L13FC: Vertigo

Novak and Stewart
 Who cares if it’s Friday the 13? I feel lucky you stopped by to comment on this month’s discussion of The Lucky 13 Film Club. Welcome, Eric, whose favorite film is Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Whether you’ve seen it once or ten times, there’s something new to notice. Have you visited Eric’s blog? He writes solid reviews. Check out Diary of A Movie Maniac HERE.
Eric’s Perspective: 
Fade in. There’s a lot going on in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Keep in mind that this is Hitchcock’s most personal movie — an unremittingly introspective work. The more you know about the director, the more you understand the movie. The main character, Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart), is essentially a cipher that the director uses to channel his most personal feelings. Madeleine/Judy (Kim Novak) is primarily a cathartic tool.
Hitchcock’s brutal critique of the shortcomings of idealization is at the center of the movie. Idealism tends to have positive connotations. It’s often used to describe a person’s high morals. In Vertigo, interestingly, Hitchcock suggests that the opposite is true. Scottie suffers a moral disintegration as he attempts to pursue his romantic ideal. In other words, Vertigo is to cinema what F. Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby is to literature. Jay Gatsby attempts to rekindle a long-ago romance with disastrous consequences. Fitzgerald hints at the possibility that Gatsby is trying to revive a memory corrupted by nostalgia. In Vertigo, Hitchcock goes one step further and clearly states that Scottie is trying to “resuscitate” (literally and figuratively) something that never existed. Both stories are cautionary tales about the destructive pursuit of idealized goals. Perfect idealization can’t be achieved because we are operating in an imperfect world. Like Fitzgerald, Hitchcock understood too well the very human struggle between desires and the need to deal with life’s inescapable truths.
The bells toll for Judy
The bells toll for Judy
Hitchcock was defined in great part by his strict Jesuit education, something that might or might not explain his theories and technique. Idealism is an essential part of (any) religion while pragmatism is mostly seen as a more secular philosophy. In Vertigo, Hitchcock seems to reject the notion that achieving an ideal life is more important than learning to deal with worldly realities. Was Hitchcock trying to voice his disillusionment with Catholicism, or any religion for that matter?
Hitchcock also turns romanticism on its head. It all plays like a perverted version of Pygmalion/My Fair Lady. Madeline/Judy is subjected to cruel and degrading treatment by her two lovers. There is nothing noble, rational, or healthy about Scottie’s obsessive love. His predatory behavior is every bit as bad as Gavin’s (Tom Helmore), the story’s main villain. Scottie & Gavin are made virtually interchangeable. In doing so, Hitchcock implies that you can’t separate objectification from desire. Here is some food for thought.
Vertigo is a sensory experience. It’s deliberately stylized. The baroque music, the haunting cinematography, the artificial sets, the forceful palette of colors, etc., every aspect of the movie is designed to snare the audience. Hitchcock insisted that humans are easily tricked by what their senses tell them. Vertigo is as much about a man being fooled by his own desires as it is about cinema’s potential to manipulate visually and sonically. 
Although it is often described as downbeat and misanthropic, Vertigo has a satisfying ending, perhaps even optimistic, in an offbeat way. The film deals with very human emotions, feelings. Scottie finds the truth — “truth shall set you free” — and suddenly he is freed from his obsession and he is cured of his acrophobia. The tormented Madeleine/Judy finds peace too, not in a happy-go-lucky manner though. And the villain rides off into the sunset…fade out.
Cindy’s Thoughts: 
Barbara Bel Geddes
Barbara Bel Geddes
Everyone in the film suffers from distorted vision. That’s Vertigo. Perversion is a prominent theme shown by Midge Wood (Barbara Bel Geddes), my favorite character in the film. Once engaged, Midge broke it off. Was she uncomfortable with sex? She is devoted to their platonic relationship, but her control slips away, and she descends to perversion when Midge becomes Scottie’s mother. Over time, she transformed into the all-knowing, cool friend. The only way she could share her life with him is as care-taker. She is tolerant of his illness and obsessions, she is his adviser and protector. She is his moral compass, a nun without the habit. When he has a nervous breakdown, she croons, “There, there. Mother’s here.”
I love the scene involving the painting, the glasses, and her red sweater signifying jealousy. She wants Scottie to need her as much as she needs him. Foolishly, she paints herself in the dress of the beautiful Carlotta. One, to scold his foolishness for stalking Madeleine. Two,  Midge attempts to alter how he sees her. She wants him to desire her. He sickens at the sight of her attempt to change her motherly role for the temptress, and he leaves Midge. Ashamed, she verbally flagellates, “Stupid, stupid, stupid.” Without Scottie, she has lost her identity. The prominent glasses she wears do not provide her with clear vision; she has been duped by her repressed feelings, and she loses hope for happiness.
Hitchcock struggled with virtue and sin aroused in him by women. To protect or possess? To pray to or lust after? Wife or the other woman? Externally, he needed his intelligent, plain wife, Alma Riddle, to keep him grounded, but internally, his lust for the beautiful blonde obsessed him. As director, he molded his key actresses to satisfy his inner desires. Like Judy, who allowed Scottie to turn her back into Madeleine, she is willing to abdicate her identity for the sake of his manipulation. “If I do it, will you love me, then?” The puppet master plucks the cords of patriarchy and misogyny.
Another variation of the Hitchcock coin that frequented his films included the cracked, older mother figure vs. the supple, ingenue. For Hitchcock, his concept of women took on extreme contradictions. The upside to his creepy obsessions was an ability to portray it/her on the screen in a classy way (Thanks, Edith Head) that touched the human psyche. We cringe and lust. We appreciate and denigrate along with him. We are manipulated and love it.
Extend the mother figure to the henpecked son who must deal with an overpowering mother. Through the mother/son relationship, Hitchcock’s sense of obligation take a perverted turn. I hate to presume Hitchcock thought of Alma Riddle as a Lydia Brenner (The Birds), Mme. Sebastian (Notorious), or the voice/mother in the chair (Psycho). Regardless, Hitchcock had issues. We were all his therapist.
Which motifs in Vertigo are your favorite? Is it the flowers? The churches reminding us of sin and salvation? The haunting score? The perfect costumes by Edith Head like the gray suited Madeleine, the ghost who seduces Scottie? The black and white ensemble to represent contradiction? I like the colored walls in the restaurant, the greens and reds and purples symbolizing jealousy and passion. Maybe you like the innovative use of the dolly to simulate the vertigo feeling of falling away from falling forward? How about Jimmy Stewart who gave a fantastic performance?  

139 Comments on “L13FC: Vertigo

  1. A comprehensive analysis by both of you, making for an entertaining read. Donning a flak-jacket, I could write about how I feel Hitchcock is overrated, and any criticism of him is the cinema version of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’. But I won’t, as it would take to long. I will just say why I am not a fan of this film, instead.
    Many of the points highlighted as to why you both like the film, are things that have the opposite affect on me. The colour changes, the stagey sets, and the back projections, all just make it look rather deliberate to me. Art for art’s sake? I wonder. If it was, it didn’t work for me at all.
    Mostly, I do not get anything from the on-screen pairing of Stewart and Novak. I felt a connection between Stewart and Kelly whilst watching ‘Rear Window’, that just doesn’t work in ‘Vertigo’. For me, like many of Hitchcock’e films, it was very much of its time, and actually appears less impressive after repeated viewings. As much as I enjoyed your subject this month, I am sorry to say that I am giving this one a thumbs-down.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Hi Pete, thanks for your honesty and sharing your thoughts in a respectful way. Wouldn’t be much of a discussion if we all agreed, now wouldn’t it?
      I thought the love parallel was well done. That is, Scottie conveyed the desperation for Madeleine and her denial of him balanced with Judy’s love for Scottie.
      1958–the colors, the dream sequence, it was daring and I liked it.

    • I’m perfectly fine with your thumbs-down. My wife is not crazy about the film either. She has problems with Marnie too. We’ve had many heated arguments. Vertigo rubs her the wrong way. Ironically, she loves Brain De Palma’s Obsession, which is a essentially a remake of Vertigo. Have you seen it? I’m assuming you dislike De Palma.

      • I have some time for ‘Dressed To Kill’, ‘Blowout’, ‘Body Double’ and ‘Carlito’s Way’. I don’t usually dislike directors per se, I just have a problem with Hitchcock’s unblemished reputation.
        My regards to your wife! ( I cannot stand ‘Marnie’.)
        Thanks, Eric. Best wishes, Pete.

        • Trust me I understand. For example, I don’t hate, hate Tarantino, but man, I don’t get his reputation as genius! 😉

          • ‘Pulp Fiction’ is a favourite of mine, but most of his other films are just too derivative to be taken seriously.
            Regards, Pete.

          • Jackie Brown is my favorite. Tarantino is yet to make something new, fresh, original. I can’t get excited about refurbished leftovers … 😉

          • Love Forster. He’s indeed a wonderful character actor. I was so happy to see him get an Oscar nomination. And I just adore Pam Grier — I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen Foxy Brown and Coffy!

  2. Vertigo, the film not the whirling and loss of balance (which I have first-hand knowledge of), is quite the film. It’d be an extraordinary film whether Alfred Hitchcock crafted it or not. That it is, make it that much more special. It’s not my all-time favorite of his, but it’s in the top echelon. Both Stewart and Novak are the astonishing part for me. Hitchcock showcased each in a way not seen or experienced before. Wonderful selection for this, my favorite date on the calendar. Well done, Cindy and Eric! 🙂

    • My sister suffers from vertigo; not a pleasant affliction. Nothing seems to help her. Hope you are doing okay. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I must respectfully disagree with this interpretation of Scottie, who I believe to represent, not the director, but the moviegoer. Like Jeff from “Rear Window (1954),” Scottie has become a voyeur through an accident that restricts his participation in life. Their difference is that Jeff spies on actual life, and can therefore enter into the drama and perhaps change the fate of the characters. Scottie, on the other hand, is viewing a fiction, a manufactured story that is unalterable. He is prevented from entering the story by a wall of reality that stands between him and the lie he has gullibly accepted as truth. He is a man watching a movie that is being played out in real space and time. After the death of the character with whom he has fallen in love, he sees the actress who played that character in the street, but she is in another role now, perhaps her real self, perhaps another character. Like many moviegoers who demand their favorite actors repeat familiar roles, he becomes obsessed with dressing her up as the character he has presumed to be real and now presumes to be dead. But he is immobilized by his condition and, although he initially believes he has entered a real situation, he eventually discovers it to be nothing but a twist in the plot, and he as the voyeur who is always the observer, never the participant, can do nothing to avert the final tragedy.

    One of the things that has always bothered me in this film is the proliferation of process shots in the several sequences in which Scottie follows the girl through the San Francisco area in his car. After several viewings over this last month, I have a theory that explains why Hitchcock might have applied this ugly technique to these tedious scenes. There are two alternating set-ups. Scottie’s point of view from the car’s interior shows a crisp view of the street though the front windshield. The reverse shot shows Scotties big head obscuring much of the bleary rear-projection of the street outside the rear window. Perhaps the director intends that crisp image in front of Scottie as the movie he is watching, and the muddied image behind his head as the fading reality he is leaving behind.

    Another thing I must disagree with is the claim that the film is imbued with a Catholic guilt. First, except for the fact that a church is used as the location for the crime, there is no mention Catholicism in the film. Second, the guilt Scottie suffers is not a religious guilt, but a Freudian guilt, which he address in his visits, not to a priest, but to a psychiatrist. Because it is commonly believed that Hitchcock was a guilt-ridden Catholic, many critics have unfairly imposed this personality trait upon many of his characters, even when there is no substantiation in doing so. Another critical fallacy is that just because Hitchcock was obsessed with Grace Kelly and some other of his blond leading ladies, that Scottie’s obsession with the Kim Novak character was an expression of his own obsession with his actresses. For one thing, the nature of Scottie’s obsession is not the Director-Actress syndrome, which requires some degree of consensual participation, not necessarily sexual, but the non-consensual relationship between the anonymous man in the movie theatre with the erotic images on the screen. Hitchcock finally addressed his own obsessions in “Marnie,” when he was working with “Tippi” Hedren, an actress toward whom he had lost control of his suppressed feelings during the filming of their previous film, “The Birds.” While filming “Vertigo,” he was indifferent to Novak, to whom he was not attracted. As I mentioned earlier, this is a film about the obsession moviegoers have with their movie stars, quite a different thing than the relationships between actresses and their directors.

    • ha, ha. Okay, let’s break this down 🙂
      1. I love this interpretation of yours. We all know the voyeurism prevalent in Hitch cock films like Jeff in Rear Window. Because Jeff/Scottie are impaired, they participate in life by watching others however, one is real one is fiction”a man watching a movie that is being played out in real space and time. After the death of the character with whom he has fallen in love, he sees the actress who played that character in the street, but she is in another role now, perhaps her real self, perhaps another character.” That theory makes a lot of sense, Bill.
      2. When I watched it again, I thought about you and your disapproval of the rear projection of SF into the car. For me, the car becomes the telescope for voyeurism. Scottie is invisible (even though he follows her too close) but we see his curiosity, his obsession gather momentum. I think its important to his digression as a character. The price is the drawing out of the plot. Even though everywhere she went was important to the Carlotta mystery and the set-up, I remember many times watching the film and being bored while that damned music kept playing. Now I’m older and more patient. So it worked this time.
      3. “Hitchcock finally addressed his own obsessions in “Marnie,” when he was working with “Tippi” Hedren, an actress toward whom he had lost control of his suppressed feelings during the filming of their previous film, “The Birds.” How had he lost control? Marnie is another creepy film I love.
      4. I like your theory and my pseudo-abnormal-psychology-analysis is my fun way speculating about human nature. I’m not rescinding my theory, but I like yours a lot! Thanks very much, Bill. You always make it interesting.

    • A few thoughts:

      “I must respectfully disagree with this interpretation of Scottie, who I believe to represent, not the director, but the moviegoer.”

      The entire film is told from the perspective of a man with many weird sexual hang ups. It’s really hard to identify with this troubled man. In fact, the movie did poorly at the box office. If Hitchcock wanted Scottie to represent the audience he would have made him less disturbed, more agreeable. Marnie, which could be interpreted as an appendix to Vertigo, supports my point. In Marnie, Connery/Mark is another variation of Scottie/Stewart — a man channeling Hitchcock’s sexual anxieties.

      “there is no mention Catholicism in the film”

      It’s not overt, but it is there and it is pretty much part of Hitchcock’s oeuvre. He said many times that the harsh methods of discipline at his Jesuit school haunted him for the rest of his life. I was raised Catholic and instinctively get the coded language. I invite you to see more of his films with that in mind. They are all full of religious allusions that will surprise you!

      “Another critical fallacy is that just because Hitchcock was obsessed with Grace Kelly and some other of his blond leading ladies, that Scottie’s obsession with the Kim Novak character was an expression of his own obsession with his actresses.”

      You have to remember that Novak was a last minute addition to the movie. He was never happy with her. The role was written/designed for Vera Miles and Hitchcock was obsessed with her in the same way he was obsessed with Tippi Hedren. There is an important difference between Hedren and Miles, and Bergman, Kelly, Novak, etc., — Hitchcock had Hedren and Miles under exclusive contracts so he had total control of their careers.

      • 1) why, in this sardonic attack upon his audience,would he want the character to be agreeable? he chose stewart just for these disagreeable qualities, as he did for rear window.
        2) vertigo was not a failure at the box office. it turned a small profit, and was a considered a disapointment. the general concensus was that it was boring.

        3)Mark (Marnie) was nothing like Scottie. While Scottie was a passive voyeur who tried to become part of the movie he was watching, Scottie was the Hitchcock stand-in who pulled the strings.

        4? we all no hitchock was a catholic andmostcatholics have suffered somekind of a trauma as a result of their religion, but hitchock rarely deals with this trauma in his films, least of all vertigo. he is a master of pyschological suspense,not religious perversion. leave that to master bunuel. i have seen all of hitchcock’s films several times and have never been surprised by his use of religious allusions.

        5)how can you say he had total control over the careers of vera miles and tippi hedren when each of them only did two movies for him and then ditched him?

        • “how can you say he had total control over the careers of vera miles and tippi hedren when each of them only did two movies for him and then ditched him?”

          They didn’t ditch Hitchcock. They remained under an exclusive contract with the director. After Hedren rejected Hitchcock’s advances, he retaliated by preventing her from working for other directors. After Marnie, Hedren had plenty of offers, but he refused to loan her out. The inactivity killed her career. Miles, who was also the target of Hitch’s obsessive control, fared better than Hedren. After Miles got pregnant, Hitch lost interest and then he proceeded to shop her around other studios. This is all well-documented. Donald Spoto’s The Dark Side Of Genius and my favorite, Patrick Mcgilligan’s A Life in Darkness and Light, are great books about Hitchcock.

          • Eric, you are completely wrong, and should take books by Donald Spoto and his ilk with a grain of salt. Hedren never stopped working. Directly after mrnie, she did some television, then worked for charles chaplin on a feature. and has been active to this day, with very few year in which she did not work.

          • You are wrong, I don’t know what to tell you. All you have to do is look at her filmography. Hedren herself has explained the whole thing. Hitch’s associates have talked about this. Maybe you don’t believe her. That’s your choice.

          • i know her filmography. and it is no secret for anyone who wants to check it out. i am more than willing to argue opinions, but the 86 acting credits she has amassed since marnie are not a question for debate.

          • I was talking about her 7-year contract with Hitchcock (1962-1969). They stopped speaking to each other during Marnie. Hedren was offered many leading parts (Bedtime Story, Mirage, a François Truffaut movie, etc.), but Hitch maliciously kept her from working. He threw her a bone here and there, but nothing really good. He was really angry with her. After the contract ended, she resumed her career, but the damage was done. The momentum was gone. This is not an opinion. This is history.

          • if you want to talk history, get your dates straight. Although Hitchcock had her under a contract that would not expire until 1969, he sold that contract to Universal in 1966. the only effect he had on her post-marnie career was in limiting her to two television roles in the year following Marnie. After that, Universal owned her until 1969.Your statement that such :activity killed her career” is nonsense, especially in light of the over 80 roles she was yet to play in a career that goes unabated to this day.

          • I didn’t say that the contract lasted until 1969. I stated that the INITIAL contract was for seven years. And I’m just repeating what Hedren has said in many interviews. It isn’t my statement, it is hers, and I happen to think that she is telling the truth. So sue me.

          • this is what you said: “I was talking about her 7-year contract with Hitchcock (1962-1969)” now there are many close to hitchcock whodispoute much of what was in his book. and the business with truffaut and hedren is apocraphal….unless you can you cite one other source besides spoto and hedren that supports the claim that truffaut wanted her for fahrenheit 451?

  4. Sorry Cindy I still haven’t got a chance to watching the Vertigo dvd my friend lent me. But from the trailer I noticed the distinctive visuals. I’ll be on the lookout at the various motifs that Eric pointed out here, interesting that this one has the voyeurism aspect like in Rear Window.

      • Oh I usually love everything by Edith Head so yeah, another reason to look forward to seeing it!

    • Edith Head was a genius and Hitchcock loved her. They were a very creative team. For example, Hitchcock instructed Head to create a gray suit for Madeleine because he thought gray was not right for a blonde thus sending a subliminal message that there is something odd (fake?) about her.

      • Edith was indeed a costume genius. I can recall very few films where she is not credited, back in the day.
        Regards, Pete.

        • Well, she was “head” of the costume department at Paramount and got credit by default. Same thing with Cedric Gibbons at MGM — he got credit for things he didn’t do. Never mind that, Head was great because she understood the importance of designing for the characters, not the actors.

  5. I love the greenish haze, present throughout the movie. Of course, I watched this movie ‘13’ years ago. Ha! (no, seriously, watched it in 2003, when I was working on my dissertation, based on Hitchcock films). Unfortunately, I don’t have the movie, with me (and trying to find any good film in this country, is next to impossible). None the less, as promised Cindy, here I am, it’s 2045 hrs (8:45pm), on this side of the globe. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this deep analysis, by both of you, Cindy & Eric.

    Eric, I found it interesting, how you compare ‘Vertigo’ to being a sort of perversion of ‘Pygmalion’/‘My Fair Lady’. The fact that the lead (Jimmy Stewart), much like the villain, tries to turn Novak’s character into something she’s not, along with his obsession for her, is an interesting feminist theory. He tries to mould her into, what HE wants her to be (By the time Hitchcock made ‘Marnie’, the male lead was almost animalistic, the way he treated his lover; though he ultimately ends up helping her). At the same time, Stewart and Novak, form a very unlikely couple, as if they weren’t meant to be together. Which makes it even more interesting.
    Another thing you mentioned, of him being freed of his fear. After all, wasn’t it his acrophobia, that made Novak et al, seduce him/use him, in the first place. Ironically, she is the one who accidentally helps him, lose his fear of heights.

    Meanwhile, Cindy, I enjoyed your analysis, on Hitchcock’s own love for Blonde’s, and in this particular movie, a Blonde in a grey outfit (rather than the red seductive dress, Hollywood is associated with; did you notice that??). And about the mother figure, in this case Barbara Bel Geddes, somehow or other, the mother figure (be it an actual mother, or someone in her shoes), is quite prevalent in Hitchcock films, trying to manipulate, use reverse psychology, and what not, on the lead male, most of time ruining his relationships. Of course Barbara Bel Geddes actually tries to help him, but has her own agenda behind it, thus ruining her friendship. I really need to watch this again, sometime.

    Nuwan Sen’s Film Sense

    • Nuwansen, thank you very much for checking in from the other side of the world! How flattering. How cool your dissertation was on Hitchcock and thirteen years ago. Ha! I think about other films from the 1950s than stressed jewel tones in their films for impact–Vincente Minnelli did it in 1958 with Some Came Running. It worked there and it works in Vertigo (for me).

    • “I love the greenish haze.” It came from a theater tradition of presenting ghosts in green (e.g. Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit). Just looks fantastic! Robert Burks’s cinematography is spectacularly effective.

      I’m glad that you bring up Marnie because I think that the film is a natural progression of the themes presented in Vertigo (that’s a great idea for a double-feature!). Marnie is like the climax of the director’s career. He didn’t have much to say after that.

      “I was working on my dissertation, based on Hitchcock films.” Cool! What was exactly your dissertation about?

  6. Cindy, Hitchcock never made any overt passes at Grace Kelly, but he tried to rape Tiippi Hedron in her trailer.. Hier rejection of him led him to the sadistic treatment of her in the attic scene with the birds.iI will bring up some of my dislikes now. the color in Vertigo is typical Universal color of the eral, but instead of a genius like Russell Gaussman from the sirk Pictures, his art department is headed up with people from the Lewis and Elvis movies . In Marnie, that yellow purse at the beginning of the movie is a clue to Hedren’s subsequent disguises.The svreen going to red is a warningof an impnding sexual assault. But the green toward the end of Vertigo is meanngless. Worse is the division of Midge’s apartment into messy as hell and clean as a whistle. it looks ugly and infufficeintly converys her split into sloppy artist and perfect wife.Midge is a ressurection of the Grace kelly character from Rear Window, but this time resembles Hitchock;s daughter, not his ideal.and why does Stewart reject such a beauty> In Rear Window, heis contantly kicking her out of his apartment, but in Vertigo, he is practically moved in with her. I dont see either as a mother figure. the mother figure was most prominent in North by Northwest.I Look at the film again with Gavin as the Hitchcock charater,and yu may see the film the way I do. Additionally, I think the dolly ou combined witht he zoom in was a great idea for capturing the feelingof vertigo, but he didnt go far enugh. the shot was too short to have any real impact on the audience. It telegrphed a dislocationt hat would have startled the film’s firt audiences, but doesnt hold up as an innovation that really pulls us into Steawart’s malady. I also wonder how he got out og that jam of hanging off the roof after his partner went off the roof. it would seem that the experience of hanging there in the wake of the failure to save him as the true cause of his vertigo.I would like to see this story done by a real prevert like Luis bunuel. It could have been a masterpiece. As it stands, I find it one of Hitchock’e lesser pictures, its value lying onlu in thatit was the nexessary predesessor to his string of masterpieces that begin with North by NorthWest, take a breather with psycho, and climax in the birds and marnie. Wo failings: in the birds, he personalized bodega bay. he is nothing but a tourist in san francisco. and face it, jimmy mushmouth stewart is no cary grant.i find his acting very poor and unsure. he creaks through the part. novak is an over-ripe avocado with nothing attractive about her, except that her clothes are perfectly designed. i have opened packages like that to great disappointment, i agree with you cindy. Midge is the saving grace of this movie.

    • “Worse is the division of Midge’s apartment into messy as hell and clean as a whistle. it looks ugly and insufficiently conveys her split into sloppy artist and perfect wife.” Well, you got it, so it’s not completely ineffective. I missed that–thanks for that insight. I think it’s clever.

      • it gets itspoint across, but in a very heavy handed way. this is notartisty. better would have been something more subtle.like contrasting her perfect frying of an egg with the sloppiness of the table settings.

    • I have o agree, Bill. Barbara Bel Geddes steals the film.
      Not that there is much worth stealing…
      Regards, Pete.

      • it is truly a crappy film, one of hitchcock’s very worst.i have suffered through the whole thing so many times that i should sue. an unrelieved bore.

          • mine and pete’s and countless others who would rather listen to the music than read the liner notes.

          • this is pretty harsh. hitchcock is such an accomplished director that it is both unfair and untrue to call one of his films “truly crappy.” ican say itis disappointing, over-rated, and over-analyzed, and criticize the inferiority of its art direction when comparing it to the work of other art directors working at the same time at the same studio, but “vertigo” is a far cry from being a truly crappy film, however low i may esteem it in the company of his best work.

          • I’ve always admired your passion for the movies, Bill. Your background as a film critic and decades of swimming around the film pool studying directors and devouring films is commendable. You enjoy the argument and plead your case assured you are going to knock some sense into me. You can get surly when your frustration mounts, and I’d hate to alienate anyone who differs in opinion. The best part about this forum is it’s a platform for sharing ideas and learning about the classics and the film industry in a fun way. I’ve learned a lot from you, my friend.

          • Cindy, it is not your sense i worry about. You have the mental capacity to incorporate new ideas into your thinking without compromising the ideas you have already settled upon. one of the objectives you stated in this month’s lucky 13 was to search for new perspectives on the film, and I was disappointed to read so many of the same ideas critics had 50 years ago, ideas that have not been challenged since. If classic films are going to remain relevant, they must be seen with new eyes and minds, with an emphasis upon what is actually on the screen, not what has been written in some book. so i can become little aggressive when the same arguments are perpetuated, and new ones are dismissed out of hand. regardless, you offer a forum that always opens up some new ideas for me. i only wish there as some more intellectual sparkle, and less banal agreement on such obvious accomplishments as edith head’s costumes.

  7. some thoughts on mothers: “The Birds” is the movie in which Hitchcock thoroughly breaks down maternal instinct. Melanie is the threat come from San Francisco (perhaps an incarnation of Madeline/Judy (from the Birds) I persist in seeing Annie as an incarnation of both Midge and Rear window’s Lisa. All three are hopeful for the protagonist’s hand in marriage, and all three are losers in the romantic department who stay on as friends. i dont see any move towards mothering in any of them, except for the surrogate mothering of Annie towards Mitch;s (implausibly) younger sister Cathy in The Birds. the only one of Mitch’s girlfriends who succeeds at motherhood is Melanie, the one who has succeeded first as a love interest. One of the film’s final scenes is a veritable dance of changing family structures between mother Lydia, love interest Melanie, and son Mitch for the protective gaurdianship of Cathy. In the car in the final scene,melanie becomes mother to all, including Lydia, suggesting that the birds of the title are the motherless children of Bodega Bay. In North by Nothwset, the mother is a constant comic threat,and in Marnie she is the psychic block that prevents her child from understanding and thus breaking out of her sexual cul de sac. And Psycho, of course, presents the mother as progenitor of guilt.

    • With Birds, I thought of Lydia who felt threatened by Melanie. There’s also threatening Mrs. Danvers as the protective mother-type of the dead Rebecca with Joan Fontaine as the naive new bride. Also, throw into the pot Frenzy and Shadow of a Doubt. Mothering wives. Moral ambiguity. It’s pervasive. I love, by the way, your interpretation of the title The Birds and the birds of the title are the motherless children of Bodega Bay.

      • ‘Shadow Of A Doubt’ and ‘Strangers On A Train.’ Now you’re talking Cindy. Both streets ahead of ‘Vertigo’, in my humble opinion.
        Best wishes, Pete.

      • before lydia was threatened by melanie, she was threatened by annie. and before tha, by whoknows how many women her son took a fance to. lydia is tormented by abandonment issues. when and why did her husband leave her? and why is there such a great age difference between mitch and cathy?

        • True, but I see Lydia needing Mitch to lead the family (she and Cathy). It’s like a combination mother/son and wife/husband mixed up glob. If I were Mitch I would have scrammed and taken Cathy with me. Sometimes when I watch the Birds, I am looking for a clue that suggests Mitch is Cathy’s father.

          • i also always suspected mitch was cathy’s father. everything point ti it, but there is nothing solid to substantiate it (and everything to suggest it)

  8. Wow so many fascinating points brought up and so many interesting questions raised, thank you Cindy and Eric for this month’s topic. I’m afraid I haven’t gotten a chance to see Vertigo for this month so anything I add will not be terribly deep and I have nothing to add regarding mise-en-scene. Something that stays with me most about Vertigo is the same as a lot of classics, it ends tragically. Even modern films that won Best Picture have a downer, there was enough space on that door for Jack and after all these years of friendzoning did Jenee really have to die rather than grow old with Jack? But I digress, Scottie is cured and has his girl and then his own flaws cost him everything. It was a helluva downer for the era. How many Hitchcock or Stewart films from before that had featured an unhappy ending? This probably contributed to the low box office which in turn led to Stewart never starring for Hitch again and the more straight thriller North by Northwest being made next with Cary Grant. Rear Window for all its technical prowess and voyeuristic themes is Golden Age Hollywood. Vertigo only four years later with its meta set-up, tragic ending, disquieting obsessive hero, psychedelic visuals and unresolved plot threads is decidedly post modern which is why it has aged so well of course. I have a soft spot for Novak because apparently my Grandfather thought she was pretty and I am a huge Jimmy Stewart fan even though thrillingly he pushing against the boundaries of his popular persona that I love so much.

    • I was definitely projecting when I suggested that this is an ‘optimistic ending.’ Allow me to explain. I suffer from OCD. I’m one of those people who straightens crooked pictures on the wall. It is something that can drive you nuts. I know it drives my wife nuts! I’d love to get rid of it. This perhaps explains why that final shot of Scottie at the top of the tower looks to me like a moment of triumph, bittersweet triumph, but triumph nevertheless.

      • That’s an interesting take, I’ll look for this next time I watch. I’m sorry you have to suffer OCD, no doubt you deal with it very well.

    • Hi Lloyd, thanks for your input! Interesting you point out the unhappy endings. His films like an Edgar Alan Poe story usually end at the climax. I like that. I’m not much a fan of the denouement.

      • You raise a good point Cindy, I hadn’t thought of that. For example there’s no wedding scene with Stewart walking again in Rear Window. But in most the tension is resolved, Vertigo remains true to this formula too. Scottie has lost the girl and failed – the story is over. Yet it is unique for its tragic outcome. They walk through the door in Notorious, the murderer is arrested in Rear Window, the assassination is foiled in The Man Who Knew Too Much, the cops are coming in Rope, they’ve been found in Life Boat but Scottie’s life is effectively over in Vertigo.

        • Yep. The car comes out of the water in Psycho. Marnie remembers and is cured. Rebecca, the R nightdress is burned in flames….

  9. Always a technical innovator I always assumed the choices of production design and film techniques were within the limitations of the time but you’ve raised very good points about how it reinforces the themes of Vertigo. I don’t have anything to add regarding religion or the beautiful Midge so I’ll just say thank you Eric and Cindy for a fascinating discussion of a classic and another wonderful Lucky 13 Film Club Post to read.

    • I once met a person who insisted that Vertigo is a depiction of Scottie’s dream before falling off the roof. The Last Temptation of Scottie? [laugh] That’s why, he explained to me, the film relies so much on techniques that enhance the artificial (e.g. obvious rear projection shots). I loved his take on the movie. I didn’t agree with him, but I thought it was a novel interpretation.

      • It’s certainly something that came up and was discussed when we studied the film at university and I think it is as valid and intriguing as any other take. It also again makes the film very post modern. Isn’t the audience left hanging as much as Scottie by this film?

        • What about what the significance of the nun at the end of the film! When you get around to watching it, I think there’s a solid thread running through connecting Catholic church to the theme of sin. It’s not a coincidence that the nun at the end has the final say on the subject.

    • It wouldn’t be the same without you, Lloyd. It’s such an unusual cut down the middle of the plot. It’s really two films in one.

    • It’s another reason why I liked the film. Novak was two completely different people. The physical transformations from cool Madeleine to warm Judy is effective.

  10. I watched VERTIGO for the umpteeenth time and I like it more each time I watch it. I saw it in it’s first run, 1958. I liked it then in spite of what the ‘critics’ said about it. I bought the DVD as soon as it came out.
    Hitchcock blamed the initial bad reviews, in his opinion, because Jimmy Stewart was too old and Kim Novak was miscast. Wrong! The bad reviews came from the same Hollywood prejudice that deemed Hitchcock not good enough to ever win an Oscar for best Director.
    In addition to being a great director, Hitchcock, was also a technical pioneer. In VERTIGO, he not only introduced the dolly zoom but also computer graphics. And as a retired stage lighting/designer, I love his use of lights. In VERTIGO lights dim and brighten to signal something important. For instance, the first time Scotty sees Judy as Madeline, Kim Novak is bathed in a green light coming from a neon reflection.
    Oh, did I mention that I really like VERTIGO?

  11. I want to thank Cindy and her group of Lucky Thirteeners for inviting me to be a part of it! It’s a great honor for me to take part in this exercise.

    Cindy, love, love your take on Midge, “a nun without the habit” (I’m definitely going to use that in the future!).

    I believe Midge was Hitch’s invention — she wasn’t in the original novel From Among the Dead — and the character is much more complex than it appears at first glance.

    You make an excellent point regarding Midge’s desperate attempts to woo Scottie. In one scene Judy says, “If I let you change, will that do it? If I do what you tell me, will you love me?” Midge also wants Scottie to love her. She wants to change to please him. What Midge doesn’t get is that Scottie gets his kicks from implementing the changes — he has to control the process. It’s possible that Midge was too high strung, or too smart for Scottie. That’s why the relationship didn’t work. Hitchcock seems to be saying that submission is a key part of a man’s ideal woman. Interesting, very interesting.

    • Cool, Eric, I love this! “Scottie gets his kicks from implementing the changes — he has to control the process.” Yes, that rings true for me.

      • I love the contrast between Midge and Madeleine/Judy. It’s something Hitch liked to do. in The Birds you have Tippi Hedren vs Suzanne Pleshette (and Jessica Tandy’s mother acts like a jealous lover). In Marnie is Hedren vs Diane Baker. In both cases the blonde is more “interesting” than the brunette. In Family plot, Hitch reverses roles: blonde Barbara Harris is less interesting than Karen Black’s brunette. Midge is blonde so she seems to be a departure from tradition. I’m not sure if it means something.

        • Whether this link is an ugly side to humanity he favored to portray or a personal conscious /unconscious grappling with his personal issues, his favoring the smart, elegant blonde is an interesting insight to 20th century idea of beauty. The only brunette who out-glammed Grace Kelly was Audrey Hepburn.

          • Agreed. He also seems to prefer women with short hair. From Anny Ondra and Madeleine Carroll to Kelly, Eva Marie Saint and Barbara Harris. Now try to decipher that! 😉

  12. Eric’s comments about the “shortcomings of idealization” and yours about “distorted vision” go hand in hand. One of the aspects of “Vertigo” that is rarely discussed concerns the very human tendency to prefer the “fantasy” or one’s idea of the ideal. Take the character of Midge. She is smart, attractive, caring, maternal, and perfect for Scotty. However, he prefers Madeline (who is very literally a fantasy). Madeline is a glamorous fiction, and he falls hard. He is even willing to create his own fictionalized version of Madeline later in the film (with Judy). He seems quite pleased with his fantasy. He accepts Judy as Madeline (and only as Madeline), even though he knows that this is merely something that he has created. He only takes issue with the fact that Madeline isn’t a fantasy when he discovers that the original Madeline was created in an effort to set him up as the perfect alibi and witness for the real Madeline’s death. This seems to somehow be connected with his own ego. She was created in an effort to make him the patsy, and this is when he finally takes issue with this illusion of mysterious elegance and glamour. Another way to read this is that it shatters his illusion, which is always upsetting. However, this still brings to mind the question of why one illusion (his) is acceptable while the other (Elster’s) isn’t. It can’t merely be attributed to the fact that he was a cop.

    Long story short: Our romantic ideals don’t exist, but people continue to chase them.

    Is this unlike many people’s current tendency to buy into the fantasy? Men fantasize about fictions all the time: the illusion of the perfect woman on every magazine cover, in Hollywood films, and other media. These things make us blind to real beauty. People have to know in the back of their minds that these women are airbrushed and have loads of make-up, hair dressers, and all sorts of artificial help to create these images. People prefer the fantasy. People lie to themselves all the time. We believe what we want to believe. I think that this one of the elements that keeps the film fresh. Scottie’s perverted and fetishistic behavior isn’t exactly an anomaly. I think that Hitchcock saw a bit of himself in Scotty (just as he saw a bit of himself in L.B. Jefferies (Rear Window). Critics that talk about the lack of relevant content in Hitchcock films aren’t paying attention. What could be more relevant than the universal foibles inherent in mankind (and womankind) that keep us from being happy? What could be more relevant than shining a mirror on humanity? Even the shallowest of his films do this in some way. However, “Vertigo” seems to be the richest, because it has so many layers of meaning. I have only mentioned one of many here, and it is one that I rarely discuss.

    I hope this makes sense. I have been nursing a fever. 🙂 Great post.

    • “She was created in an effort to make him the patsy, and this is when he finally takes issue” and seeks revenge by turning Judy into a patsy? I’m so very happy you joined us today! Your thoughts ring true with me. That there are multiple approaches to considering the film (for decades!) is an indication of it’s legitimacy. I’m sorry you aren’t well and hope you feel better.

      • so the question here is “who created her?” the answer must be the director. then who is the patsy? “It can be no other than scottie.” doesnt that support my theory that hitchcock is not scottie? scottie is the patsy of the director. in other words, the audience. we are in his hands and subject to wherever he decides to take the story.

      • “It can be no other than scottie.” doesnt that support my theory that hitchcock is not scottie? ” The thing is that Gavin created Madeleine to get money while Scottie created Madeleine to satisfy his sexual needs. I doubt Hitchcock saw himself as a money-oriented person (Gavin ins’t interest Judy). He, on the other hand, was pretty honest about his phobias and sexual fantasies.

      • Exactly. There have been many interpretations of the film, and it is remarkable that most of them seem perfectly legitimate. “Vertigo” is a new film every time that I see it.

    • Love your post. I couldn’t agree with you more! You remind me of T. S. Eliot’s “Human kind cannot bear very much reality” and Blanche DuBois’s “I don’t want realism. I want magic!” There is a little bit of Don Quixote in all of us. We are always fighting windmills. 😉

  13. I should have said: “He only takes issue with the fact that Madeline IS a fantasy… (I accidently wrote “isn’t). I probably made other errors. Please forgive them.

  14. But Eric, Scottie had no part in her creation. Gavin created her as a foil for themurder of his wife. Gavin enlisted Scottie as the patsy who would observe the event and testify to Gavin’s innocence. It was only in the last 20 minutes of the picture that Scottie was compelled to reconstruct her, not the way a creator creates something but the way a consumer goes to see a remake or a sequel. I was much taken by Delphine Seyrig in Last year at marienbad. When i saw she was appearing again , in truffauts Stolen Kisses, I was very excited at the prospect of seeing her again. but the movie was a letdown because her costume wasnt right, her hair wasn’t right..this wasnt the actress i fell for. And I feel this is how scotty felt about Judy. Where did Madeline go?

    • Hi Jordan! As you can tell, the classic elicits a love/hate response. I think you would like it because it’s an abnormal psychology love story.

      • I know, I can’t believe how few Hitch films I have seen! Its almost blasphemy! I’ll make a mental note though, next time I want to watch an oldie, I’ll watch Vertigo 😀

        • My Top Ten (in order of preference):

          Vertigo (1958)
          The Birds (1963)
          Psycho (1960)
          Rear Window (1954)
          Rebecca (1940)
          Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
          Notorious (1946)
          The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
          Marnie (1964)
          North by Northwest (1959)

          • Eric, thank you so much for co-hosting with me this month. I appreciated your thoughts and angles and emotive responses. You are the best.
            Here’s my favorites:
            1. Notorious
            2. N by NW
            3. Strangers on a Train
            4. Vertigo
            5.Rear Window
            6. The Birds
            7. Psycho
            8. Rebecca
            9. Marnie
            10. Shadow of a Doubt

          • Thank YOU … You ARE the perfect hostess! I have enjoyed all the responses. You all have given me much to think about! Anyhow, our lists are pretty similar. 🙂

          • I loved The Birds and Rear Window. I haven’t seen any others, I’ll have to paste this list somewhere to refer to later on! Cheers mate

          • Rear Window was my very first Hitchcock, a movie that’s both super-entertaining and engrossing.

          • Agreed. Grace’s sheer love of adventure is in direct contradiction with her ultra-chic exterior. She really gets into the investigation.

  15. Love it ya Hate it, the fact remains, Vertigo, has some kind of effect on the audience (positive or negative). Otherwise this debate wouldn’t have been possible. 😉
    Really enjoyed reading all these thoughts, post my own.
    And Cindy, I completely agree with your comment on Audrey Hepburn. And she was Never airbrushed, a natural beauty. 😀 No, No , NO!! I shan’t believe that make up made her look good. On the contrary, make-up only enhanced her natural good looks. She made makeup, clothes & hairstyles, look good 🙂
    And Eric, about Tarantino, I agree, am not that crazy about him either.
    It’s less than an hour to noon, on the 14th, here, but ironically Cindy, you are the one in the future!! o.O
    I really ought to re-watch Vertigo. 13 years is way too long.

    • Time travel. Usually I’m the one left behind 😉 Yes, go watch Vertigo, Nuwansen. Now that your head is full of theories, you decide what works for you. I think it’s cool that they are all plausible.

  16. Wonderful exchange of ideas! Congratulations, Cindy and Eric for the insights…more power to both of you!!

    • Welcome Rafael. Please, we’d love to hear what about Vertigo you (or don’t) like? Nobody’s talked about the music score. Does it help?

  17. Cindy, I am a great fan of Hitchcock and practically everything he directed! Edith Head really knew her business and deserved all the awards she got. Hermann’s score has been described before as mesmerizing, and I’ll have to agree. And oh, I know how it is …to have vertigo…

    • Bernard Herrmann is my favorite film compose. It’s too bad that they stopped working together. I think Frenzy, Family Plot, and especially the flabby Topaz, could have benefited from Herrmann’s thunderous compositions.

  18. Shame on me for never having watched Vertigo. But you guys make it sound so good!!!! 🙂

  19. Cindy, oh my goodness! You have so many detailed comments back and forth! I liked “Vertigo” but enjoy “Rear Window” and “North by Northwest” more. I have to admit that the recent (within 3 or so years) movie, “Hitchcock” helped me to understand more of the “Why?” behind the film master’s decisions. I definitely believe he chose blondes as a contrast from his own marriage.
    The moral and religious values, along with confusion over his sexual dichotomy seem to re-occur, especially in “Psycho.”
    You did a great job of sharing this platform, Cindy. 🙂

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  21. I apologize, Eric, since I did realize you were sharing the “reins” of this post, I should have thanked you also! Hope you are still checking in. . .
    So, you don’t think “Hitchcock” was based on a few if the females he worked with, throughout his career? I should have known it might hold speculation rather than facts. I had thought they consulted particularly Janet Leigh? Thank you for letting me know this.

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  23. Pingback: L13FC: A Year in Review – Cindy Bruchman

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