Everything posted by ROT
What were the artistic influences on what some critics have called Hitchcock's most personal film: Vertigo? "The real reason was that I wanted to convey the dreams with great visual sharpness and clarity, sharper than the film itself. I wanted Dali because of the architectural sharpness of his work. Chirico has the same quality, you know, the long shadows, the infinity of distance and the converging lines of perspective." --Alfred Hitchcock, from his 1962 interview with François Truffaut Hitchcock was a collector of modern art and his private collection included several paintings by the German Expressionist Paul Klee, as well as a drawing by the Surrealist painter Salvador Dali. It was Dali, of course, whom Hitchcock commissioned in 1945 to create the dream sequence for his psychological thriller Spellbound. So Hitchcock was no stranger to Surrealism and Expression, and the influence of both artistic movements can be seen in what is arguably his most visually stunning psychological thriller. Two of de Chirico's works, "The Mystery and Melancholy of a Street" (1914) and "Big Tower or Nostalgia for the Infinite" (1913-14), bare a remarkable resemblance to scenes in Hitchcock's Vertigo. The Greco-Roman arcades and towers that de Chirico depicts in these paintings look like stylized storyboards for the San Juan Bautista Spanish mission building and bell tower. In fact, Hitchcock had a bell tower painted into the set of the San Juan Bautista mission (the original had burned down long ago) when he decided to change a key scene location from the Pigeon Point Lighthouse to the church bell tower. Yet the one painting in particular that provided the greatest impetus for the visual mood of Vertigo was Salvador Dali's painting by the same name, "Vertigo" (or "The Tower of Pleasure", 1930), that shows a couple in a struggle on top of a decaying high-rise. The two sexually engaged figures are dwarfed by the towering structure, and appear almost indistinguishable. Freud had observed in his essay on "Mourning and Melancholia" that the loss of a beloved object can cause its "shadow" to fall across the suffering mourner's ego, engendering a pathological love/hate relationship to subsequent objects of desire. This seems to define Scottie's relationship to Judy Barton. From the Surrealists, Hitchcock borrows dehumanizing urban architecture and haunting, desolate streets. These elements, as Freud suggested in Civilization and Its Discontents, contribute to the feeling of alienation in modern man. Expressionist painter Vasily Kandinsky's manifesto, On the Spiritual in Art, a book Hitchcock most likely read prior to 1946, credited the new expressiveness of color in art as the next step in an evolving global consciousness that tended toward the abstract and spiritual, over the concrete and material, as the ultimate good. Another Expressionist painter, Franz Marc, emphasized gender associations with certain colors. To Marc, yellow represented the extroverted female and blue the introverted male. Yellow he saw as earthy while blue had spiritual connotations. Kandinsky, however, thought a mixture of yellow and blue suggests madness, and he associated dark blue with grief. This explains the yellow motif of Midge Wood's (Barbara Bel Geddes') apartment. The walls and her hair and sweater are all varying shades of yellow. Even her step stool, which Scottie uses in an attempt to overcome his vertigo, is chrome yellow. Midge's unrequited love for Scottie turns her into a maternal figure that represents another aspect of the feminine yellow. Early the film, Scottie calls Midge "motherly" and later, Midge whispers in his ear: "Mother is here." It is in that scene that Midge (while comforting Scottie) is wearing a light blue sweater, and Scottie, a navy blue cardigan. On the curtains behind them are yellow and blue flowers which, on an Expressionist's palette, intimate both male and female and, when mixed together, madness. Some critics have also noted that Hitchcock was heavily influenced by the early Technicolor productions of Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies and Victor Fleming's The Wizard of Oz. Not only is Scottie's dream sequence animated but it begins with a dancing swirl of flowers (a la Fantasia) and, as critics have rarely noted, is a nightmare saturated by flashing neon. The enormous green neon sign of the Empire Hotel is clearly linked to the ghostly shade of green that appears throughout the picture, but here it represents the shift from natural to mechanical. In the same way that the Emerald City rises out of the poppy fields of Oz, the green neon is symbolic of the mechanized big city. If comparisons between The Wizard of Oz and Vertigo seem far-fetched, then consider that "Judy" is also from Kansas, and is now in a big city undergoing a major transformation. When she appears for the first time, fully transformed into the girl of Scottie's dreams, she is bathed in the glow of green neon. Additionally, the spiral dreamscape that dominates Vertigo also appears in the "dream" that is Oz: Starting with Judy Garland's (Dorothy Gale's) first steps on the yellow brick road, which begins in an outwardly expanding spiral. “Spiral: The path of a point (generally plane) which moves round an axis while continually approaching it or receding from it; also often used for a helix, which is generated by compounding a circular motion with one in a straight line. The spiral form is an apt illustration of the course of evolution, which brings motion round towards the same point, yet without repetition.” -The Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary (The definition would likely have been known to the author of The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum, as he was a practicing Theosophist.) Also, the mention of the helix puts one in mind of the artwork used in the opening title sequence of Vertigo. In a final comparison to Oz: When Jimmy Stewart follows Kim Novak down a dark alley, she disappears into a doorway. When Scottie opens the door, we see from his perspective the intense colors of the Podesta Baldocchi flower shop. Similarly, in Oz, Judy Garland opens the door to her Kansas home to reveal the flower-filled Technicolor spectacle of Munchkinland. Even without the parallels to The Wizard of Oz, it is difficult to regard the image of Kim Novak, portrayed as a tiny, melancholy figure in the shadow of the towering, sun-lit Golden gate bridge, a structure which seemingly tapers off into infinity, as anything other than a true work of Expressionism.
ROT replied to Dr. Rich Edwards's topic in The Master of Suspense: 50 Years of HitchcockAfter live tweeting to/with Rear Window on TCM--mainly about the idea of the movie as a dream--the image of the framed photograph negative and the stack of magazines that end the opening scene kept coming to mind. I also tweeted about the concept of all of the different neighbors reflecting some aspect of Jeff and Lisa's relationship; usually in a negative way. Ultimately, with Jeff mirroring Thorwald and Lisa, Mrs. Thorwald. Remember, this is in the context of a dream, and also that in mirrors, the image you see is always reversed. This is one of the Hitchcock films that I've seen the most--probably 50 times, with 5 or 6 of those times being in an old Paramount movie palace--but this is the first time I thought of the framed negative and the stack of magazines as anything more than showing another aspect of Jeff's photography. But look at that negative image and the way it is introduced: After seeing the smashed camera, and several photographs capturing danger and violence, we see a whole camera and then a close-up of the negative. In a way, that camera, with its flashbulb intact, represents danger, since flashbulbs will later be used as a defensive weapon by Jeff. Of course, the model in the image, represents Lisa--both in general appearance, style and elegance. Yet her character is first intimated as a "negative". Then the camera glides over it to rest on the stack of magazines; revealing the photograph that was created by the negative, on the cover of a magazine. For some reason, I always thought this was a stack of the same issue of the magazine: all having the model on the cover. As if it was the most recent issue or a recent shot or something he was particularly proud of. The fact that the negative was framed and the magazine is on top suggest these thoughts. Also, did Lisa get him the assignment? Did Lisa have the photo negative framed? I never noticed the other stack of magazines right beside the first, obviously all of the same magazine--the one Jeff works for. It seems to be something like Life magazine. The title is either obscured or not there at all. What I always thought was the leaf of a houseplant covered the top of the magazine. However, in the still shot you can see it's actual strips of negatives that lie across the top of the cover--again marring the image with a subtle negative connotation. The strips even gently move up and down at the end (so there's either a fan in the room or a slight breeze--thank goodness). In any event, the character of Lisa (who wasn't in the original story) is foreshadowed first by this negative image, this opposite image. It appears to symbolize the threat she will represent to his work and the danger she might create in his Life (i.e. marriage). Again, appearing as subconscious dream thoughts, ideas, images. This is all tied together brilliantly, in the scenes where Lisa proves her sense of adventure--particularly by entering Thorwald's apartment and finding Mrs. Thorwald's wedding ring; thereby proving herself capable of Jeff's lifestyle. When Lisa draws Jeff's attention to the wedding ring on her left hand (seeming to beckon to him), and Thorwald notices it too--then looks up to Jeff...In that moment of horror and discovery, Jeff and Thorwald are most closely associated or mirrored or similar. Jeff seeing Lisa in a wedding ring--Mrs. Thorwald's wedding ring--almost puts him in Thorwald's shoes. Jeff's greatest fear, marriage, seems almost inevitable. Jeff, in this dream, now recognizes he will become as Thorwald. (The wedding ring, don't forget, in this case, is also evidence of a murder, a death.) And all of Jeff's complaints, negative descriptions, and disparaging remarks on marriage will now apply to him, as well. Jeff and Lisa's fate will now be the same as Mr. and Mrs. Thorwald: "Until death do us part."