Saturday, April 9, 2016
Nothing to fear but heights and the addition of some bad movies to the National Film Registry.
Well, this is another film that was vindicated by history. Again, people considered Hitchcock a nut for “killing the suspense” - in Psycho he killed the heroine in the middle of the movie, and here in Vertigo, he gives away the solution to the mystery at the beginning of the third act. People at the time no longer saw how a movie could be suspenseful if you knew how the murder took place and how Kim Novak's character was actually involved. But that doesn't weaken the build-up in the first parts of the movie, where you have this vague, supernatural unease, and it actually ramps up the suspense in the final third, where you're trying to figure out how and where Jimmy Stewart will figure out that he's been set up. As Epic Rap Battles of History put it: “The master of suspense/so intense”, indeed. When you're still in the grip of a movie after you realize whodunnit, then you know you've got some sort of special thriller going.
The movie is often interpreted from a sort of postmodern feminist lens, about how it's really about male obsession, control, and domination. I admit it is kind of weird watching the usually amiable and likable Jimmy Stewart ordering a woman to change everything physically about herself to match his “dead” lover, and her just going along with it. It is weird to hear them declaring their love for each other, when there is no logical reason for that love to exist. I guess you get a bit from the protective urge on his side, and she is always shot through a slight haze of Vaseline on the lens, giving her an otherworldly glow. But why does Kim Novak's Judy love Stewart's Scottie? We're never given a compelling reason – we're just told that she does. And she loves him so much that she never makes good her escape, and he loves her so much that he falls into a near catatonic state for a year. It's a peculiar sort of mutual obsession that seemingly springs out of nowhere. Not to say that it's a major weakness of the film. It can be taken as a strength, that these two people become so obsessed with each other. It's just an oddity for a modern viewer.
This is the first Hitchcock movie I've watched in a long time, and I'm glad I did. No one does that bone-chilling suspense like he does, and he somehow manages to make following along in a car seem fraught with tension. So definitely check this one out.