t the filmmaker’s fault. How was he to know October would bring such revelations? But, the Hedren-Hitchcock harassment is well documented, and there should have been some sort of acknowledgement to this period of his personal life when it covers his post-Psycho professional life.
His actions are an important part of understanding the famous director and his attitude towards women, especially when the documentary’s filmmakers admit Psycho directly explores how men relate to women. By ignoring this history 78/52 can’t help sliding into hagiography.
Luckily, the film is enjoyable when it gets nerdy. The talking heads are well informed and passionate about Hitchcock’s talent. There can be no denying the director’s skill with a camera and the title, 78/52, directly references how many camera set ups he used for such a tiny amount of screen time. There are many scenes of people like Elijah Wood (randomly) watching the shower scene and marvelling at how awesome Hitchcock’s command of his craft is.
Often playing like a feature length version of the YouTube channel Every Frame a Painting, 78/52 teaches viewers about film language by ripping Hitchcock’s craft apart and having horror maestros like Eli Roth break down what the director is doing. But, this is also the problem. The documentary might be a fun way of dissecting an important part of film history by placing it in its socio-political context, but it’s just a film studies lecture, albeit an engaging one.
For a film examining another film’s attitude towards women, 78/52 fails to scrutinise Hitchcock. It’s telling that one of the best bits is its dedication: “to Mother”. A boy’s best friend is his mother and it’s disappointing this fun documentary didn’t explore Hitchcock’s relationship with his own mother, and the other women his life, in much depth.