Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Length: 129 min.
Country: USA
Format: 35mm
Date Viewed: 23 March, 2006

The obvious theme of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo is obsession. But what is perhaps less clear is where this obsession stems from.

Scottie Ferguson's (Jimmy Stewart) obsession with Madeleine/Judy (Kim Novak) is a reflection of Hitch's own obsession with Novak, and his other blonde leading ladies by extension. Scottie cruelly remolded Judy into Madeleine ("It can't matter to you!") to fit his intense and uncompromisable desires because of his overwhelming fixation on a specific female type, much in the way that Hitch did with his lead actresses throughout his career. It is here that Hitch breaks from creating films as "slices of cake" to revealing himself in what may be the only personal film in his oeuvre.

In this light, it may begin to make some sense that Stewart is often shown with a hazy gloss when he shares the screen, or at least a scene, with the blonde Novak, but not, it should be noted, her brunette incarnation. Here, Hitchcock is making explicit Ferguson's moral ambiguity and his uncertain intentions towards Madeleine and Judy; but perhaps the director is also blurring the distinction between Ferguson and himself, a strong reminder that the two have a major characteristic in common.

Of course, Novak is most always photographed with a high amount of gloss as well. But this was for purposes of glamour as opposed to the reasons for Stewart's glossing, whose actions are not being, and should not be, glamorized. These glossy shots, especially during the first time Ferguson shadows Madeleine, stand in sharp contrast with perfectly in-focus and crisp shots of buildings and trees, emphasizing that the world around these two rather destructive people is still in order.

That Hitchcock shoots Stewart using traditional glamorization technique for purposes entirely antithetical to their standard use, while putting it in contrast with its standard use for Novak as well as carefully inserting the jarringly clear and non-glossy shots of the real world in between the two, is fascinating, and is one of the reasons why the film is still bold and daring to this day.

Another reason, of course, is the beautiful-in-its-perfection elliptical story, written by Samuel A. Taylor, with almost perfect mirroring between the two halves.

The film's only real flaw is the dream sequence, which must have blown heads in '58, but now seems pretty silly (though Stewart's head falling down the empty grave admittedly still looks cool) and more than a little unnecessary.

But this is a minor quibble, and the film undoubtedly deserves its place as a film classic. Vertigo is essential viewing.


Post a Comment

<< Home