The numbers in the title of 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene refer to the number of setups and shots that were required to create the shocking cinematic savagery that occurs less than an hour into the director's 1960 masterpiece, Psycho. You know the scene: It killed off star Janet Leigh's character -- the movie's nominal lead -- in brutal fashion, and stunned audiences the world over. Those numbers are an appropriately nerdy detail for Alexandre O. Philippe's gloriously obsessive deep dive into this unforgettable moment. Over an hour and a half, a wide variety of talking heads (39 editors, authors, directors, actors, scholars, sound engineers) talk about that shower scene: How it was done, how it works, why it works and why it's important -- what made it historically seismic. A friend's father once described it to me as "the cinematic equivalent of the JFK assassination." Maybe that's overstating it, but Psycho's shower scene certainly did change cinema and pop culture forever.
For all the talk, Philippe sometimes shows us his subjects just watching the shower scene. The idea might be to heighten the sense of voyeurism. (After all, film theorists and semioticians and Lacanians have been understandably going bananas over Psycho for the past five-plus decades.) But it also simply re-establishes the vital connection between viewer and film, the one thing that Alfred Hitchcock himself truly cared about. For all the pointy-headed geekery and technical expertise on display, 78/52 never loses sight of the fact that the Psycho scene is so important because it works so damn well, even now. Put that movie on for someone, and they'll be captivated. 78/52 achieves something similar, and that's the highest praise I can offer.