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#1 Ryan H.

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Posted 15 March 2010 - 12:33 PM

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VERTIGO is one of the most revered and referenced films of all time (and one of my absolute favorites), and as far as I can tell, we don't have a separate thread on it. So here we go. Kicking things off, I offer Roger Ebert's Great Movies review as a starting point (it's full of spoilers, and thus, if you haven't seen the film, I recommend you avoid this thread, watch it at your earliest possible convenience, and then return and join in the discussion). For an excerpt:

"Did he train you? Did he rehearse you? Did he tell you what to do and what to say?''

This cry from a wounded heart comes at the end of Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo,'' and by the time it comes we are completely in sympathy. A man has fallen in love with a woman who does not exist, and now he cries out harshly against the real woman who impersonated her. But there is so much more to it than that. The real woman has fallen in love with him. In tricking him, she tricked herself. And the man, by preferring his dream to the woman standing before him, has lost both.

Then there is another level, beneath all of the others. Alfred Hitchcock was known as the most controlling of directors, particularly when it came to women. The female characters in his films reflected the same qualities over and over again: They were blond. They were icy and remote. They were imprisoned in costumes that subtly combined fashion with fetishism. They mesmerized the men, who often had physical or psychological handicaps. Sooner or later, every Hitchcock woman was humiliated.

"Vertigo'' (1958), which is one of the two or three best films Hitchcock ever made, is the most confessional, dealing directly with the themes that controlled his art. It is *about* how Hitchcock used, feared and tried to control women. He is represented by Scottie (James Stewart), a man with physical and mental weaknesses (back problems, fear of heights), who falls obsessively in love with the image of a woman--and not any woman, but the quintessential Hitchcock woman. When he cannot have her, he finds another woman and tries to mold her, dress her, train her, change her makeup and her hair, until she looks like the woman he desires. He cares nothing about the clay he is shaping; he will gladly sacrifice her on the altar of his dreams.


Edited by Ryan H., 17 March 2010 - 12:04 PM.


#2 Buckeye Jones

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Posted 15 March 2010 - 03:00 PM

Ryan, this is going to seem ticky-tac (in honor of March Madness), but can you just excerpt the Ebert review and provide a link back to the full thing?

#3 Ryan H.

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Posted 15 March 2010 - 03:20 PM

Ryan, this is going to seem ticky-tac (in honor of March Madness), but can you just excerpt the Ebert review and provide a link back to the full thing?

I initially attempted it, but I couldn't find a section I was happy with on its own, and figured it was ultimately far more convenient to post the full thing here (and it also, I'd suspect, makes it more likely for readers to actually read the entire article). Is it against the board rules to quote something in its entirety or are you just asking out of a personal preference for shorter posts?

Edited by Ryan H., 15 March 2010 - 03:23 PM.


#4 Persona

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Posted 15 March 2010 - 03:23 PM

I love this film. Except for the ending.

I did get a chance to finally see it on the big screen a few years back, in, of all places -- Dayton, Ohio. And it really was a mesmerizing, wonderful experience. The first 12 minutes are some of the best in film history.

I still hate the ending.

Edited by Persona, 15 March 2010 - 03:23 PM.


#5 Buckeye Jones

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Posted 15 March 2010 - 03:32 PM


Ryan, this is going to seem ticky-tac (in honor of March Madness), but can you just excerpt the Ebert review and provide a link back to the full thing?

I initially attempted it, but I couldn't find a section I was happy with on its own, and figured it was ultimately far more convenient to post the full thing here (and it also, I'd suspect, makes it more likely for readers to actually read the entire article). Is it against the board rules to quote something in its entirety or are you just asking out of a personal preference for shorter posts?



It may be historical rules from the previous ownership, but I recall a TOS point specifying articles in their entirety shouldn't be reprinted without permission due to copyright concerns. The current TOS offer a much vaguer phrasing regarding copyright.

That said, I also prefer excerpts plus the poster's reactions to the excerpt. Gives me some context to your interaction with (in this case) Ebert's comments. I don't think we're in any danger of being an aggregator, but for the first post in a thread, I'd rather read RyanH's thoughts on Vertigo than Roger Ebert's. Unless Roger ambles over here and begins to participate in the conversation, I can just go to Ebert's site for his views. Make sense?

My $0.02.

#6 John Drew

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Posted 15 March 2010 - 03:41 PM

I still hate the ending.



Ever seen this version of the ending? Alftred Hitchcock was required to shoot this extended ending to satisfy the needs of the foreign censorship committee.

SPOILER!!! This does show the original ending as part of the clip!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RST2i_47rA0

Edited by Baal_T'shuvah, 15 March 2010 - 03:50 PM.


#7 Ryan H.

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Posted 15 March 2010 - 04:02 PM

It may be historical rules from the previous ownership, but I recall a TOS point specifying articles in their entirety shouldn't be reprinted without permission due to copyright concerns. The current TOS offer a much vaguer phrasing regarding copyright.

Well, it's excerpted now, either way.

That said, I also prefer excerpts plus the poster's reactions to the excerpt. Gives me some context to your interaction with (in this case) Ebert's comments. I don't think we're in any danger of being an aggregator, but for the first post in a thread, I'd rather read RyanH's thoughts on Vertigo than Roger Ebert's. Unless Roger ambles over here and begins to participate in the conversation, I can just go to Ebert's site for his views. Make sense?

It does, but I, personally, prefer a less, well, personal start to a thread (and Ebert says most of what I'd want to say, but says it far better than I could, and so I'd much rather he be allowed to speak in my stead, at least intially). Using an article for the start allows us all a common touchstone from which to develop our own responses. But when I get a moment, I'll be sure to provide a write-up of my own thoughts on VERTIGO, even if my words are woefully inadequate to describe and comment on this masterpiece of masterpieces.

(Oh, and that alternate ending is horrible. The original ending may feature one obvious contrivance, but it's still pure brilliance.)

Edited by Ryan H., 15 March 2010 - 04:05 PM.


#8 MattPage

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Posted 15 March 2010 - 05:11 PM

I don't think the alternate ending is horrible, just not as good (Stef you're just plain wrong).

Never seen it before though.

Matt

PS Did I ever say we once watched this by projecting it onto the ceiling. O happy days.

#9 Persona

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Posted 15 March 2010 - 09:47 PM

I don't think the alternate ending is horrible, just not as good (Stef you're just plain wrong).

Wouldn't be the first time. I'll watch it again some day. I'm certain there will be a time in life where I spend weeks or months watching Hitch, and at that point MattPage, perhaps -- even as a Brit -- you will feel proud of me. :)

PS Did I ever say we once watched this by projecting it onto the ceiling. O happy days.

I heard it works awesome with "Dark Side of the Moon" played in reverse.

Edited by Persona, 15 March 2010 - 09:47 PM.


#10 Ryan H.

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Posted 15 March 2010 - 10:45 PM

It's hard for me to express my love for VERTIGO without endlessly gushing on and on. I adore it. It's a perfect merger between pulp and profundity. Wagner gave birth to the term liebestod ("love death"), and VERTIGO takes that and runs with it. The protagonists of VERTIGO are, indeed, quite dead, and their love is stillborn. Not only does their relationship originate under false pretenses--it's an elaborate fiction--but their love is marked by selfishness and desperation. Scottie desires someone who will boost his ego, a wounded bird he can protect and save, and upon finding that, refuses to let it go. Judy, on the other hand, is so desperate to belong to someone that she's willing to die to herself, to become a fictional character. Talk about a bad romance.

But Hitchcock's genius enables the viewer to enter into this relationship. We're not outsiders. We are invited into this monstrous affair, to feel every beat along with these individuals. Casting James Stewart as Scottie Ferguson was a masterstroke. Without someone so inherently likable and charming, could we ever come to sympathize with a character that is so deeply repugnant? At the same time, few actors could have imbued Scottie with as much haunting desperation. Stewart's eyes almost induce an emotional ache on their own. Scottie may be a monster, but he's such a deeply-felt one. (Stewart's inherent all-American likeable nature also carries another, altogether more frightening suggestion: if he's so messed up, what's inside you?) Kim Novak gives her character a very nnecessary air of pathetic helplessness and elegance all at the same time. But we wouldn't become close to Judy if Hitchcock didn't flip the perspective of the story. Our sympathy s transferred from Scottie to Judy, and we feel her die a little bit every moment that she cedes to Scottie's demands. In the tragic, terrible end, we're so torn in our sympathies and wishes that Hitchcock is able to play off of everything at once. We're confused, but Hitchcock has us, hook, line, and sinker.

Aesthetically, VERTIGO is impeccable. Hitchcock made many beautifully-shot films, but VERTIGO stands above them all. His eye for composition and color was never finer (Judy in silhouette in front of the green light of the sign outside her apartment may be my favorite shot in the film, but it's just one of many remarkable shots). Neither can VERTIGO's technical accomplishments be overlooked; VERTIGO gave birth to some of the most familiar techniques in cinema history, but unlike some other films that boast technical innovation, VERTIGO's use of its new techniques has perhaps never been bettered. Additionally, Herrmann's score so beautifully accentuates every moment in which it appears. Herrmann's work holds the film together. It gives life to the interior emotional life of these characters, underlines the themes, and in more than a few instances, creates suspense (take, for example, the sequence where Scottie tails Madeleine; take away Herrmann's score and it would entirely fall apart).

Some have argued that VERTIGO falters in comparison to some of the other renowned Hitchcock films because it's not as tightly-constructed. Indeed it's not. Yes, VERTIGO leaves a loose end or two, and yes, VERTIGO isn't as tidy a package. I'd argue that, for the most, this works in the film's favor; it adds to the overall uneasy feel of the story. Something so psychological shouldn't feel particularly neat and tidy. But to be fair, I must concede that a few of VERTIGO's story elements feel a little awkward, but such occasional awkwardness is a small price to pay for the brilliance it elsewhere displays. No other Hitchcock film compares.

Edited by Ryan H., 24 March 2010 - 07:09 PM.


#11 MattPage

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Posted 16 March 2010 - 03:53 AM

: and at that point MattPage, perhaps -- even as a Brit -- you will feel proud of me

Already do - your championing of Miracle Maker has already earned you a hatful of 'respect' points.


Ryan, thanks for that - nicely put.


Oh and FWIW, here is the main Hitchcock thread which, for some bizarre reason, doesn't show up when you search for titles containing "Hitchcock".


Matt

Edited by MattPage, 16 March 2010 - 03:56 AM.


#12 Ryan H.

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Posted 16 March 2010 - 07:53 AM

: and at that point MattPage, perhaps -- even as a Brit -- you will feel proud of me

Already do - your championing of Miracle Maker has already earned you a hatful of 'respect' points.

Do I lose the points I get for liking VERTIGO for disliking THE MIRACLE MAKER? :P

#13 Ryan H.

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Posted 16 March 2010 - 12:26 PM

Here are two fascinating articles on VERTIGO from IMAGES, both written by Robert Baird:


Hitchcock's Use of Profiles in Vertigo

When Scottie sees Judy on the street for the first time the viewer has been set up to share Scottie's cognitive dissonance (she looks/but doesn't look like Madeleine). The curious sensations that occur during the last half of the film during Madeleine's rebirth might rest in Vertigo's careful manipulation of this cognitive dissonance as we compare the Madeleine Ideal with all manner of variations: Judy from Kansas; Midge; Midge in her self portrait as Carlotta; the female doubles of Madeline seen at Ernie's, on the street, as dress models; Carlotta in her painting; Carlotta apparently alive in Scottie's dream.


Love, Desire, the Image, and the Grave

"Why does Vertigo present Carlotta in four distinct visual styles (not to mention her various visual incarnations through Midge and Judy/Madeleine)? As noted above, Vertigo is devoted to the dream of reanimating the dead, and what more conscious and intelligent exploration of that topic than for the film to present a number of conventional graphic reincarnations of Carlotta familiar in the age of mechanical reproduction. In doing so, Vertigo self-reflexively exposes the power of the image to activate desire. The film literally (from oil portrait to cinematography) brings Carlotta to life for us. It flouts the most fundamental paradox of representational imagery: the phenomenologically compelling re- production of human beings, which, in film, is nothing short of astounding. How many filmgoers and fans have desired and come to 'love' stars they have never seen in actuality or ever will see? Like Carlotta, Monroe and Bogart are sexy and dead."



#14 Nathaniel

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Posted 16 March 2010 - 07:35 PM

A dedicated Vertigo thread? Great idea!

I also love this movie. Like so many of Hitchcock's films, it can be approached from many different angles and each approach will be rewarded. One of the things I find so fascinating is how it begins as a detective story, then basically abandons the genre (what about the murder?) and spills over into horror (Madeleine's possible possession by the spirit of a dead woman) all while moving toward a horribly circular ending (culminating in a third fatal fall).

Ebert's review is helpful because it zeroes in on the film's scary sexual obsession, but I still think he spends too much time extrapolating Hitchcock's perceived sadism (as a man mind you, not as a director) when there is plenty in the film to go around. Let's not forget, for example, that Judy (whom Ebert calls "one of the most sympathetic female characters in all of Hitchcock") is in fact a co-murderer!

I agree with Ryan's assessment that this is a technically peerless film, with perhaps the sole exception of the cartoon dream sequence, which I still find charming. The use of vertical and horizontal space is ingenious—unmistakably the work of an artist—and the push-in/pull-back effect to simulate Scottie's vertigo is a famous first. And that score! As Ryan said, it's hard to imagine the same film without Herrmann's contributions. It's such a singularly haunting, psychological soundtrack.

On the other hand, I don't know how "deeply repugnant" Scottie is. Self-indulgent and self-deceiving, yes, and sometimes quite cruel (his bullying of Judy/Madeleine is hard to take), but never a "monster." He's too sympathetically "like us" to be labeled as such. It would have been better if he'd married Midge and lived a life of comfortable stability, but how many men can empathize with his falling head-over-heels for Madeleine, the literal woman of his dreams? If you had to choose between a friendship-based, loving but mediocre life with Midge and an insane, rapturous but tortured life with Madeleine, which would you choose? (Oddly, I find the catatonic "Madeleine" far less interesting than the spunky Judy.) If the film has a genuine monster, it's Gavin, who constructs the perfect crime and gets away with it.

Much as I love Vertigo, though, it's still only my second favorite Hitchcock. I prefer Rear Window's warmer, funnier, less neurotic approach to romantic relationships. But why quibble at this level? They're both masterpieces.

Edited by Nathaniel, 16 March 2010 - 11:39 PM.


#15 NBooth

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Posted 17 March 2010 - 01:41 AM

I agree with Ryan's assessment that this is a technically peerless film, with perhaps the sole exception of the cartoon dream sequence, which I still find charming.


I dunno, I find the dream sequence (like similar blatantly-artificial sequences in Hitchcock--the flashes of red in Marnie, for instance) unsettling precisely because they border so much on the hokey. Such things crack the "realism" of the piece and settle it more firmly in the psychological, somehow--the sense that we, the audience, are partaking in some sense of Scotty's morbid state of mind.

I'm a pretty big fan of Vertigo, myself, primarily for reasons that have been stated above. I do think that the film problematizes (though it doesn't forgive or do away with) accusations that Hitchcock hated women. Here, he pretty clearly constructs the story so that our sympathies maneuver away from Scotty and toward Judy. In a way, Scotty functions as a "trap" (like Humbert Humbert in the original novel of Lolita, except not so blatantly deranged); he pulls our sympathies towards himself, until in the end--during the climb up the tower--we are almost (almost) on his side, and we almost want him to conquer his vertigo, so that when we step back we are horrified how closely we've come to condoning the actions of a clearly disturbed individual. (That, incidentally, is why the "proper" ending is so effective, IMHO--it's like a slap of cold water). And that struggle in the viewer is, to me, what gives the film a great deal of its power; we know, objectively, that Scotty is wrong, but we are in some sense unable to disassociate ourselves entirely from his perspective. (And there I've just restated what has been said far better earlier on in the thread).

But I'm not sure that identification wholly lets Scotty of the hook as a monster--what he does (reducing Judy to an object and essentially murdering Madeline all over) is clearly connected to what Gavin does earlier in the movie; he's taking on Gavin's role, and if Gavin is a monster, then Scotty is plainly the monster who follows him. His very nature as a sympathetic viewpoint character makes him all the more monstrous because, in the end, the monster is us. Here I would refer back to the comparison with Humbert Humbert. I'm not saying there's a chain between the two, but they're similarly fractured viewpoint characters. H.H. is all the more terrifying because the reader can see ordinary humanity, with all its charms as much as its horrors, reflected as if in a funhouse mirror. I think that Scotty functions similarly (though, as I say, he is not such an extreme case).

Edited by NBooth, 17 March 2010 - 01:48 AM.


#16 MattPage

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Posted 17 March 2010 - 11:46 AM

: I do think that the film problematizes (though it doesn't forgive or do away with)
: accusations that Hitchcock hated women.

I always find this claim fantastic given that he was married to the same women is whole life, and pretty much considered her his equal in film making. And that his daughter continues to praise both him and the relationship he had with her mother.

I'm not saying that he didn't have issues with certain types of women, but given the average length of Hollywood marriages the claim that he hated women seems a little hard to believe.

Matt

#17 Ryan H.

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Posted 17 March 2010 - 12:00 PM

This is a curious quote of Scorsese's that I found while reading an article linked to in the LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST thread:

"The church and the movie house both are places for people to come together and share a common experience. I believe there is spirituality in films, even if it's not one that can supplant faith. I have found over the years that many films address themselves to the spiritual side of man's nature, from Griffith's Intolerance (1916) to John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath (1940) to Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) to Kubrick's 2001 (1968) and so many more . . . It's as if movies answer an ancient quest for the common unconscious. To fulfill a spiritual need that people have to share a common memory."

What do we make of the notion that VERTIGO is a spiritual film? I'm personally in agreement with Scorsese on this score, and have been on record as suggesting that VERTIGO belongs in the A&F Top 100.

#18 Ryan H.

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Posted 17 March 2010 - 09:18 PM

I'm a pretty big fan of Vertigo, myself, primarily for reasons that have been stated above. I do think that the film problematizes (though it doesn't forgive or do away with) accusations that Hitchcock hated women. Here, he pretty clearly constructs the story so that our sympathies maneuver away from Scotty and toward Judy. In a way, Scotty functions as a "trap" (like Humbert Humbert in the original novel of Lolita, except not so blatantly deranged); he pulls our sympathies towards himself, until in the end--during the climb up the tower--we are almost (almost) on his side, and we almost want him to conquer his vertigo, so that when we step back we are horrified how closely we've come to condoning the actions of a clearly disturbed individual. (That, incidentally, is why the "proper" ending is so effective, IMHO--it's like a slap of cold water). And that struggle in the viewer is, to me, what gives the film a great deal of its power; we know, objectively, that Scotty is wrong, but we are in some sense unable to disassociate ourselves entirely from his perspective. (And there I've just restated what has been said far better earlier on in the thread).

But I'm not sure that identification wholly lets Scotty of the hook as a monster--what he does (reducing Judy to an object and essentially murdering Madeline all over) is clearly connected to what Gavin does earlier in the movie; he's taking on Gavin's role, and if Gavin is a monster, then Scotty is plainly the monster who follows him. His very nature as a sympathetic viewpoint character makes him all the more monstrous because, in the end, the monster is us. Here I would refer back to the comparison with Humbert Humbert. I'm not saying there's a chain between the two, but they're similarly fractured viewpoint characters. H.H. is all the more terrifying because the reader can see ordinary humanity, with all its charms as much as its horrors, reflected as if in a funhouse mirror. I think that Scotty functions similarly (though, as I say, he is not such an extreme case).

I never thought to connect VERTIGO with LOLITA, but your comparison between Scottie and Humbert Humbert makes a great deal of sense.

#19 Persona

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Posted 24 March 2010 - 04:56 PM

It will remain a 4/5 Netflix stars. Yeah, Hitch was a genius. The colors were so incredibly vibrant, and Yes, it was incredibly framed. And yes, that backward tracking/zooming shot (I forget what they called it but I know there's a term) was also great in its day -- it even works well in the film now.

The biggest problem I have with it is the love that Scottie has for this girl, which comes out of nowhere, and the fact that he's gotta be, what -- fifty? More? And we're supposed to believe that this 26 year old actually did fall in love with this geezer, even outside of the fraud? Give me a break! And all of Scottie's, "Madeleine, stay with me... Think Madeleine, think! Oh, Madeleine, you must remember, I love you!" schmoozie woozie kissy kissy makes me wanna hurl.

Ahh, Balogna.

So yeah, I change my mind about the film's ending: Let her fall, man. Let. Her. Fall.

This film doesn't hold a candle to Psycho. Sorry, it just doesn't.

Nice commentary though, and great restoration. I think I must have seen this on the big screen in the mid to late 90s in Dayton when the restoration had just been done. How cool.

Edited by Persona, 24 March 2010 - 05:02 PM.


#20 Persona

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Posted 24 March 2010 - 05:06 PM

The first 12 minutes are some of the best in film history.

Oh, I think I actually meant minutes 18-30 or so, when he's following her around.

The original ending may feature one obvious contrivance, but it's still pure brilliance.)

Can you please elaborate on this?

Edited by Persona, 24 March 2010 - 05:05 PM.