Sunday, May 31, 2009

May Flowers, Vertigo

For the finale of May Flowers I thought we should gaze at Alfred Hitchcock's immortal Vertigo(1958). Aside from Vertigo descendants like Robert Altman's Three Women or David Lynch's Mulholland Drive what film is more appropriate for this time of year when we're ruled by twin sign Gemini? Hitchcock films generally deserve complete dissertations but we don't have Scottie Ferguson's (Jimmy Stewart) stamina when it comes to fetishizing doppelgangers. So in the space of this blogpost we merely glance at his introductions to Madeleine/Judy (Kim Novak).

Ferguson has been hired to follow Madeleine and as he first spots her in the deep rose red restaurant, Hitchock slow zooms out from Scottie (far right) at the bar and pans left, following his gaze, into the dining area filled with flowers and well heeled customers and even a painting of a floral arrangement framed by floral arrangements before it finally stops at Madeleine (tiny, far left) in her emerald green dress.

As she leaves the restaurant we get Kim Novak's first bewitching close up, carefully calibrated and emphasized by Hitchcock's editor George Tomasini and cinematographer Robert Burks. Scottie likes what he sees but this is a job.

Some enchanted evening
You may see a stranger,
you may see a stranger
Across a crowded room
And somehow you know,
You know even then
That somewhere you'll see her
Again and again.

-"Some Enchanted Evening" from South Pacific which (trivia note!) opened in theaters two months before Vertigo.
Scottie will indeed be seeing Madeleine again and again. His interest is piqued. Hitchcock sees this man's spiral into obsession coming long before he does. When Scottie next follows Madeleine she enters a door in an alley way and he enters, not knowing what he'll find there.

This is psychologically astute visual storytelling. Once he's in pursuit, Scottie is cast into shadow and suddenly it's all color, flowers, woman. This will be happening to Scottie again and again, albeit not in the literal sense. His personality will darken (obsessive bullying voyeur coming right up) and soon his life will be entirely focused on colors (it must be the gray suit!), flowers (his eyes darting from bouquet to bouquet) and this particular woman. All he will be able to see is Madeleine.

Or Judy as the case may be...

Scottie also first "meets" (okay, stalks) Judy, who looks suspiciously like Madeleine, in a setting bursting with colored petals. His eye is drawn there by a familiar bouquet... And then he spots Judy, introduced with a right profile closeup just like Madeleine. Her shot isn't as elegant but she's from Selina, Kansas. What did you expect?

Though she lacks Madeleine's class, she's practically a fraternal twin. Scottie will force the issue until she's identical. Hitchcock, Novak and Stewart aren't afraid to commit to unlikeable characters (pity that neither actor was Oscar-nominated for this, but then Oscar treated this masterpiece quite shabbily, extending only sound and art direction nominations) and the movie is richer and darker for it.

Vertigo makes you dizzy with its duplicate women, tripled bouquets -- oops, I didn't mention the third woman, Carlotta Valdes, and that painting that hypnotizes Madeleine? No?!

We can't venture there, lest we be sucked into the knotty insane spiral of all of these doppelgangers. We don't want to end up like Scottie or Madeleine who'll violently toss her flowers into the river before jumping in herself.

This movie was all too much for her.



adelutza said...

A masterpiece

Amy said...

This was the first adult film I ever saw. Ever. I'd seen Disney, and some Spielberg, which I loved, but Vertigo blew my 10-year-old mind and I've had a deep love affair with film ever since.


yeah, it's crazy good. this barely touches on it and doesn't even include my second favorite shot in the movie. Judy bathed in lavender (or is it green light? i already forget) by her apartment curtain.

Dean said...

It's a green light. I think Vertigo has to be seen at least 3 times to be even somewhat understood and I've only seen it twice ha. So it's still somewhat a mystery to me but I know it's great.

Derreck said...

i love the kiss at the end.

It is full of passion and longing, yet, the green light adds such a twisted aspect to an already twisted situation.

Michael C. said...

If any film is ever going to oust Citizen Kane on the Sight and Sound poll I think this will and should be the one to do it.

The Central Scrutinizer said...

If you haven't viewed this cinematographic snapshot of life in the late 50's, what are you waiting for? I lent my remastered DVD to a coworker and his kids (all ages) watched it three (3!) times daily for a week. The schmuck I lent it to? He didn't watch it once! Smart kids; Dad's a moron! Those kids must have got their Mom's brains. He said the kids just sat quietly and watched (each time) like they were mesmerized. I re-watch this film and others in a random rotation so I don't tire of them. This is one of THE all-time greatest films. Hitchcock recommendations? Watch 'em ALL! Wanna' get started with Kubrick? Barry Lyndon!