Saturday, May 10, 2008

Alfred Hitchocock's Vertigo

GreenCine Daily marks the fiftieth anniversary of the release of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. One of the five best films ever made. Quite possibly the best.

When first dates invariably ask this film critic what his favorite films are, I usually stumble through the response. Citizen Kane is too obvious. Barry Lyndon requires explaining why that Stanley Kubrick film and not a better known one. Things like Days of Heaven, The Spirit of the Beehive, Andrei Rublev are too obscure. Do you really want to stumble into a conversation on a first date about a 15th Century Russian monk?

Vertigo, while well known, brings the difficulty of needing explanation. I told my dad once that I thought Vertigo was one of the best films ever made and that critics regarded it as such, and it surprised him. To the lay person, I think Hitchcock generally seems too poppy, too plot-driven, when in fact, Sir Alfred was incredibly artistic and incredibly ahead of his time. It is not a film that you can easily explain without assuming your partner is conversant in metafiction and post-modernism.

What's perfect about the film? The opening credits, saturated in red light, with mannequins suggesting many things - necrophilia, the male gaze, the leering sexuality of watching. The fact that all-American hero Jimmy Stewart is about one step removed from being Norman Bates. The lush Technicolor cinematography, which makes it one of the five most beautiful films ever made. The fact that you throw away the plot and become indicted in Stewart's main mission of voyeurism. Try bringing those topics up on a first date. I hope you're wearing stain-resistant clothing.

I saw Vertigo a couple of years ago at a midnight screening at Dallas' once-hallowed Inwood Theater. It's almost shocking to see it in its full majesty. If you ever have the chance, you should rush to it.


Craig Kennedy said...

"Movies You Share With a First Date" would be an excellent blog topic.

I'd love to be able to say I 'got' Vertigo from first viewing, but as I said elsewhere...I wasn't so sharp. In some ways it was a little disappointing...the veneer that always disguises Hitchcock's essential darkness seems much thinner with Vertigo...the things we don't want to look at or talk about are much closer to the surface. Quite the mind blower for anyone who regards Hitchcock as simply an entertainer or even the Master of Suspense. So much of this movie is internal.

Something that strikes me as I think about it right now is the sadness of Midge, the character who pines for Scotty only to be rejected. Not sure why that stuck out all the sudden, but there it is.

K. Bowen said...

Craig, agreed about the mind blowing element, and the closer-to-the-surface observation. There is a certain sadness to Midge. She's something like Grace Kelly, I think, in Rear Window. The kick of Rear Window is that Stewart is too obsessed with the events across the square to screw the most beautiful woman in the world. IN Vertigo, he's too obsessed with the beauty to accept what is in front of him.

Pinko Punko said...

I disagree- Midge is amazing, but her character is just another layer. Her obsession with Johnny is just a little different- it is a movie about obsessions and wanting things that perhaps you can't have. Midge is the nicest possible version of the Hitchcock mother character. When she speaks to the catatonic Johnny "mother's here"- this is Hitchcock at his Freudian darkest. Even though her story is subsidiary to his, she's part of a odd-shaped triangle.

Barbara Bel Geddes should have been nominated for the performance.

K. Bowen said...

Agree, Pinko, she's the mother figure. But she also fills the role of the woman he could have but isn't interested.
I'm not thinking very straight today.