There’s a hazy feeling in the air in some parts of the film, like in the opening and closing scenes that occur at night. However, that haze is more present in the afternoon when Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) follows a suspiciously young Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak) out to a local, San Francisco churchyard cemetery. He walks carefully. He’s straining his eyes while paying close attention to her, his expressions somehow externalizing her cold fascination with a certain large gravestone. He sees her from afar, framed by wildflowers or in between trees or a grotto. The closer she gets, the more he’s inclined to hide himself. He wonders what she’s really like, the line between his duty to watch her for her husband and his fascination of her become blurry.
Here in Vertigo, Madeleine walks into the old Mc.Kit.Trick Hotel, opens the blinds and appears in a second-floor window, takes off her jacket, keeping a mannered elegance with those movements. Scottie follows in, asks the hotel manager about the woman on the second floor. Alas, Madeleine has momentarily disappeared. The woman becomes a ghost.
Director Alfred Hitchcock has 33 variations of the woman relatively going through the same things. Inhabiting someone else’s house and having to deal with its ghosts and history much connected to her own. She confronts questions about who she is and trying to grow up despite that history that hinders her. Madeleine is apparently possessed by a woman in her family tree, Carlotta Valdez – her ghost-like walks around the city hit important landmarks in Carlotta’s life. There’s a self-awareness and guilt within her psyche that haunts her. Scottie ends up lusting for Madeleine and her story, her dark American past. After rescuing Madeleine, she tells him about her nightmares instead of telling them to her husband.
Then there are characters like Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes) who find it funny. At first.
I’m still not exactly 100% sold at Novak’s performance, but that one dancer-like foot out Scottie’s bedroom, elegance and a double-performance nailed a minute or two after gaining consciousness…
This movie owes Black Narcissus a lot, with its red filters and red dissolves and fear of heights.
Oh, and Judy Barton (Novak again), you are the best part of this movie, with you eyebrows and sass and masochistic guilt. Are your eyes really blue or green?
The man knows exactly what he wants, which one of my professors find really, really strange. He’s a San Francisco man, after all. I followed fashion between 2005 and last year and I can’t remember details within a dress if my life depended on it. Well, the man is an ex-cop, who for some reason remembers square necklines but can’t figure out that a suicide can’t have a Christian burial.
I apologize if this post slightly veers away from an erudite interpretation of the film. However, this movie, intentionally or not, is a warning to young girls out there – if a man wants to change your hair, it’s the first sign of control and abuse.
Is Hitchcock or San Francisco to be blamed for the hotel names with puns?
‘I wanna stop being haunted.’
The flamenco-like musical score by Bernard Hermann pauses, Scottie calls her Madeleine, telling her that he’s in on her prank. The movie ends with one of the most real, well-acted uncomfortable scenes I’ve seen ever. I’ve always thought of Stewart as malleable into any type of man from all-American to creepy, and here he lets it all out. I can only imagine how Hitch and the two actors choreographed this, as Scottie confronts her with one emotional accusation after another, his body pressing into hers, his hand on her neck.Sometimes their faces are obscured.
Then he pushes her higher. The music begins again, like a bumblebee this time.
Vertigo’s screening at the Bell Lightbox tonight at 8:45. Lastly, AFP reported yesterday that Kim Novak has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Get well soon, Ms. Novak.
- Kim Novak surfaces to retrace past in boxed set (sfgate.com)
- Actress Kim Novak undergoing breast cancer treatment (latimesblogs.latimes.com)
I first heard about Ingmar Bergman‘s Persona in David Scott Diffrient’s essay about the shock cut, a technique mostly used in horror films. I assumed he was just talking about one of the film’s opening images – a hand pinned down by a large nail. Persona isn’t a horror film per se, but with that image of the hand comes more jarring images in its opening sequence – a phallus, an androgynous child lying down in a gurney, that child slowly coming back to life.
Sven Nyqvist’s cinematography, Bergman’s camera and editing throughout the film somehow evokes the horror psyche whole giving their audience one of the best shot films ever made. Its minimalist hospital walls where nurse Sister Alma (Bibi Andersson) meets her patient, actress Elisabet Vogler (Liv Ullmann), thin bare trees standing on beaches where she chases Elisabet, close-ups that would change angles for every accusation she airs towards Elisabet. Amazing.
The second thing I heard about Persona before watching it Sarah Boslaugh’s write-up of Andersson, including the latter in an essential performance list. We’ll go back to the child in the gurney who wakes up and reaches for a blurry picture of Elisabet, and in a way that’s what Andersson as Alma is trying to do. Like most of Bergman’s finer works, one person reaching for another seems like an impossible journey.
It’s a misguided way for Alma to think that her catharsis might break Elisabet’s silence, but instead she just ends up doing everything for Elisabet. She finds herself wanting to become what Elisabet has been before her silence. Andersson does great work, carrying the film, going through every imaginable emotion with both vulnerability and control, amazingly handling Bergman’s analytical script. Ullmann as Elisabet only blurts a few words when Alma tries to burn her face. Yes, Andersson’s the prettier one, but Ullmann’s her stoic reactions are captivating and her internal struggles are so enigmatic that the latter can almost steal the show by just being there.
Some images in the film include a close-up of a face, half Elisabet and half Anna, or of Elisabet holding Alma, both facing the camera as if it’s a mirror, both ethereal beauties, she becoming the sister and doppelgänger that Alma has always wanted. Looking at them, it’s easy to assume their closeness, or that they’re the same person all along.
For the most part, the characters of Jack Goes Boating are passive to each other and to the events that happen to them. Our titular limo driver Jack (Philip Seymour Hoffman, who also directs) gets set up with mortuary secretary Connie (Amy Ryan) because his best friend Clyde (John Ortiz) is married to her co-worker Lucy. Jack’s first date with Connie happens in Clyde and Lucy’s shabby apartment, where she talks about being sexually harassed while her father’s in a coma. Her sexual misadventures are exposed to Jack just as she is aware of his inexperience. Jack misses a chance to get an application for a job at the MTA. This baby step towards a better job and life feels unambitious but nonetheless realistic. For some reason, after these short introductions out of the way, the first act of the film doesn’t feel neither like an introduction nor a build-up. It’s one awkward situation piled on top of another.
The final act of the film shows its off-Broadway roots, that everything else before it is just fluff, yet what we see is also an intense payoff. Clyde reveals secrets, which makes the other characters open up. Again, Jack uses Clyde and Lucy’s apartment, show off his newly acquired culinary skills, but instead people and things get smashed because of hashish. We see Jack’s compromises in becoming the perfect person and mate for Connie. Connie, in watching Clyde and Lucy’s relationship crumble, doesn’t have a eureka moment but does something with her life to survive and be sane, as if by common sense. Clyde realises his altruism goes hand in hand with being life support for other people instead of being a man of his own, which doesn’t seem like a consequence but simply a terrible fate for a man. Jack Goes Boating is not the most original tragedy, but its downward spiral is very effective.