Listen now | Today’s episode is Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. To be honest, we are both a bit baffled as to why this film is so highly regarded. In fact, we feel like it’s a muddled mess that continuously misses the mark. Hitchcock also seems determined to make sure there is no ambiguity, which makes it hard to interpret the film in a way that might save it.
I was really excited halfway through the movie when I thought it was going to be about him trying to prevent passing on his "curse" to the painter lady before he died. It was disappointing when it turned out to be an elaborate ruse : p
I searched the internet to see if there were other influences from Magritte on Hitchcock and I found a comparison of a painting to a marketing photograph from "The Birds". https://mma.pages.tufts.edu/fah189/2002/bstone/magritte.html
I also remembered that there's a dream sequence designed by Salvador Dali in "Spellbound". The quotation from Bataille related to the cosmos and the inner reality also connects well to the title sequence of "Vertigo". So the relation to surrealism is there in "Vertigo", after that I think it's a matter of deciding whether Hitchcock succeeded or not to be convincing about it.
now i really want a whole hitchcock month: movies by de palma, dario argento, truffaut in his hitchcock mode and maybe a shyamalan wildcard to top the month off
(or clouzot, in a merciful version)
I just read Ebert's review of "Vertigo", it's weird that he liked it that much but wasn't impressed by "Lost Highway" which is almost a remake (one of my favorite by Lynch, the soundtrack is amazing). Also I'm like Flyingwaffle, I really like "Body Double". I haven't seen "Dressed to Kill" in a while but I remember liking the museum scene.
For Vertigo, my favorite shot is during the nightmare scene with the three actors turning their heads at different speeds. I thought it was freaking cool, a bit like in Psycho for the swamp scene.
The shot in question: https://youtu.be/4WAxDlUOw-w?t=36
There’s a popular interpretation of this film that reads Jimmy Stewart as an avatar of Hitchcock himself, “directing” Kim Novak into fitting his desires while falling deeper into obsession. I think that interpretation took off enough that Vertigo become a kind of shorthand for Hitchcock’s whole career, and when people praise it as an all time classic, they’re kind of casting a proxy vote for Hitchcock as a director.
I think that interpretation is... somewhat interesting? At best it makes the movie slightly more interesting to talk about, but not much more interesting to watch.
More importantly, you can play a vastly more interesting version of that game with Citizen Kane, where Orson Welles casts himself as an upstart genius who abandons his principles and drives everyone away, and at one point literally frames himself as Hitler! So even going by the metric of “How fun is it to psychologically analyze the director”, the fact that Vertigo dethroned Citizen Kane as the best movie ever made in the last Sight and Sound poll is baffling.
I think this was my favorite episode so far. I’m also baffled by this movie’s reputation, and it was very cathartic to hear both of you agree and try to find anything salvageable here.
I get a bit more from the movie than you did. The 25-30 minute chunk when Jimmy Stewart is just outright psychologically tormenting Kim Novak really works for me. It’s extremely uncomfortable in a way that feels very intentional. The ultimate ending with the nun is a silly anticlimax, but leading up that, I think there’s a very effective rising tension as we get increasingly worried what Stewart will do to her. As much as it would be film sacrilege, I’d love to see a remake that just focuses on that element and aggressively cuts or rewrites everything else.
But 25 compelling minutes isn’t enough to salvage a film, especially when the path to get there is so outrageously contrived and tedious. The first half hour of this film is 5 minutes of plot and 25 minutes of driving! And I 100% agree that Hitchcock constantly undercuts any depth the movie might have by making everything literal in a way that’s total nonsense. Calling the plot contrived is way too charitable.
This one is tough, my life partner and I watched it 15 years ago for a film studies elective course and it kind of disenchanted both of us from cinema. Like if that's the best this art form had to offer for the last 100 years, we might as well read Joyce and Proust and move on with our lives.
So like I wrote previously in other comments, the way it was presented was about how it was a bridge between classical cinema and modern cinema (with emphasis on immersion-breaking devices.) French New Wave directors-to-be were writing reviews in the 50s and took American directors as models because french cinema at the time was abysmal. A cursory introduction to the cinema theory of philosopher Gilles Deleuze was also done. Basically, it's about how the hero is not performing actions but looking at things so time stretches and there is an intensification of attention to details (à la Proust).
The thing with all this theory is that presented like this it feels like a joke, like, the movie is not good and comparing Hitchcock to Proust feels completely blown out of proportion. Also, it's an analysis that is very literary-based. Even though the idea was to find corresponding images that feel Proustian, Deleuze does not write like a visual art historian but like a very obtuse philosopher. His books on cinema are somewhat more readable but it's definitely not a lesson on visual composition or editing (and as far as I remember his treatment of film music is very limited).
Now, I had more time to read in the last couple of years and I also took the time in the last two weeks to actually check out how people from the French New Wave reacted to Vertigo. I'll post stuff and everything so everybody can make up their mind, but to me it really feels similar to the way Tarantino completely reinterpreted B-Movies, only here with a background of high culture from Europe so it's moving away even further from the source material.