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Saturday, 22 September 2012

Vertiginous Hitch

This is a Festival review of Vertigo (1958)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

22 September

This is a Festival review of Vertigo (1958)

* Contains spoilers *

When the Jimmy Stewart / Alfred Hitchcock collaborations that had been quickly taken out of circulation were released again in the mid-1980s, I went to see two or three, certainly Rear Window (1954) and Vertigo (1958). I remember not being much struck by either, the former because I found its device - as it assuredly is meant to be - so limiting, the latter because I just did not get it, and the suddenness with which some films from that era ended, with the words 'THE END' and the studio logo coming up, did not help.

Yesterday, watching Vertigo for the first time since then, I found myself coming at it with the eye of someone who loved Chinatown (1974), and found much that links the two, including a way of viewing that had me questioning who was the client and what had Stewart John 'Scottie' Ferguson been engaged to do and why. The key scene, for this way of thinking, was not at Gavin Elster's office, but the next one, at Ernie's, and questioning for whose benefit it was that Scottie was there, in terms of who was identifying whom.

Thereafter, having postulated that Scottie was the one to be seen by Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak), it was easy enough to see him being led a dance, even to the extent of her, more than once, taking a parking-space that left him pulling in where no space existed. When she threw herself into San Francisco Bay, she then did so knowing that Scottie was there. (How all this connects with the foundation novel, D'Entre les Morts, I do not know, but research may tell me without having to look it out.)

In the meantime, it is the way of thinking that relates to Chinatown that interests me. Both films have secrets, a crime, someone pretending to be someone else and in whom a third someone should not fall in love, and all end with the death of that someone. In Vertigo, the private investigator (or PI) as a means to an end not known to him is hardly new*, but we are immersed in his pursuit such that we can be blinded to the fact that he has been blinded and bought a story.

To be continued


* In a way it goes all the way at least back to Jonah, with texts such as Sir Gawain, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and G. K. Chesterton's The Man who was Thursday in between.

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