Hot Docs 2017: ’78/52′ and ‘Motel’

78/52 (DIR. Alexandre Philippe)

It’s a testament to Alfred Hitchcock’s talent as a filmmaker that he directed the shower scene from Psycho and he is still known for things other than that;  any other director would have simply become known by that singular sequence.  Even though, that particular scene may well be the single most studied, analyzed and deconstructed scene in the history of cinema and, as a part of this tradition, there is Alexandre Philippe’s 78/52.

Here, Philippe essentially takes a first-year film school scene analysis assignment and turns it into a fairly enjoyable doc.  There are certainly a handful of flaws: the film is too conventional for one, too many talking heads shot in black and white interspersed with shots from films.  And, the fact that so many of the interviewees are the usual white, male horror director suspects (including perennial horror doc interview subject Eli Roth), there isn’t much said that you haven’t heard before.  That being said, there is still plenty to appreciate in 78/52.  The most inspired interview subject is Marli Renfro, the showgirl who was hired to be Janet Leigh’s body double, leading to in-depth knowledge of the filming.

Speaking of in-depth, this doc’s focus on the shower scene, once its focus gets there (the first act is just people talking about Hitchcock and the importance of the film), is quite entertaining if you happen to be a student of cinema: the shot structure, the sound design, what films each scene took inspiration from and which scenes it inspired – everything is discussed here in some detail.  Some facts will be well known (yes, it was a melon) and others will be new.

To film students, Hitchcock fans and general cinephiles, 78/52 is worth a view, even if it is an above-average DVD extra.

– Shahbaz Khayambashi

Catch 78/52 at Toronto’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival on:

Thursday, May 4 at 9:30 p.m. @ Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema

Friday, May 5 at 3:00 p.m. @ Scotiabank Theatre

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Motel (DIR. Jesse McCracken)

The music in Motel consists of echoing, droning power chords.  That limited range sums up Jesse McCracken’s well-intentioned documentary, which tugs at our heartstrings for a little bit before it overstays its welcome.

In Niagara Falls, the Continental provides affordable housing for those who are awaiting their own personal upswing.  The compassionate managers, Brian and Linda, are comfortable with overseeing their accommodating abode, and even find ways to relate to their residents.  Occasionally, the Continental deals with escalating commotion and vandals, but the unit remains close-knit during these hard times.

A little of Motel goes a long way though.  Even if the doc clocks in at under an hour, it still feels like director/producer McCracken is spinning his wheels for, at least, a third of the runtime. The stories presented here – nicely photographed and all – deserve their own short films; especially rock resident Dave, who could pass as Mickey Rourke’s close-relative if Hollywood decided to cast a no-namer in a Rourke biopic.

– Addison Wylie

Catch Motel at Toronto’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival on:

Monday, May 1 at 4:30 p.m. @ TIFF Bell Lightbox

Saturday, May 6 at 8:30 p.m. @ Innis Town Hall

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Click here for more festival details and to buy tickets.

Do You Tweet? Follow These Tweeple:

Shahbaz Khayambashi: @Shakhayam

Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

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