Why would Hollywood make a 90-minute documentary about a three-minute scene? When it's the famous shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho," Sonoma State University Communications Department Chair Marco Calavita says there's plenty to talk about -- and he does, as one of the interview subjects alongside stars like Elijah Wood, Guillermo del Toro and Danny Elfman in "78/52," a documentary that premiered this year at the Sundance Film Festival.
"Horror movies before 'Psycho' were scary and over the top with special monsters, aliens from outer space or vampires," says Calavita. "I think there is a different level of fear, anxiety and sort of destabilization of the audience when it's just a person with a knife invading your space in a bathroom. It was a disturbance of normalcy that movies had back then and it's what makes 'Psycho' a very special film."
The documentary film "78/52," directed by Alexandre O. Philippe, takes its name from the 78 camera setups and 52 cuts used in the filming of the infamous and technical scene. It was shown at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year to much acclaim and soon thereafter sold to distributor IFC Midnight. The movie will next be screened at other film festivals and in theaters before going into the streaming and on-demand market.
"It was exciting to see the film for the first time at Sundance," says Calavita. "It was no easy feat in terms of directing, editing, and including so many different interviews, so it was really nice seeing it come together really well. I'm very happy with it."
The documentary explores how the scene changed the status quo of film and popular culture. From being the first American film to show a toilet on screen to creating one of the most famous terrifying movie scores in history, the film changed the era of filmmaking forever, pushing the envelope and creating a new fear in society along the way.
It may be that Calavita, who will be teaching in Sonoma State's new Master's in Film Studies program in the fall, will add at least three minutes of "Psycho" to his America at the Movies course.