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78 / 52: Hitchcock's legacy lives on

I thought I knew everything there was to know about “Psycho”; but “78/52” proves otherwise -- and I’ve rarely been so glad I was wrong.

With a brief theatrical release last October, this documentary about Hitchcock’s classic is well worth watching, now that it’s available via streaming and DVD.

Its title refers to the number of camera set-ups required for “Psycho’s” famous shower scene (78) -- and the number of actual cuts in the final version (52).

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 thriller has inspired countless analytical essays, three sequels, a shot-for-shot remake, a feature film about the making of the film, a five-season TV show and no less than 10 full-length books. One of the latter was my own (“Psycho File,” 2009) -- and in preparation for that volume, I ransacked every available page and frame that addresses this famous film.

But “78/52” unearths new nuggets of truth and trivia -- through interviews with an array of experts: editors; sound designers; composers; directors (Eli Roth, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro); actors (Elijah Wood); professors; critics; authors; Marli Renfro, who did body-double work in the shower scene; Hitchcock’s granddaughter, Tere Carrubba; and Osgood Perkins and Jamie Lee Curtis -- respective children of “Psycho” stars Tony Perkins and Janet Leigh.

Subtitled “Hitchcock’s Shower Scene,” the new film purports to spend its entire running time on that one brief but memorable movie moment. And it does address virtually every aspect of Leigh’s iconic demise in that lonely but lethal little motel bathroom: focus, angles, music, editing, mistakes, framing, innovations, story-boards, make-up, sound effects and the scene’s parallel or “rhyming” structure -- as well as the National Board of Review’s attempt to tone down its graphic content.

At the same time, the documentary nails down “Psycho’s” overall place in cinematic and cultural history -- its 1960 arrival putting it on the pivot between the bucolic 1950s and the turbulent decade that followed. “78/52” also unpacks thematic material in the film as a whole -- motherhood, voyeurism, fragmentation -- while making a strong case for its undeniable and ongoing influence. (One cool sequence juxtaposes frames from the shower scene with a fight in “Raging Bull,” showing how the latter was clearly modeled on the former.)

But perhaps the best thing about this new DVD is its magisterial bonus interview with legendary editor and sound designer Walter Murch (“The Godfather,” “Apocalypse Now,” “Ghost,” “The English Patient”). Nearly an hour long, it’s sometimes more fascinating than “78/52” itself -- a cornucopia of movie-stuff that even fans don’t generally think about. Among other things, Murch discusses how often viewers blink while watching a film, and how this interacts with their movie-going experience.

Just try not to do it too often during “78/52” -- especially if you’re a “Psycho” fan.

“78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene,”

directed by Alexandre O. Philippe

Run time: 91 min.

* * * (out of four)

Not rated; includes several short scenes of nudity & gore, plus brief strong language

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