78/52 – The Uncompromising Hitchcock

7852_theatrical_webThe infamous “shower sequence” in Psycho takes place in less than five minutes of screentime. The purported heroine (and headlining star) of the film was brutally murdered before the eyes of the audience in one of the most vulnerable positions imaginable, leaving the crowd narratively disoriented, without a sympathetic character to follow (for now).

That is the genius and historical significance of the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece. That scene literally changed how movies were made and ushered in a completely new subgenre of horror films (though the latter was not Hitch’s intention). And the shower scene is the subject of a new documentary called 78/52 – taking its name from the 78 shots and 52 cuts that comprise that scene.

This film takes the scene apart, sometimes frame-by-frame, and has an interesting panel of film experts and Hitchcock admirers analyze the scene on an artistic, stylistic and cultural level. For fans of Hitchcock, and film generally, this is a must-see. 78/52 goes into a lot of detail to help the viewer understand why that five minutes of the film changed things so much – both for the better and worse.

What interested me the most about 78/52 were the thematic insights I heard. The experts interviewed looked at the shower scene as a reflection of American culture’s impending fragmentation, as well as the Master of Suspense’s uncompromising vision of justice.

The Good: A Masterful Master Class

Psycho HitchAs alluded to above, 78/52 is an entertaining master class in filmmaking and a love letter to the genius of Alfred Hitchcock and his collaborators on Psycho. On nearly every creative level, Hitch changed the way his audience looked at him. Coming off the Technicolor triumph of North by Northwest, both spectator and critic figured they had Hitch pegged as a director of spectacle pictures.

Psycho was a splendid sucker-punch – a decidedly low-budget, black-and-white almost grindhouse-level flick that would have been forgotten in a few years had it been done by any other director. Hitch wanted everyone to make sure they knew he could still surprise them.

78/52 director Alexandre Philippe populated his master class with a superb panel of experts from all areas of filmmaking – and for the most part, they all had very interesting things to say. There were directors, cameramen, editors, authors, film professors, actors, and many others. This gave the film an extremely comprehensive outlook (something few documentaries outside of Ken Burns’ accomplish), which made it really fascinating to watch. I felt like I learned a lot of useful information about how films are constructed and why they are so effective.

I especially enjoyed the commentary of members of the crew of the ridiculously unnecessary 1998 remake of Psycho –  especially legendary composer Danny Elfman’s remarks about what original Psycho composer Bernard Herrmann might have thought of his version of Herrmann’s score.

In the very best tradition of clever homage, Philippe has crafted his documentary to invoke the look and feel of its subject matter. All of the interviews were shot in black-and-white, in rooms that resembled ones found at the Bates Motel. It made 78/52 feel like it was made by a film fan and great admirer of Psycho and Hitchcock. Even the original music by Jon Hegel was performed with all strings, just like Herrmann’s classic score.

The Bad: Recreating and Meandering

As with a lot of documentaries done by geeky admirers of the subject, 78/52 gets caught in the “this thing is this awesome” trap. There’s far too much gushing and geeking out by the interviewees (even to the point where we watch them watching the scene). For some of the interviewees, like editor Walter Murch, this is understandable because he’s looking at the sequence as an editor and commenting on the way the scene is cut. But it doesn’t make any sense to see a horror movie director saying “this is awesome” again and again.

SpectreVison_ElijahWood-JoshWaller-DanielNoah_05

This geeking out really contributes to the film’s meandering pacing. Philippe gave 78/52 a thin narrative structure that makes no sense at times. It seems to begin well enough (although the introduction bled into the actual start of the documentary), but it then frustratingly ebbs back-and-forth between straightforward film criticism and geekfest. I’m confident there could have easily been 10 to 15 minutes shaved off of the runtime. And on top of all that, the film just ends with no real wrap-up. I caught myself saying out loud “oh, it’s not ending there.” But it did.

I don’t understand why Philippe chose to reshoot some scenes from Psycho in the opening of 78/52, using an actress who looks very little like Janet Leigh. When the film delved into how the shower scene differs from the one in the original novel, it was warranted and effective to include a dramatization of the novel’s version. But that first sequence with the actress was unnecessary. Philippe was better off using footage from the actual film with Janet Leigh. The actress was a distraction. Perhaps it would have worked better if it was just shots of the icons in the rain (the Bates house, the motel, the car, etc.) with no people.

What Does the Shower Scene Mean?

The interviewees in 78/52 brought with them not only their technical and storytelling expertise to explain the significance of the shower scene. They also postulated thematic and philosophical ideas behind the scene and Psycho as a whole. Most were very insightful – ideas that I had never really thought of while watching the film.

psycho-shower

The nature of evil itself was given a little insight. In mid-20th century America, there was a sense of calm for most middle-class Americans. The cultural upheaval of the 1960s hadn’t happened yet and the Soviet Union seemed very far away. There was no way any external evils could ever seep their way into our most private of places. But with one scene, Hitchcock reminded the American culture that evil can come from anywhere at any time – attacking without warning. The evil can come at any time, and in any form – even something as sacred and good as the idea of “mother.”

 

Director Guillermo Del Toro had a particularly poignant insight into Hitchcock’s worldview and his possible outlook on how evil should be dealt with. Del Toro observed that Hitch’s films are filled with an uncompromising sense of justice. In not just Psycho, but all his films, sins committed are often punished and punished harshly. Attempts may be made to set things right, as in Marion Crane’s decision to return the money she stole before she was murdered out of left field. But in the end, all sin cannot be purged in Hitch’s universe except with blood.

psycho-psycho-34282501-1217-1600

Del Toro pegged Hitch’s cinematic moral outlook on the director’s Catholic faith, but Del Toro remarked about faith very derisively, as if it was an extreme view. Perhaps in today’s increasingly secular culture, it is.

All Hitch was doing was displaying the truth of the nature of sin in accordance with the righteous God in which he had faith. He just conveyed it in a very shocking and creative way. He didn’t revel in it; he knew it made for great drama and suspense.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23

It is true that God’s law is perfect and uncompromising. There is no wiggle room. All sin, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, are offenses against God, and punishable by eternal separation from the Lord – a spiritual death after the physical death. And sin must be atoned through blood and sacrifice.

But just because God’s law is uncompromising doesn’t mean He doesn’t love us or seeks another way for us to be with Him. God paid the blood cost of our sin when Jesus went to the cross and died for the sins of all men. We can all be forgiven for our transgressions if we accept the Lord’s gift of salvation.

So What I’m Trying to Say is

78/52 is a great documentary that really gets into the minutiae of the shower scene in Psycho, remarking on what that five minutes have done for film as an art form, elevating it to a higher level and at the same time cheapening it by inadvertently spawning the “slasher” horror genre.

The uncompromising vision of justice displayed by Hitchcock reminds us of God’s absolute law – that sin is grounds for death, and only blood can wash away its stain. God, in His love, has covered our sins in the blood of His Son and washed us clean in the process. He is both just and good, and that’s why God is awesome.

Originally posted on Reel World Theology.

78-52 Score

78/52 (2017)
IFC Midnight / Exhibit A Pictures
Written and directed by Alexandre O. Philippe

Advertisements

THE VIETNAM WAR – Arrogance Comes Before a Fall

Helicopter_Poster_promoV2There are fewer eras in American history that are fraught with more controversy and consternation that the Vietnam War. It was a time of social and cultural change – most of it for the worse, in this author’s humble opinion. And even 40 years after it ended, the wounds of that era are still fresh for many.

This time period has also produced classic films that are revered today – Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, and the like. This films, for the most part, have a definite slant on the war and it’s a mostly negative one that usually leans left.

This is what made me initially apprehensive about Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s latest documentary series, The Vietnam War. While Burns’ early works are indeed fair and balanced to the subject matter they study (specifically his magnum opus, The Civil War), his more recent films have been glaringly biased to the left, with the worst being 2009’s The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.

I’m very happy to report that The Vietnam War is Burns’ best film in a while. It is a fair and comprehensive look at the war…to a point. Burns and his co-director Lynn Novick have crafted an excellent narrative of the events surrounding the war, providing much-needed context, set-up, and thoughtful analysis – allowing those who lived the war from all sides to have a say. However, the film still has some annoying biases, even though both Burns and Novick assured us there wouldn’t be any.

In The Vietnam War‘s narrative, all sides of the conflict were culpable in some way for its disastrous outcome. I believe the war began with sincere purposes and devolved into a quagmire. This is a reflection of the arrogance on all sides – the arrogance sometimes inherent in humanity itself.

Continue reading

DUCKTALES (2017) – An Okay (Re)Start

MV5BNTA2NTc5MzQwNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTY2ODI2MjI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,666,1000_AL_“Life is like a hurricane here in Duckburg. Race cars, lasers, airplanes – it’s a duck-blur. Might solve a mystery or rewrite history…DuckTales – woo-oo!”

30 years ago, Disney’s DuckTales was one of the most popular kid shows on television. That first line of the theme song was a rallying cry to millions of children who flocked home after school to watch the latest adventure of Scrooge McDuck and his family. It was a very clever show with great writing, funny gags and a heaping helping of heart.

I was a big fan of DuckTales from the beginning. I still have that ear-worm of a song memorized three decades later. And I know that many people my age still carry fond memories of the show to this day. So it comes as no surprise that Disney decided to reboot DuckTales for the kids of those first fans. The nostalgia train has been brining back many pop-culture staples lately, and grown millennials have been lapping them up.

Last weekend, Disney XD debuted the first two episodes of the refreshed DuckTales (though both episodes serve one continuous story). For the most part, this new version keeps the adventurous spirit of the original, and even adds some new ideas from both the show’s rich past as well as today’s culture. It’s just as fun and funny, with a dash of sophistication for today’s kids.

DuckTales has always been about the interactions of a family, albeit an unconventional one. And the start of this version is based around a concept that many families learn over time: forgiveness of grudges.

SPOILIERS AHEAD – Woo-oo!

Continue reading

The Legacy of TRON

tron_xlgGreetings, Programs!

In today’s world, it’s difficult for young people to imagine a world without a computer. They are integrated in almost every aspect of our lives – from communication to entertainment to shopping. It’s so ubiquitous that the computer has become a bit of a hindrance for some people.

In 1982, the computer was a mystery to most people. Very few knew how they worked, or how these machines were going to impact their lives. The closest most people got to a computer was playing a video game in an arcade.

That year, a film was released that attempted to give this new frontier a fantastical dimension.

I liked TRON before it was cool. The film was not as financially successful as it should have been, thanks to a certain extra-terrestrial who dominated the box office in the summer of 1982. My friends often made fun of me for liking TRON, as the movie was the butt of many pop culture jokes in the 35 years since its release. It now has a healthy cult following – so much so that a sequel, TRON: Legacy, was released in 2010 (which was good, but not great).

TRON 03

Though I knew it was fantasy, TRON fired my imagination to think that inside every computer was a civilization. Like the ancient scholars who dreamed up what lay beyond the edge of the world, TRON sought to make sense of the mystery of computers in the context of a world filled with motorcycles made of light, expansive vistas of data, and anthropomorphized programs living out their functions.

I loved the movie and everything about it. And as I have grown up and become more mature spiritually, I value TRON even more.

Continue reading

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING – Bringing Up Peter

Spider_Man_Homecoming_One_Sheet_1Spider-Man has been one of the most interesting cinematic properties in the 21st century’s crop of superhero films. He’s been rebooted twice in the span of only 15 years, courtesy of his studio caretaker, Sony. Through bungling both the Sam Raimi series (which started out strong) and the Marc Webb reboot series (which had potential), Sony proved that they didn’t really know what they had.

In response to the obvious creative quagmire, Spidey fans seemed to clamor for Sony to return the web-head to his rightful place: Marvel Studios.

Sony smartly brokered a deal with Marvel, giving the blockbuster-producing studio a shot and Spidey. And when Spider-Man appeared in Captain America: Civil War, it was an absolute triumph. This Spider-Man was indeed amazing. Marvel and Sony had done what was best for both the character and the fans, and included him with his fellow Marvel heroes.

The solo follow-up effort, Spider-Man: Homecoming, is a wonderful continuation of the groundwork laid in Civil War. The creativity of the Marvel Studios team has injected this character with new life, and made him a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Homecoming is funny, lighthearted, and has a youthful exuberance that matches the personality of the character in the comics. It has its share of questionable story and character choices, but it’s an overall enjoyable experience

Established in Civil War, the relationship between Peter Parker and Tony Stark is the highlight of the film. As with all great master-student relationships, each one comes out wiser. It is a reflection of a piece of our Creator’s personality, and what He tries to teach us in the rearing of youth.

SPIDER-SPOILERS AHEAD!

Continue reading