Sunday, August 19, 2018
Notes on VERTIGO(written by Alec Coppel & Samuel Taylor and directed by Alfred Hitchcock) as Discussed by Luke Ford and Kevin Michael Grace
Luke Ford and Kevin Michael Grace discuss VERTIGO, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. VERTIGO dethroned Orson Welles' CITIZEN KANE in the 2012 Sight & Sight poll the Best Movies of All Time. Unlike Welles' masterpiece that is brimming with life and has large cast of characters, VERTIGO is remarkably one of the loneliest movies ever made. Indeed, its appeal to cinephiles is that intense feeling of loneliness. The audience shares in the experience of CITIZEN KANE together. If anything, the most subjective eye in the film, that of the reporter on the trail of 'rosebud', is rendered almost invisible. What we see is a vast array of characters, big and small, reminiscing on the most public of endeavors: Business, Media, Arts, Politics. CITIZEN KANE is more about the seen than the seeing.
In contrast, the viewer is the main protagonist in VERTIGO(as in REAR WINDOW), and his gaze fixates on one thing: Madeleine as woman, ghost, resurrection, and myth. If 'rosebud' remains vague throughout CITIZEN KANE until the very end, we know what Scotty's(James Stewart) 'rosebud' or "Carlotta's Bouquet" is. Even though VERTIGO is an ensemble piece as romance-mystery, it is emotionally a one-man-show. It is about Scotty's fascination with Madeleine that turns into obsession and yearning. The somber tones, melancholic score, and portrait of privacy(so intense and oblivious to everything but its innermost desire) all conspire to make VERTIGO into a one-man-tragedy. Scotty becomes blind and deaf to everything but the siren and her song. One might see a parallel with Liv Ullmann's character in PERSONA who is also incapacitated and admitted to a clinic, but if her ailment remains enigmatic and opaque, there is clarity to Scotty's condition. He wants Madeleine. He has a powerful and all-encompassing longing for someone who can no longer exist in the world of the real.
In a way, Scotty's eagerness to cure Madeleine of her malady is psychological compensation for his inability to overcome his own. No amount of reason can undo his acrophobia, but maybe, reason can cure Madeleine of her irrational affliction with the supernatural. Yet, a part of him doesn't want to see Madeleine cured. Its her forlorn state that makes her even more beautiful and draws him closer to her. She's a damsel in distress, but in another sense, she's the queen of dreams. Its her 'possession' that adds tragic poetry to her physical beauty and charms.
For many years, VERTIGO was unavailable to moviegoers, but upon re-release, it has rapidly gained the status of Hitchcock's greatest work(among so many to choose from). It has also inspired or influenced many notable films: LA JETEE, THE LAST EMBRACE, L'APPARTEMENT, MULHOLLAND DR., A.I: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, MOTHMAN PROPHECIES, INCEPTION, SHUTTER ISLAND to name a few.
Scotty represents the two sides of our psychology: Logical & Factual and Creative & Dreamy. Scotty's career as a hard-nosed detective tracking down criminal cases involved his logical and factual side. He lived in a world without ghosts, one where everything had a logical explanation, one where even love was a game between rational strategists. But the faculty of reason, however essential and useful, cannot 'create' or dream. In the end, it is the mist around the object than the object itself that makes us dream, inspiring us to create myths and fairy-tales. And it is upon his encounter with Madeleine that Scotty falls into a dream from which he can't wake(nor wants to). It is telling that, even after the facts are finally known about Madeleine/Judy in the last scene, he so easily falls into her embrace again as if to cling to the myth. Even if it can never be the same, he wants it to go on in another form. Dreams lead to madness but there lies the vision. It's like what William Hurt's character tells David in the final part of A.I.: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE. If Scotty gradually goes from analyst & tracker to creator & maker(of dreams, albeit a forgery of Elster's sinister masterpiece), David(with the help of Gigolo Joe) uses his analytic skills to track down a dream, one that proves to be impossible as years pass.
As different as CITIZEN KANE and VERTIGO are, there is the theme of obsession at the core of both movies. Even though Kane, unlike Scotty, was a rich public figure(richer than all the Gavin Elsters of the world), he too ended up alone and lonely. And as his ultimate dreams -- becoming governor(then maybe president), being a champion of the People, and being loved -- failed to materialize, he withdrew into a dream of his own creation called Xanudu. With god-complex, he strove to create his own Edenic Ark separate from the fallen world that rejected him. And yet, even in that world, he lost all his friends and finally his wife. If any film incorporated the powerful themes of both CITIZEN KANE and VERTIGO, it'd be Sergio Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN A AMERICA where James Woods plays the Kane figure whereas Robert DeNiro the Scotty figure.
1. https://youtu.be/met1c7anQ3E?t=11m23s Kevin Michael Grace says Hitchcock blamed disappointing Box Office on James’ Stewart age but argues it made the character’s desperation all the more palpable. Akin to the elderly professor in BLUE ANGEL? Perhaps, the element of realization than desperation is more crucial as to why Stewart’s age made the story richer. Because the character of Scotty is ‘older’, he feels he’s seen it all, felt it all, been through it all; therefore, nothing can get to him or get under his skin. The passion in the movie takes on greater force precisely because it engulfs a man who seems immune to such emotions. Thus, there’s an element of surprise, as when the middle-aged professor comes upon the nymphet in LOLITA and becomes aroused with sensations novel to him despite his learning and worldliness. Kevin Michael Grace also says the movie is operatic, and it certainly has such moments, especially at the end. But most of the movie proceeds like a fugue, accented by moments that feel like tone poems.
2. https://youtu.be/met1c7anQ3E?t=12m40s Kevin Michael Grace says that a recurring theme in Hitchcock’s movies is the falsely accused or suspected ‘wrong man’ trying to prove his innocence. Hitchcock made a movie of that title, and oddly enough, it’s rather uncharacteristic of his works. Even though many of Hitchcock’s movies do involve the ‘wrong man’, there’s the sense that the real villain is acting out the subconscious desires of the hero, the ‘wrong man’ or ‘wronged man’. It's like what Lancelot says of himself and Guinevere in EXCALIBUR: "we are innocent...but not in our hearts." Consider STRANGERS ON A TRAIN where the hero didn’t murder his wife but almost wanted to strangle her himself. In the movie WRONG MAN, the wronged man is portrayed unambiguously as a good man wrongfully accused(almost scapegoated) by the system and the community. Perhaps, that particular movie was uncharacteristically moralistic(even a bit didactic) because it was based on a true story. But in many of Hitchcock’s movies, the villain acts out the subconscious desire of the hero. The hero has a superego firm enough to restrain his darker impulses. So, the villain, as his Id, steps in to do the job. And then, the hero and villain duke it out, with the good winning over the evil. But the perverse dynamics has the hero really battling himself as the villain's transgression eloquently represents the secret murmurs of the hero's heart. In a way, even as the villain harasses and torments the hero, he has made it doubly good for the latter. In killing the person that the hero really wants dead, the villain served as hero's emissary. And then, in being defeated by the hero, the latter can comfort himself that he’s always been on the side of the good when, in fact, his hidden soul is closer to the villain's than he would like to believe. Thanks to the villain in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, the hero no longer has to deal with his wicked wife and move onto a new lover. The reason why ROPE doesn’t work is Hitchcock chickened out and failed to present James Stewart’s character as a true nihilist. If the movie had been more courageous, the character should have felt the full force of realization that the boys were actually ‘more’ than him because whereas he could only expound on nihilism in theory, they actually carried it out. Instead, we have Stewart's character telling the boys that, gee whiz, he hadn't mean it; he was just joshing, that’s all. (Furthermore, the story would have been more effective if the killers had been presented as truly intelligent sickos than as morons who think they're smart but really aren't. Because they are presented as essentially shallow and stupid, the murder seems more the product of 'dangerous ideas' than dark souls despite Stewart's sermon at the end about how it was in the dark nature of the boys to have done what they did.) PSYCHO is creepier because there is a sense that the Good can easily slide into Bad. When the woman is on the dark road with the stolen money, her conscience is troubled by voices inside her head accusing her of being a wicked creature, but then, we see her eyes turn radiant like headlights and her lips flicker into a smile as she begins to enjoy the realization that, yes, she is a bad woman and is capable of anything. Her psyche begins to split, and for a moment, her stare anticipates the Norman Bates’ stare at the end of the movie. Of course, Bates is a far more seriously split personality. In a way, he is the villain but also the victim, a ‘wronged man’ to the extent that he sincerely believes he is victimized by the madness of his mother whom he feels obliged to protect as a good son. Not sure if Charles Laughton was channeling Hitchcock, but the ending scene with the watch in THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER suggests that evil keeps on ticking on and on, even in the hearts of children despite receiving the love and warmth of good people, such as the grandmotherly figure.
3. https://youtu.be/met1c7anQ3E?t=15m22s Kevin Michael Grace says the ‘logic’ of VERTIGO is that of a dream, more precisely a ‘dream of eternal recurrence’, one where the afflicted seems incapable of escaping as every waking moment turns out to be the continuance of the dream. There is something about Scotty’s spellbound dilemma that is obsessively dreamlike. There is a scene in MULHOLLAND DR. where a man tells his friend about a dream at a diner, but it turns out he is in the dream he is talking about, and furthermore, we learn that he and his friend aren’t real but figments of dreams of another person who also happens to be a figment of another person’s dream. I don’t think Scotty’s dilemma is really of that nature, however. The guy who mentions his dream in the diner in MULHOLLAND DR. really doesn’t want to be part of that dream. If anything, he grows morbidly anxious when he begins to realize he’s in that dream again. In contrast to that normal-seeming person who just wants to get on with his life, the real problem with Diane Selwyn is not so much the recurring dream but the recurring reality. She can’t stand the reality and escapes into the dream over and over and over. It’s a dream-fantasy that she, consciously and subconsciously, steers in her preferred direction, but the reality keeps pulling her back to the dire facts of her life. Scotty has one thing in common with her in that what he fears most is not the dream, haunted as he is by it, but by the recurrence of reality. No matter how many times he wants to return to the dream, the fact is Madeleine is dead, and he wasn’t able to save her, no more than he was able to save the cop in the beginning of the story. Of course, it’s worse with Madeleine because he fell in woozy love with her. So, Scotty isn’t someone who’s trying to escape the dream and return to reality but someone who wants to take flight from reality and be with the dream. After Madeleine dies, he is committed to a mental clinic. From the outside, he seems miserable, and of course, he is mourning Madeleine’s death. But there is also a sense that he’s lost in a dream that he doesn’t want to let go. He doesn’t want to be healed because the cure would mean the rational realization that Madeleine is dead and gone forever, and there’s nothing he can do about it. His conscious mind knows this, but a part of his soul just can’t let go and remains with her in the world of dreams, just like Arthur regains contact with Merlin in the dream world in EXCALIBUR. What is the most traumatic moment in MOTHMAN PROPHECIES?
It’s when Laura Linney’s character reminds John Klein(Richard Gere) of the most basic, undeniable, and irreversible fact: His wife died two yrs ago. All these years, Klein knew this fact consciously, but his soul was never able to let it go. So, harrowing and frightening as the Mothman sightings are in the town of Point Pleasant, they offer the hope of contacting the Other World to Klein who is like Orpheus trying to retrieve Eurydice from the Underworld. Dreams can be scary, but they also allow fantasy, escape, and hope. In contrast, reality is final. As melancholic as Scotty’s dreams of Madeleine are, her ghostly presence inhabits that realm. But in the daylight world of reality, there is only the fact that she is gone forever. A story that is closer to the horror of the recurring dream is Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING, but even there, the character comes to eventually love the dream and fears returning to reality more than anything.
4. https://youtu.be/met1c7anQ3E?t=19m4s Kevin Michael Grace says the reason why Scotty didn’t shack up with Midge is she was never his kind of woman. He was for ‘icy blondes’, like Hitchcock himself. Also, Kevin Michael Grace says Scotty is a deeply romantic person whose hidden romanticism finally emerges in his fantasy of being a ‘powerful man’ who transforms Judy into ‘Madeleine’. But we learn from the conversation between Scotty and Midge that the reason why the two didn’t get married was Midge called it off. If she’d been willing, they might very well have married and settled down. Of course, he was never in great love with her, and the fact that she’d rejected marriage suggests she wasn’t all that crazy about him either(despite her very real feelings for him). They liked each other as friends, and also, they relished their independence more than anything. Both like to regard themselves as modern ‘ironic’ people who are above duty and romance. If they had gotten married, it would have been as friends, as a ‘modern’ couple. The fact that they still see each other and enjoy the other’s company suggest that they are ‘married’ in a way: A marriage of friendship. They are well-educated, smart, and worldly. There isn’t a topic or issue about which they can’t joke or have a good laugh. In a way, the lack of actual marriage between them keeps them ‘married’ as good friends. Real marriage would mean duty and obligations. But their casual ‘friend marriage’ means they can see each other whenever they like but also be alone when they wish to. Each maintains his or her freedom/independence despite their affectionate bond. So, it’d be wrong to say Scotty didn’t marry her because she wasn’t his type. In a way, she was too much his type, and vice versa, as both shared a similar kind of sensibility: Modern, sardonic, irreverent, libertine, and unbound. One gets the sense that they didn’t get married because they valued their friendship more than any sentimental notion of love. She speaks of sexuality as a kind of engineering, with her bra design utilizing the same laws of physics as a bridge. The irony is that the Madeleine’s husband, Gavin Elster, thinks much the same way, albeit for sinister purposes. (One wonders if the evil husband is really romantic or a cold cynical manipulator of romanticism as a sucker’s dream for others. As P. T. Barnum said, "there’s a sucker born every minute".) Anyway, Midge didn’t want to be legally & morally attached to any one person, so she rejected Scotty’s proposal of marriage long ago, and Scotty didn’t take it hard at all since he wasn’t obsessed with her. He probably thought it would have been nice to have a wife like Midge. Midge is the kind of woman with whom things are best kept dry. It is with Madeleine that Scotty takes the plunge and gets wet. In a way, VERTIGO is about 19th century Gothicism intruding into Modernism that thinks itself too smart for old themes and passions. It’s like the modern scientist-doctor who is upended by the magician in Ingmar Bergman’s THE FACE. In a way, both Scotty and Midge get a kind of comeuppance for their modernist conceit that they are above old-fashioned emotions. Scotty does fall for romance, and his mysterious wanderings does make Midge jealous. And when Scotty falls to despair and despondency as his soul spirals into the dream underworld of the dead, Midge also feels the pull. She thought she was above irrational emotions, but she is moved by Scotty’s passion for Madeleine; she is sad that no man could ever feel such feelings for her. Indeed, it is her sensing of Scotty's deepening emotions(for someone else) that brings out the deeper emotions(for Scotty) within herself. Scotty's apparent infatuation with someone else violated the unspoken contract between him and Midge: Their lasting friendship would be premised on either's refusal to commit to any one person or thing. They'd be like two birds free in the air but never settling down to nest. Midge dreads flying alone upon sensing Scotty's choice of a particular tree as his 'home'.
Also, I’m not sure Scotty was always a romantic person. Romanticism emerges from his growing passion for Madeleine, but I think Scotty’s romantic side was latent than hidden. It was there somewhere, but he didn’t know of it and never thought that side of him could ever take shape as it did. That is why he’s so helpless under its hypnotic spell. He was taken by surprise. And it’s very possible that the romantic side of him would never have emerged if not for the artful con pulled off by the sinister husband Gavin Elster. In getting to know Madeleine, it’s not as if Scotty finally found what he’d been looking for. He found what he didn’t know that he’d been looking for, and yet, having found her, she is ‘it’, she is The One, the person who matters more than anything in the world. Also, I’m not so sure that Scotty is into Icy Blondes per se(as Hitchcock was). Rather, it was how he got to know Madeleine, and she happened to be a blonde. Having fallen for her, he associates blondeness with Madeleine, and that’s why he insists that Judy be a blonde. I don’t think any other ‘icy blonde’ would have worked for Scotty. Indeed, Scotty picks Judy out when she is a brunette. Why? She has Madeleine’s face. So, it’s not just the hair color. It’s the face, it is what Madeline wore in dress and shoes, how her face was made up, and it’s how her hair was done. Every detail has to be right. Indeed, when Judy enters the room with blonde hair, Scotty still doesn't feel the magic. He finally feels it only when she does her hair in a particular way. Scotty wants Judy to be like Madeleine in every possible detail, and yet, it is when Judy goes the extra inch to be like Madeleine with the jewelry that the mist finally lifts and Scotty comes to see her(and ‘Madeleine’) with cold eyes.
By the way, I think the significance of Madeleine’s blonde hair owed to Carlotta’s dark hair. Carlotta’s dark ghostly presence has supposedly taken possession of Madeleine’s soul, and Scotty’s role is to bring her out into the light. Thus, blonde hair is less a sexual fetish than a key motif with symbolic value in the mythic puzzle. The myth of Madeleine isn’t possible without the darkness, and in that sense, in having fallen in love with blonde Madeleine, Scotty has also fallen in 'negative' love with brunette Carlotta. Indeed, one might argue that Scotty might have been less taken with Judy Barton if she’d been blonde when they crossed path. It was her brunette hair that reminded him of Carlotta's ghost, from which he was trying to save Madeleine. Thus, in turning brunette Judy to blonde Judy or New Madeleine, Scotty gets to relive the struggle once again, the one he lost.
5. https://youtu.be/met1c7anQ3E?t=22m38s Luke Ford argues that the problem with Scotty is that he rejected a perfectly good woman in Midge in favor of some unattainable fantasy in Madeleine. Luke Ford says he has had the same problems as Scotty in chasing after impossible women than settling down with a Nice Girl. Luke Ford says Midge is approachable whereas Madeleine is not. So, Scotty made a big boo boo. But again, it was Midge who broke off the engagement with Scotty, not vice versa. Also, both Midge and Madeleine are approachable and unapproachable in different ways. Midge is approachable as a friend, a conversationist, a wit. But she isn’t very approachable emotionally. She keeps a certain distance with irony and aloofness. Her independence and career are too important to her. As much as she likes Scotty, she wasn’t going to give up her ‘freedom’ for a life of marriage in which she might have had kids and been a homemaker. She wants to design sexy things for modern women. So, while Scotty can call her up any day and have a good talk with her, she keeps a certain wall around her.
Now, there’s a wall around Madeleine as well. First, she is of a rich family, a socialite. People of high status tend to move around in closed circles, the sort that excludes most people, such as Scotty. Also, Madeleine is high class. (Of course, the Madeleine that Scotty meets is a fake, a fool’s gold. But like the Shadow Warrior of Akira Kurosawa’s KAGEMUSHA, she was drilled to seem as real as possible, and Scotty sure fell for it. But then, he probably never met a socialite of such high standing before, so it’s all new to him. And so very flattering that such a high-class woman would allow a man like him into her life.) Precisely because of Madeleine’s superior status, Scotty is impressed with the opportunity of entering her exclusive world in both the social and personal sense. No matter how gorgeous a whore may be, she is a whore, someone who can be had for a price. In contrast, Madeleine is like a princess, and Scotty feels fortunate to be gradually sliding into her world(like Kubrick's characters relish entry into 'forbidden' domains). And despite her high class and reserved manners, there is something very vulnerable about her. As Kevin Michael Grace argues, vulnerability is appealing to men. Playing the white knight lends status to a man over a woman, however lowly his status and highborn hers. At the end of Akira Kurosawa’s HIDDEN FORTRESS, the two lowly commoners realize that they’d played a role in saving a high-born princess, and they feel a certain pride that can’t be measured in gold. Because Madeleine plays the damsel-in-distress, she becomes approachable to Scotty. She offers an emotional opening to him that was never there with Midge, a ‘strong’ and ‘independent’ woman.
6. https://youtu.be/met1c7anQ3E?t=28m1s Kevin Michael Grace says, "In terms of James Stewart’s guilt, the overwhelming presence of Catholic imagery in this film is not an accident. James Stewart has committed adultery or fornication but it’s involved in an adulterous affair with a married woman... that is one aspect of his guilt." I’m not sure what Kevin Michael Grace means by this. It’s my understanding that the affair between Scotty and Madeleine was NOT consummated in Act One. Now, one could argue there was an adultery-of-the-heart because Scotty fell in love with the woman he was hired to keep an eye on. And they did share kisses. He wasn’t supposed to do that, but then, Judy-as-Madeleine was hired to make him do just that. While Scotty fell madly in love with the fake Madeline, the evil husband felt no love for the real Madeleine, his wife who was slated for murder. Anyway, as the love was not consummated between Scotty and Madeleine, there was no great reason for Scotty to feel any guilt(in regard to Madeleine's husband). Also, even as Scotty fell in mad love for Madeleine, he was trying to the very end to break her out of the spell, thus loyally carrying out the husband’s request. He was still trying to play the 'detective'. If Scotty feels any guilt, it was his failure to stop Madeleine from her death. Despite his growing passion for Madeleine and their kisses, Scotty restrained himself from going further. He held his libido in check. But when Madeleine races up the tower, Scotty is unable to overcome his fear to run after her. His fear proved stronger than his love, and there lies his guilt. (It's like Winston Smith caved to fear over love in 1984 when he freaked out over the rats. And Peter denied Jesus three times out of fear. Fear is that powerful. It's like white men will do nothing to help a white woman being robbed or attacked by black thugs in a metro train or bus because their Fear of the Stronger Negro paralyzes them.) Scotty's love for Madeleine was the kind whereby a man would be willing to give up his own life to save the woman, but when push came to shove, his body was overcome with fear, indeed irrational fear of something harmless. (Thus, it was something stranger than mere cowardice, which is at least rational. Peter was not irrational in fearing the mob that wanted to tear followers of Jesus from limb to limb. And Winston Smith was not irrational to fear the hungry rats eager to gnaw at his face. In contrast, Scotty couldn't save the Great Love of His Life because of his irrational fear of the harmless.) He felt paralyzed, indeed far worse than Peter O’Toole in LORD JIM. Also, there is something especially embarrassing about phobias. They can incapacitate the biggest man before something that doesn’t even frighten a child. Take a phobia over mice. Most children have no problem looking at mice, but even a big strong man with such phobia will shriek and panic like a little girl. A harmless garter snake may do nothing to an old lady, but a man with phobia for snakes, no matter how big and strong he is, will scream or faint like the Cowardly Lion of THE WIZARD OF OZ. Thus, what Scotty feels is not merely guilt. It’s shame. Not only did he fail to prevent Madeleine from her apparent suicide but the reason was he was afraid of heights. The damsel in distress could run up those flight of stairs in a breeze, but a big tall San Francisco detective like him was frozen in abject fear as he barely inched up the stairs step by step. Imagine Dirty Harry who is tough enough to blow away a bunch of armed Negro robbers and international terrorists but shrieks like a girl and freaks out upon seeing a spider due to arachnophobia. Phobias are like passions. They follow their own associative logic that can’t be resolved rationally. A person suffering from phobia rationally knows he is afraid of something harmless or innocuous, but he still can’t overcome his irrational panic. But then, obsessive love has a similar kind of logic. Even as Scotty is a modern rational person who knows about human psychology and the basic bio-chemistry of attraction, his feelings for Madeleine go way beyond the rational and gain total power over him. Scotty is bigger and stronger than Midge, and he would have a physical advantage over her under most circumstances, but he turns into a little child in her arms when he is stricken with a bit of height.
Kevin Michael Grace says Scotty sets a goal for himself to cure his acrophobia little by little and eventually does(and at a ‘terrible cost’). I don’t see it this way. Initially, he appears to entertain the notion of how he could be cured incrementally. He tries this at Midge’s place with the step-ladder, but he fails miserably, and throughout the rest of the movie, we don’t see him bothering to cure himself of the condition. The extent of the height he can tolerate is the ups and downs of the streets of San Francisco. One suspects he would rather not cross the San Francisco bridge. If anything, we only see him below it as he saves Madeleine. However, the diving into the water is a kind of conquering of height but unawares to Scotty. For most of the movie, Scotty is too hung up on Madeleine to think about his acrophobia. He develops a kind of reality-phobia as the real world reminds him that Madeleine is gone forever. He wants to remain in his ghostly dream world. Even though he’s finally released from the clinic/ward, his condition hasn’t really changed. Also, the return to the tower at the end had little to do with curing acrophobia. It was about exposing the truth and forcing Judy-Madeleine into confession. If Scotty is cured, it is almost by accident. Indeed, he is surprised himself that his acrophobia is gone.
7. https://youtu.be/met1c7anQ3E?t=30m23s Luke Ford asks why Judy-Madeleine fell to her death at the end. Kevin Michael Grace says she mistook the nun for the Evil Husband, Gavin Elster. I don’t know about this. Her fright suggests she saw a ghost. Perhaps, in that charged moment, she thought she saw the ghost of Madeleine. VERTIGO is and isn’t a ghost story. There is a rational explanation for everything that happens in the story, but to the extent that human psyches often operate mythically based on obsessions, hopes, and fears, we do lead lives haunted by subjective forces of the mind. So, objectively speaking, it was a nun, but in the fever-dream mind of Judy who’d been through so much, the figure could have appeared a ghost. And in that sense, VERTIGO is a ghost story. Science of psychology promised a more clear and objective understanding of reality, but theories of the subconscious opened up a Pandora’s Box of phantoms and spirits. So, even though Scotty exposed the truth, the myth lived on. The myth of Madeleine being beckoned by Carlotta’s ghost was followed up by the myth of Judy being beckoned by Madeleine’s ghost. And in a way, Judy was herself a ghost. The person she role-played as Madeleine was killed. It began as a hire-for-money, but she really merged with the identity of Madeleine when it worked its magic on Scotty and he fell in love with her. No man had ever fallen in love like that with her-as-Judy. But a handsome man fell deeply in love with her-as-Madeleine. So, in a way, the mask became the face. And when real Madeleine was killed, a part of Judy died with her too. She became a walking dead, and this is why, a part of her wants to be 'resurrected' by Scotty back into Madeleine while another part of her resists this because she wants to be loved as what she really is, Judy Nobody from some small town. Ironically, the resurrection is also a kind of 'murder' because Judy must be buried alive under the ghostly reawakening of Madeleine.
8. https://youtu.be/met1c7anQ3E?t=31m12s Kevin Michael Grace says REAR WINDOW, VERTIGO, and MARNIE have in common the situation of a man trying to transform a woman to his ideal or vision, but this seems a stretch. In REAR WINDOW, Grace Kelly’s character may be nudged in that direction(mostly by her own volition though), but there is nothing obsessive about Stewart’s feelings for her. Indeed, unlike the characters of VERTIGO and MARNIE, Stewart in REAR WINDOW isn’t obsessed with anyone. His only obsession seems to be voyeurism and adventure. He’s a thrill-seeker than a romantic. As much as he feels affection for Grace Kelly’s character, he tries to push her away because domestication means he will have less chance to travel and be free. It’s like George Bailey wanted to see the world and build things before Mary snagged him to stay and be husband-father in Bedford Falls. In a way, the neighbor across the yard is like a dark version of what Stewart's character fears turning into. The man is trapped in a loveless marriage. His wife is an invalid, and he must take care of her, and that means hardly any freedom for himself. So, in a way, the murderer and Stewart’s character have one thing in common: The want of freedom and fear of woman as chain-and-ball around the man's ankle. If the husband has no freedom because he’s stuck in a loveless marriage, Stewart’s character has no freedom ironically because of his injury from excessive freedom & risk-taking. Both want to break free as soon as possible.
If Stewart’s characters in REAR WINDOW and VERTIGO have one thing in common, it is the element of shame in being so incapacitated. In REAR WINDOW, girly Grace Kelly can freely move about while Stewart is always stuck in his apartment because of his injury. (Likewise, Oliver Stone's 9/11 is mostly about heroes who aren't able to do anything and must be saved by others. They are more like Ron Kovic than Rambo.) In VERTIGO, Madeleine and Midge are 'manlier' than Scotty when it comes to handling height. The moment when Stewart feels the most shame in REAR WINDOW is when he feels utterly helpless to save Grace Kelly when she’s attacked by the murderer-husband. But it’s not just the broken leg. He doesn’t even shout across the yard to stop the attack even though Grace Kelly is screaming 'Jeff' over and over. He just squirms with fear and hopes the cops would arrive sooner. It’s as if he was so afraid of giving himself away to the murderer-husband that he reacts like a turtle withdrawing into its own shell.
Indeed, there’s something a bit phony about the guy because, for all his love of adventure, he is a viewer than a participant. After all, he is a photographer. He may wander into danger zones, but he is first and foremost the eye than hands and feet who gets involved in the action. Indeed, his injury resulted from the far more danger-filled actions of OTHERS at the center of the maelstrom. It’s like a photographer at a boxing match getting hurt from a fighter being knocked out of the ring. His danger is nothing like the danger faced by boxers inside the ring who get punched a hundred times.
As for MARNIE, I don’t think the main problem was Tippi Hedren. Besides, Kim Novak wasn’t much of an actress in most of her roles either, and VERTIGO was an exception in her career, as BLADE RUNNER was for Sean Young. And Grace Kelly was extremely narrow in range, really just a pretty face. Problem with MARNIE is it’s both too crazy and too neat. The premise is outlandish, and the resolution is overly sentimental and moralistic. Even after the facts are revealed by means of reason in VERTIGO and PSYCHO, an element of dark mystery remains. We feel that no amount of explanation can really explain the what and why, just like no single piece of the puzzle could explain Charles Foster Kane. But MARNIE ends on a note of Problem Solved, and that’s that. And it’s the silliest kind of Freudian hokum about repressed childhood memory. The clinical psychology of MARNIE, as with SPELLBOUND, is too simple-minded. It turns out Marnie’s sexual neurosis and criminality were rooted in an incident in childhood. Once that was cleared up, she can walk into the sunlight and lead a normal life. Another problem is Sean Connery’s character is presented too straight-and-narrow when he is as perverse and crazy as Marine in his own way. He is a contradiction of being both drawn to a wild woman and wanting to cure & domesticate her. He is too alpha, whereas what makes Stewart's characters more interesting(in Anthony Mann Westerns too) is the combination of alpha daring and beta vulnerability. I suppose Sean Connery's attitude is very English(though the movie is set in America. Funny that Hitchcock was an Englishman who settled in America whereas Kubrick was an American who settled in England). The white hunter who is drawn to adventure and the wild but collects specimens and trophies for zoos and museums. That said, there is a fascinating chemistry between Hedren and Connery in MARNIE, and there are many charged moments that make for greatness. And maybe the trailer for MARNIE is the funniest thing Hitchcock ever did.
9. https://youtu.be/met1c7anQ3E?t=39m28s Kevin Michael Grace offers several explanations of the scene at the McKittrick Hotel where Scotty observes who appears to be Madeleine in one of the windows. Kevin Michael Grace suggests this might be just a ‘plot hole’. Or maybe the Hotel Proprietor is in on the plot. Whatever the case, it could be Hitchcock was channeling a trick used by Henri-Louis Clouzot in LES DIABOLIQUES. The conspirators are playing mind-tricks on Scotty to further subvert his sense of reality. Hitchcock greatly admired LES DIABOLIQUES, and incidentally, VERTIGO was based on a French mystery novel, and some of the Gallic sensibility does come across.
10. https://youtu.be/met1c7anQ3E?t=45m Luke Ford reads from Roger Ebert’s essay that touches on the ‘moral paradox’ of VERTIGO. Of course, the biggest moral paradox is the Evil Husband Gavin Elster plays god, the creator. He taketh away, but he also gaveth. Without his artful con, Scotty never would have experienced the great love of his life. He never would have realized that there was a mytho-romantic side to him, a man of poetry than mere prosaic details of detective work. (It's like something about Julie Christie's character brings out the poet in the hard-nosed businessman in MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER. A man who never did anything except for money all his life puts his life on the line to prove his manhood to fulfill a romantic fantasy.)
And if Judy had never met Gavin, she would have been just some cheap floozy all her life. It was the con that transformed her into a tragic goddess. So, even though the Evil Husband Gavin Elster took everything from James Stewart, including his sanity, Scotty never felt more alive than when swirling in a dream world with Madeleine. And even though Madeleine’s death shattered his heart and mind, he’d never known or imagined such tragic beauty could exist or what it felt like. Gavin Elster, cynical murderer-bastard that he is, was the matchmaker in hell who made Scotty and Judy share a beautiful love as a glimpse of heaven. He was like a sinister version of Clarence in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE who messes with Bailey’s mind big time.
11. https://youtu.be/met1c7anQ3E?t=46m41s Kevin Michael Grace recounts the scene in which Midge’s parody-painting of Carlotta Valdez deeply upsets Scotty. He explains the moment as indicative of the madness of obsessive love, one of the most tell-tale signs being the loss of humor. According to Kevin Michael Grace, Midge was just being a good sport and funny girl, but Scotty, going a bit mad over Madeleine, simply couldn’t appreciate the joke. Kevin Michael Grace also says Scotty’s glum reaction is not unlike the mentality of PC Leftists who have lost all sense of humor in their crazed commitment to certain agendas and idols.
But I’m not so sure. Even though Midge presents the painting as a joke, what were her real motives? Wasn’t she trying to hide her jealousy with humor? Indeed, it’s odd that for such an independent and modern woman, she was stalking Scotty like Scotty was stalking Madeleine. So, despite her conceit of being a liberated woman, she did feel a bond with Scotty, and she felt jealous when she suspected he might be seriously besotted with someone else. Midge is afraid to face up to this old-fashioned ‘classic’ side of womanhood, and she resorts to cheap irony to share laughter with Scotty. But it’s not so much a joke for him as a joke on him. Also, she is mocking him and trying to return him to the fold as a fellow ironist and cynic, as if Scotty isn’t capable of any emotions beyond friendship and companionship. Because her relation with Scotty was premised on shared Modern Sensibility, she tries to draw him back to the game that keeps them as bosom-buddies. But Scotty has gone past that. For the first time in his life, he’s found real passion, and it means everything to him. It’s like the realization of the Sam Robards character in FANDANGO. He pretends he’s having fun and the time of his life partying and riding around with his friends when, in truth, what mattered most to him was marrying the girl he dearly loves. And Kevin Costner’s character is like Scotty and Midge rolled into one. The fact is he madly loved her too, but they fell apart. But he still loves her and is upset that his friend is about to marry her. So, when he discovers the marriage has been called off, he tries to convince himself and his friend that it’s all for the best, and that they should all go on some wild trip. But in fact, the friend realizes he made a huge mistake, and Kevin Costner understands too, which is why he hustles a small town community into putting on the wedding for his friend and the woman he still loves.
Likewise, there is another side of Midge that she hides from Scotty and even to herself. Despite her enjoyment of freedom and career, there is a side of her that is lonely and jealous. Even if Scotty and she didn’t get married, the understanding between them was that both were too hip for old-fashioned relationships. So, they’d be best-friends-forever. But then, Scotty really does fall in deep love with another. As much as Scotty and Midge savored each other’s company, they only wet their feet at most. With Madeleine, Scotty took the plunge. And his love for Madeleine is like Catholic Iconography. The non-believers just can’t understand. Someone like Jim Goad can’t understand why the Church and its rituals hold sacred meaning to Kevin Michael Grace. For Goad, the Church is something to be mocked and joked about. From his utterly rationalist point of view, this makes good sense as religion just seems like hocus pocus superstition. But for those who felt the grace of God and are enchanted by beauty of religious iconography and rituals, it’s no joking matter. In a way, PC people are both humorless and humor-excessive. They are utterly humorless about what is sacred to them, like Holy Homo and MLK as Negro god. But they feel nothing but laughing mockery for whatever or whomever they deem to be false, wicked, or evil. So, they are the ones who are likely to laugh and cheer upon watching certain monuments torn down or smashed. It’s like Spanish anarchists were full of laughter when they went about smashing Churches and burning spiritual material.
In a way, Midge was sharing a joke, but it was also an act of desecration. Of course, she didn’t know the full implication of what she was doing, especially as she had this fixed image of Scotty as a fellow ironist and cynic. She was trying to keep him framed in the role suitable for companionship with her. In a sense, she was trying to take possession of Scotty just like Gavin Elster was. She wagered on Scotty the ironist, whereas Gavin wagered on Scotty the latent romantic. And it turns out Gavin was closer to the truth. In some ways, he understood Scotty(or perhaps any man) better than Scotty understood himself. For most of his life, Scotty would have scoffed at the notion of him being a romantic and sincerely too. After all, his chosen profession was detective work, a field that makes people cynical about humanity’s endless depravities and deceptions. When Scotty meets Gavin, he seems utterly jaded, and upon hearing the ghostly tale of Carlotta, he’s about to burst into laughter. It’s like a man who believes he can’t be hypnotized who is hypnotized and doesn’t know he’s under hypnosis. All faith is like a kind of hypnosis, which is why non-religious people can't really understand religious people or any group under some kind of deep devotion to something. But the devotion could be to anything, like idols of pop culture, as with Beatlemania or Grateful Dead Phenom. For the uninitiated, it all seems like a delusion or mania. And yet, those who note this delusion in others may themselves be under their own delusions. It's like a religious person sees the ludicrousness of other religions but not of his own that seems holy and sacred. So, Midge doesn't quite understand the extent of her desecration of what has become iconographic to Scotty. But on a sly level, she was willfully mocking something dear to him out of jealousy she was too proud to admit to.
Finally, Midge’s reaction to Scotty’s disapproval and retreat from her apartment betrays her true feelings about Scotty and the whole situation. She seems very upset that Scotty took umbrage at her antic. If she’s really a light-hearted joker, she would have been unscathed from the situation, but she is visibly upset. She is ashamed that Scotty saw through her. Despite the cover of humor, she knows, Scotty knows, and we know that she was acting out of jealousy and was striking out at the object of Scotty’s devotion. Her joke was a pretense of not caring when, in fact, she cares very much. She is jealous of the fact that Scotty has feelings for another that goes deeper than anything that existed between them. At the end of CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, Prince Hal gains authority, responsibility, and meaning that rises above the funny business he used to enjoy with Falstaff. It’s about putting away childish things. Same with Becket who rises above serving as plaything for his friend the king. Friendship jealously guards against rival attachments to other people or institutions.
The tragedy in Scotty’s case, of course, is that his discovery of great love turned out to be the child-play of an evil son-of-a-bitch.
Kevin Michael Grace says that Scotty is the sort of man who was looking for The One, the one special kind of woman. But I don’t think so. Scotty wasn’t looking for anyone for most of his life. He seems to be the kind of guy who relished being free and independent. His life seems to have revolved around work and meeting up with friends and companions. He wasn’t bound to anything. Such a life could be lonely, but it was without duties and obligations. He could live the life of a true individualist. Scotty wasn’t searching for The One. It was thrust upon him, and he was mesmerized by a kind of beauty he’d never encountered before and was overwhelmed by emotions within him that he’d never imagined could arise.
12. https://youtu.be/met1c7anQ3E?t=56m30s Luke Ford says Scotty is the kind of man who chases after fantasies because he can’t deal with reality. He surmises that if Scotty hadn’t come upon Madeleine, he would have found someone/something else to be obsessed about. But this is wrong. There’s no indication that Scotty has been a habitual fantasist or an obsessive personality all his life. In a way, Gavin Elster chose him because he’s a ‘virgin’ when it comes to romantic obsessions. Ironically, Scotty’s sense of irony and cynicism is what makes him so ‘innocently’ vulnerable and partial to the trick. It’s like Jack Nicholson’s cocksure cynicism that blinds him to the utter depravity of power in L.A. in CHINATOWN. He’s so sure he knows everything that he fails to see there's even more to 'everything'.
It's as if Gavin Elster sensed that Scotty, being so sure of his skepticism honed on the job as detective, would be like a deer-in-the-headlight when Real Romanticism came rushing right at him. Someone who’d been through previous obsessions might be more self-aware when he falls into another obsession. In contrast, Scotty has no past references to draw from when he falls for Madeleine. He’d never known such emotions before. He’s an amateur, a green, in this field. Luke Ford is wrong to project himself onto Scotty. Ford seems quite self-aware precisely because he’s been through certain bouts of obsession with women and other things. So, even if he were to fall into another one, he’d have a good sense of what is happening to him yet again. He'd be partially immune to the obsessive bug. In contrast, Scotty finds himself in unfamiliar territory.
Scotty is not a serial fantasist. He’s been a factualist all his life, a man of law and law-enforcement, a man who has surely pored over countless stories of crimes, betrayals, deceptions, and etc. He is a veteran in the domain of facts. What he knows nothing about is the realm of myth and fantasy. And because he’s a novice in that field, Elster is able to draw him in slowly and surely. It sort of reminds me of why Stephen Glass was able to fool so many people at The New Republic. The magazine staff was pretty good with checking factual stories. What Glass did was sell outlandish fairy-tales, something for which the editorial staff was unfamiliar in dealing with.
Luke Ford also takes a self-help approach to Scotty’s dilemma, as if the character is a real-life person who could have avoided trouble had he been more self-aware, possibly with the aid of religion and advice columns. But really, purpose of VERTIGO is to explore and poeticize the mythology of love than to offer good advice. If Scotty had been more sensible, there would be no movie.
13. https://youtu.be/met1c7anQ3E?t=1h1m19s Kevin Michael Grace compares Luke Ford to the psychiatrist at the end of PSYCHO who sums up in neat clinical terms what’s really driving the madness behind Norman Bates. Kevin Michael Grace says Hitchcock was winking at the audience when trotting out such explanations because the mystery of evil could never be explained with a pat theory or two. That is true, but it’s also true that Hitchcock was often overly partial to certain psychological theories. There isn’t much winking in SPELLBOUND and MARNIE. Hitchcock really seems to endorse rather crackpot Freudian theories about repressed childhood memories. The resolutions are meant to be neat and final. In SPELLBOUND, it was the repressed memory of Gregory Peck’s character having accidentally killed his younger brother in childhood. In MARNIE, the anti-heroine’s troubles were rooted in the repressed childhood memory of having killed a man who attacked her mother who, it turns out, was a hooker. So, there was the richer and darker Hitchcock who suggested at the mystery of evil, and there was the amateur-psychologist Hitchcock who resolved conflicts with some fashionable theory about the subconscious. Hitchcock was both a nihilist and a moralist. There was an air of the English bourgeoisie about him all his life. He liked form and order, minutely detailing the production from A to Z before the shooting began. Also, there’s a positivist sense in many of his movies that invaluable methods can be drawn from science and medicine to aid in the solving of crime and madness. His films are on the side of civilization, fearful of the natural forces as in THE BIRDS. And yet, another side of Hitchcock felt civilization was a veneer, a veiled masquerade over true human nature that was animal. Myth and Art were spheres where civilization and animal nature could 'safely' create friction to produce the fever-dream. Civilization is like a cage, and we are all like caged birds. We need the cage, but it holds us back from so much truth about us. And yet, without the cage, we revert to animal drives and become beastly like crazy-ass Negroes. So, how do we maintain Order but also draw inspiration from the more vital and virile side of our nature? Through the power of Myths and Art.
The strange thing about VERTIGO is Scotty is both a guardian and trespasser. He takes on the job of guarding Madeleine from madness, chaos, and suicide. His role is to uncover the truth and restore Madeleine to the light. And yet, in his immersion in the passion, his own psyche is thrown into turmoil. Even as he tries desperately to make Madeleine come to the light, he moves into the darkness. This aspect of VERTIGO surely influenced the French romance THE APARTMENT, remade into WICKER PARK. In M. Night Shyamalan's SPLIT, the doctor(Betty Buckley) is also of a dual nature. On the one hand, she wants to cure the patient and draw him into the light, but on the other hand, she is so fascinated with her patient's condition that she comes to see him and others of his kind as near demigods deserving of special admiration. Unknowingly, she is drawn into the darkness.
Anyway, Hitchcock was winking and not winking in many of his movies. A part of him was rolling his eyes at pat theories of events, but there was another side of Hitchcock that was very much like a schoolmarm and instructor. In a way, Hitchcock’s movies draw their power from the tension among the moralism, modernism, and madness. Madness upon madness isn’t very interesting. It’s like black paint on black canvas. It’s the nihilist thread that weaves through the bourgeois moralist or rationalist fabric that gives Hitchcock’s movies the sense of the Serpent slithering in the Garden of Eden. This is why DePalma's movies, for all their debt to Hitchcock, don't really feel Hitchcockian. Hitchcock, like Luis Bunuel, needed the bourgeois world as contra-canvas for his dark fantasies. Indeed, the fantasies were dark precisely because because they were set against tradition, community, and/or rationality(science & medicine). Likewise, Bunuel's bad boy antics were effective only as long as there was the bourgeoisie to mock. The difference was, all said and done, Hitchcock sided with the bourgeoisie whereas Bunuel sided with the anarchy. Despite stylistic similarities, DePalma’s world is too sordid and fallen(indeed shamelessly so) to create the kind of tension between Order and Chaos that is so integral to the Dark Bourgeois gamesmanship of Hitchcock. Also, it’s difficult to sustain romanticism in a pornographic world.
14. https://youtu.be/met1c7anQ3E?t=1h5m6s Kevin Michael Grace says the movie ends with Scotty’s triumph albeit at a tremendous cost. By ‘triumph’, Kevin Michael Grace means Scotty’s solving of the mystery and his cure from acrophobia. But perhaps, ‘triumph’ is too strong a word. Indeed, one gets the sense that maybe Scotty should have ignored the necklace and pretended to carry on as usual. After all, his greatest triumph was the resurrection of Madeleine. By revisiting the tower and making Judy-Madeleine spill the beans, he lost what he’d created. But of course, once he found out about the necklace, he just couldn’t let it go. He had to find out, just like Noodles in ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA had to come face to face with the truth even at the loss of the myth that had lent tragic meaning to his life all these years. Granted, there is both an emotional push and pull — like the camera-work employed to approximate the sensation of vertigo — as Scotty gets closer to the truth. On the one hand, he wants to hear the truth from Judy’s lips. He wants her to vomit out every last bit. Yet, at the same time, he dreads hearing every word because it’s so horrible. He wants to hear, he doesn’t want to hear. He compels her to confess but is triggered into fury by every utterance. It’s like having a bullet or arrow removed from one’s wound. One wants it out but agonizes over the unbearable pain. But finally, all the truth is 'birthed' like a decayed stillborn baby, and Scotty processes all of it. He is finally cleared of the inner illusions that fueled his acrophobia. Still, the power of the myth is such that, even after the poison has been sucked out of him and Judy, he(and she) still can’t let it go. Even though the necklace was the key to solving the puzzle, he is touched by the fact that she was so sentimental about it. And they embrace once again, and maybe that might have been a kind of happy ending. Even after the myth has been shattered, they realize they found real love in each other, and so the myth can evolve into something new. But then Judy falls to her death, and Scotty has some serious explaining to do. He just barely got away with his Chappaquidick Moment the first time Madeleine died. The board none-too-surely accepted his version of events and declared him not responsible for the death. But how will he explain the second death, especially as the woman, Judy, has been made to look just like Madeleine? He has regained sense and sanity, but if he tells the truth of what happened and why he turned Judy into Madeleine II, the world will think him mad.