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Alfred Hitchcock's VERTIGO


MissGoddess
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It's the 50th Anniversary of this film this month, and there have been several write-ups in the papers and online, including a NY Times story posted in "Hot Topics". Here is a brief piece from Scott Eyman's "blog" today:

 

http://www.palmbeachpost.com/blogs/content/shared-blogs/palmbeach/culture/entries/2008/05/13/hitchcock_and_vertigo.html?cxntfid=blogs_culture_club

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The preposterousness of the plot in Vertigo is not the point. One could, of course, find all sorts of illogical elements in the story, but if one approaches Vertigo as a film, as a work of art, logic recedes in value. Hitchcock was aware of all the loopholes and even had the notion of the "icebox" elements. An example is the old hotel Madeleine visits. James Stewart sees her raising the window shade. But when he investigates, the woman running the place proves that she has not been there on that day. Hitchcock explains that people will get something from the icebox in the middle of the night and then start talking about an element in the film that made little if any sense. Of course the hotel scene is illogical. But it suits the mood of the story and helps to establish the theme of identity and the ghostlike hold that a woman from the past holds over a living woman--- and perhaps James Stewart as well.

 

The thematic elements of this tale are all existential and must be expressed symbolically and visually. Many of these elements have never been discussed by critics--- the Golden Gate Bridge, for example. Its visual prominence invites critical examination, but so far nothing.

 

There is also the thematic element of romantic obsession. Stewart's obsession leads him to a complete breakdown. He saw Madeleine as a woman in the thrall of someone dead. But when Stewart attempts to make over Judy Barton into the image of Madeleine, he too is in the grip of someone dead. The Madeleine he followed around San Francisco died, supposedly a suicide. And now as he makes Judy over he is in love with her only to the extent that he can recreate Madeleine through her. Madeleine--- someone dead. Dead in the 19th century and dead again in the 20th.

 

Stewart's performance at the end of the film when he drags Judy up the tower staircase is quite remarkable. He had never in any of his films revealed such a depth of emotion--- rage, disillusionment, hopelessness, expressed with a frankness that is almost shocking. Vertigo is a film with many layers of meaning, a very personal film for Hitchcock, a man of romantic longing and perhaps as much nagging doubt as that of the character Stewart plays.

 

What I am saying, in other more concise words, is that one must not approach this film too literally. A literal reading reveals logical flaws, but a symbolic reading reveals depths of meaning.

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I find Vertigo to be every bit as romantic as you do. In fact, I would say that of all Hollywood's films (and I've seem a remarkable number of them thanks to Turner Classics) Vertigo is the supreme expression of romanticism in its examination of romantic obsession and doubt. I wold say that the ending of the film, with Judy Barton exposed as an accessory to murder, falling to her death because of the appearance of an almost ghostlike nun ("I heard voices!" she says as she rings the tower bell.) is ultimately sad because it suggests that romantic desire, longing, involvement are essentially fraudulent.

 

It is this suggestion that makes the viewer so uneasy. Isn't Scottie the creator of all the illusion, in a sense? After all, he goes along with the notion that the wife he is following around San Francisco is under the spell of a ghost from the past. His obsession is so great that when Madeleine commits suicide, apparently, he undergoes a year long depression. But in the dream sequence that precedes this, the cartoonlike nature of the images seems to suggest that everything about Madeleine is phony.

 

When Scottie realizes he has been fooled by Gavin Elster (he notices Judy's necklace) his rage at Judy Barton is outsized. It is an almost monumental rage. All that he had ever believed, longed for, loved, has been shown to be a fraud. The last image of him on the tower almost suggests he might leap. The film has plumbed depths of emotion and obsession that are seldom examined. We don't want to know that our beliefs or loves could be false. We don't want to believe that when we fall in love we are manufacturing an illusion for ourselves; that is, that we are falling in love with what we believe someone to be and not with what that person actually is. This is why Vertigo is so disturbing--- and so hypnotic.

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Welcome to the board, Rob. Your first two posts are both wonderfully expressed and written.

 

What I am saying, in other more concise words, is that one must not approach this film too literally. A literal reading reveals logical flaws, but a symbolic reading reveals depths of meaning.

 

Hear hear. I'm in complete agreement.

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Welcome, Rob! I read with pleasure and interest your thoughts on Vertigo and I thank you very much for sharing them here. I too agree very strongly that one should not watch this movie (and many others) with too literal an eye. Hitch himself spoke about the subjectivity of his approach.

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>Do you honestly believe that Bush needs lessons?

 

It was all I could do to refrain from posting a similar comment (I felt like Kissoff in Strangelove trying to keep my arm down) but I didn't want to besmirch the thread with 1) politics, but more importantly, 2) the mere mention of the thing in question. But I'm sure the thread will survive...and hopefully the rest of us too.

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The biggest problem with the plot is that Elster did NOT need Scottie or Judy at all, since he was able to slip into the bell tower, while dragging his wife, without being seen by anyone. He was able to push her out of the tower without being seen by anyone. And he was able to escape without being seen by anyone. So he DID NOT need Scottie or Judy at all.

 

And you are right, his ?scheme? was so far out, so complex, and so bizarre, he was bound to ?slip up? with such a complicated scheme, and that?s what actually did happen in the end. Judy staying in San Francisco was idiotic.

 

And for Scottie to take Judy -- dressed up and made up to look like Madeleine -- into bars and restaurants where Elster had taken Madeleine -- and where both were well-known -- was just really stupid, especially after everyone who knew Madeleine knew that she was supposed to be dead.

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I heard an interesting remark from Robert Osborne about Vera Miles and Vertigo in his comments about The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. He said that Miles didn't like Hitchcock, so after doing The Wrong Man and Psycho with him, she refused to do Vertigo, and he had to hustle to find someone else for the part--Kim Novak, as it turned out.

 

Huh?

 

Psycho was made several years after Vertigo, so this doesn't make sense.

 

I don't really see Miles in the Novak part. She's a better actress, but doesn't have that opaque Mona Lisa beauty that might have anything beneath it.

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I agree, Fred, but there are those who believe that none of this matters so long as you have the ?art.? Maybe they don?t want to consider that the ?art? might be more powerful if the story made more sense. The hotel scene, given as an example of bad plotting by another poster below, is not even representative of what is wrong with the plot, in fact, it serves the very purpose that was given. Hitchcock executes a little sleight of hand with Madeleine's disappearance providing her with an evergrowing mystique and an illusory nature that augments our sense of Scottie?s obsession. I like those touches and they serve a good purpose. It?s the more mundane aspects of the plot that grate, as you, Fred, and others have pointed out here and elsewhere. The questions is, wouldn?t the movie be better if it had a more compelling story? Even with just an ordinary but plausible plot, the ?symbolic reading? and ?depths of meaning,? deemed to be so important, would be more powerful. To be sure, there is still a lot to like with this movie as it is but the weaknesses of the plot should not be so lightly dismissed, as some are so wont to do.

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Winter,

 

Are you sure you heard Robert O right? Vera was set to play Madeline but got pregnant and was unable to do the role. So Kim Novack stepped in.

 

Hitch very much wanted Vera for *Marnie* but Miles did not want to work with Hitch again following her experience with him on *Psycho* so Tippi Hedren got the role instead.

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The biggest problem with the plot is that Elster did NOT need Scottie or Judy at all, since he was able to slip into the bell tower, while dragging his wife, without being seen by anyone. He was able to push her out of the tower without being seen by anyone. And he was able to escape without being seen by anyone. So he DID NOT need Scottie or Judy at all.

 

Elster needed Scottie's "taking" Judy/"Madeleine" to the mission (though she urged Scottie that they visit it) to establish a logical reason for her being there. Elster needed no help in actually carrying out the murder of the real Madeleine, but he needed Scotty and Judy to make the murder appear to be a convincing suicide.

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> {quote:title=FredCDobbs wrote:}{quote}

 

> And for Scottie to take Judy -- dressed up and made up to look like Madeleine -- into bars and restaurants where Elster had taken Madeleine -- and where both were well-known -- was just really stupid, especially after everyone who knew Madeleine knew that she was supposed to be dead.

 

I would agree that this is probably the single largest "flaw" in the gem that is VERTIGO. After all, if Scottie noticed the resemblance between the two, someone else might as well. However, I would say that this also is probably not a "flaw" that is readily noticeable when viewing the film for the first time as one becomes caught up in the atmosphere of romantic, possibly deadly obsession.

 

Interestingly, another problem with the film was noted by Dan Auiler in his book Vertigo: the Making of a Hitchcock Classic. There, he notes that Hitchcock was never quite satisfied with the placement in the film (at about the 3/4 point) of the revelatory sequence in which the audience learns of Elster's duplicity and Judy's involvement. Apparently, Hitchcock wavered between placing it where it is now or placing it later in the film, a bit closer to the climax.

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No, the biggest flaw by far is that, having killed Madeleine, Elster already has a potential death-sentence hanging over his head if caught, yet he leaves Judy, the only person who can finger him for the crime, alive and living in the same city with Scottie (and lets her keep Carlotta's necklace, to boot).

 

Two potential death sentences are no more onerous than one, since the state can only make you suck cyanide once.

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Hello there Fred: "The biggest problem with the plot is that Elster did NOT need Scottie or Judy at all, since he was able to slip into the bell tower, while dragging his wife, without being seen by anyone. He was able to push her out of the tower without being seen by anyone. And he was able to escape without being seen by anyone. So he DID NOT need Scottie or Judy at all."

 

Aaaah, the battle over "Vertigo" rages on. Let me add these points, if I may. On one level, Elster may NOT have needed Scottie; as you say, Elster was able to pull off his murderous shenanigans: "without being seen by anyone." But the police usually go after the husband, when a wife winds up dead, no? He's usually the suspect. I believe Elster wanted to really sell the idea that his wife committed suicide. "See, I have a witness."

 

"And you are right, his ?scheme? was so far out, so complex, and so bizarre, he was bound to ?slip up? with such a complicated scheme, and that?s what actually did happen in the end. Judy staying in San Francisco was idiotic."

 

Idiotic? Perhaps...but I believe Judy fell in love with Scottie while she was Madeleine. Also, she probably figured that Scottie would never recognize her in her brunette/Allison Hayes-look. A woman in love. Whaddya want? "HARRY!!!!"

 

"And for Scottie to take Judy -- dressed up and made up to look like Madeleine -- into bars and restaurants where Elster had taken Madeleine -- and where both were well-known -- was just really stupid, especially after everyone who knew Madeleine knew that she was supposed to be dead."

 

As a "VERTIGO" lover, I must admit you've made a very very good point here. But Elster took it on the lamb after the inquest and check it out...Scottie never got the chance to parade around with his deceased date becuz he saw the necklace and started to put pieces together.

 

Monsieur Lafitte: "The questions is, wouldn?t the movie be better if it had a more compelling story?"

 

I think FrankGrimes did an excelllllent analysis of "Vertigo" last year, and I'm a fan of the film. I guess what I'm saying is that some folks find "Vertigo" a glass half-full. There are others here who find that some can't see the forest for the trees. I prefer Hitchcock's trees. A film about obsession, betrayal, desire, longing and perhaps unconsciously wanting to be caught. Go pick on "Rear Window."

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> {quote:title=CineSage_jr wrote:}{quote}

> No, the biggest flaw by far is that, having killed Madeleine, Elster already has a potential death-sentence hanging over his head if caught, yet he leaves Judy, the only person who can finger him for the crime, alive and living in the same city with Scottie (and lets her keep Carlotta's necklace, to boot).

>

> Two potential death sentences are no more onerous than one, since the state can only make you suck cyanide once.

 

You're right, of course, but I think this is really the "other side of the same coin" in that Scottie wouldn't have been able to take Judy to these places, thereby risking the discovery and unraveling of Elster's entire plan, if Elster had eliminated her in the first place, as you say.

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Miss G....

 

hiya hun...i had to put my 2 cents in here....lol...i thought this was Hitchcocks BEST!! I honestly must say i dont understand how ppl can PICK apart this movie so much...as far as Madeline being dead...NOT being dead...lol...going in to restaraunts...i hope noone takes this wrong but i dont think u are seeing Hitchcocks filming correctly..when he filmed he wasnt thinking on a REALISTIC view..lol...i mean i dont really think thats what Hitchcock was all about AT ALL....he WAS all about SUSPENCE....what if....he always kept us guessing....he lived OUT of the box and i truly feel all these critics are to me very strange.....i thought him bringing back Madeline was brilliant as ONLY Hitchcock could do.... even up to the point when we ( meaning the audience) didnt even know ourselves if this WAS Madi.....and James Stewarts obsession with her to me was perfectly normal seeing how HE felt it was HIS fault she fell at ALL....so what that he brought her to restaraunts ...and WHO is to say that the SAME ppl were at the restaraunt when she was there alive then when she was dead....anyway to me that even sounds bizarre to say because Hitchcock did NOT live that way...his work was always using the imagination...keeping U in suspence..ALWAYS...to the end!!

 

I just dont understand the literal critics about this MASTERPEICE of Hitchcocks...when Hitchcok lived soooooooo out of the box..

 

in short i ADORED Vertigo....could not find ONE thing wrong with it..thats my opinion!

 

ty Miss G..

 

AvaG :-)

 

Message was edited by: AvaG92260

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I don't think I noticed any of the flaws when I originally saw the film in the theater.

 

I didn't begin to notice the flaws until after I had seen it several times on TV.

 

So, I guess some films are made to be seen only once or twice, while others can be seen over and over again.

 

I do remember that the first time I saw it, it was extremely mysterious, and I even wondered if Judy was really the other girl, or if Scotty and I just thought she looked like the other girl. I remember being surprized to find out she WAS the other girl.

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Hiya Fred!!

 

Its been awhile! Yes thats what i mean about him keeping u in suspence not knowing about Madi.....but i just dont see as u say the FLAWS....i just dont get it with Hitchcock....

 

but thats my opinion....

 

nice chattin with ya again Fred!

 

AvaG ;-)

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I probably saw this film 6 or 7 times before I began to notice the flaws.

 

Maybe some of us are just plain crazy or something.

 

"North by Northwest" has a lot of flaws in it, but they don't bother me very much. I mean like the guy being killed with a knife in the back inside the very busy United Nations building, and no one sees the killer.

 

And Grant being taken to the house that has been completely taken over by spies, yet no one -- including a hundred or so party guests -- seems to notice that the owner of the house is missing and the house has been taken over by spies.

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Fred,,,

 

well i dont no about North By Northwest i thought we were talking about Vertigo.....lol....i have to think about North first before i talk about it with ya,...lol...but being that i JUST saw Vertigo its fresh in my mind....

 

And i dont think your all crazy....where did that come from?.....,lol......I was just stateing MY opinion about Vertigo and the all the critisizims that were said about it.....i just think you are taking the movie to literally you have to open up your imagination when watching Hitchcock well Vertigo for sure..thats all im saying......

 

ty

AvaG

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>I prefer Hitchcock's trees. A film about obsession, betrayal, desire, longing and perhaps unconsciously wanting to be caught. Go pick on "Rear Window."

 

Still, I would like a little forest in my Vertigo, thank you ;)

 

And I can't pick on Rear Window. The movie is so different than V. There is something almost comical to Rear Window, the set, the neighbors, the dialogue. Its marvelous enough that the entire story unfolds without a change of scenery. It's very unique in that way and the overall is so winning and enjoyable. The flaws don't reach a visible threshold for me. I can take it, as is. Vertigo demands so much more, it is wrought with emotion etc., it seems to require a little more versimilitude with reality because of what it puts us through. Just me.

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