28.10.17

Vertigo

I'm not a Hitchcock aficionado but am persuaded that this may be his best film. Plot-wise it's improbable to say the least, but the mechanics of the mystery thriller, with its clear-cut character motivations and alibis, have never been that intriguing to me. David Thomson may be right that film thrives on ambiguities, and Hitchcock's failure is that he is too fussy to leave things unexplained. Vertigo is interesting probably because it's more than just an exercise in suspense. There's a bit more of Hitchcock in it, and that gives the viewer more to delve into.

Specifically we get Hitchcock's own strange attitudes to women and actresses on screen. Kim Novak is remade twice in Vertigo. Her character is transformed by male desires for love and money. She is as Hitchcock (and his protagonist Scotty) want her: supremely acquiescent – the obedient actress submitting to her director.


But then there is the title sequence, which suggests that women’s faces are dangerously hypnotic. They spin you about – give you vertigo. Women as actresses are fascinating but deceptive. They leave you and lie to you. Novak is both imperious and vulnerable. In fact there's a tinge of sadomasochism in Madeleine’s grey suits, tightly-wound hair and gloves. Judy’s purple evening gown is looser, more relaxed – she is being genuinely herself. But Scotty forces her back into her corset.

And actually that idea is planted early with the chat about brassieres in the beginning of the film – prurient on Hitchcock’s part, but also introducing the idea of women moulded by the science and stratagems of male fetishists. Just as a famous airman turns to applying his know-how to the design of female underwear, so the detective turns to dressing up his girl so that she becomes his ideal woman. He's suffers for it, of course. Novak is killed off in a church by a nun – the Gothic scene suggesting the punishment of forbidden desire.

I ended up feeling most sorry for the friend-zoned Midge, who offers a safe way to deal with Scotty's agoraphobia – a stepladder in the living room. Instead he gets tangled up with a femme fatale and ends up climbing a church tower. Midge is a friend who interacts with Scotty on equal terms. But Scotty wants to dominate and be dominated by women. That is what draws him to Novak, and dooms him.

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