In his book Male Myths and Icons, Roger Horrock makes mention of Alfred Hitchcock and his portrayal of masculine figures in a number of his films. Interestingly, Horrock is of the opinion that Hitchcock does not elevate the masculine figure in these pieces – rather he writes that Hitchcock’s primary interest lies in the exposure of “male perversity.”
While Horrock notes that women “are the victims in Hitchcock films” rather than men, he does not use this as evidence for a dominant, strong male stereotype. Rather, Horrock notes the psycotic flaws Hitchcock introduces in many of his amle characters. Vertigo concerns itself with necrophilia, Frenzy with rape and the well-known Psycho with psychosis. This image of man as a flawed and dangerous character suggests that it would be “farcical to suggest that Hitchcock simply permits. . .an uncomplicated identification” of his male protagonists as the relatable, stereotypical male role. Rather, Hitchcock attempts to reveal the darker perversity of men. Although they retain their power, especially over women, it is of important note that these characters are not idyllic emblems of masculinity as is seen in The 39 Steps. Hitchcock is interested in and has the capacity too expose a perversity of the male psyche through a number of his later films.
Unlike The 39 Steps, other works of Hitchcock have exposed a flawed and disruptive male character. Roger Horrock exposes this trend, revealing Hitchcock’s ability and desire to show men as morally and socially perverse, disrupting the masculine stereotype applied so flawlessly in The 39 Steps.
Gaze theory, which attempts to explain the power of spectatorship and of the eye, is usually supported by the role and power of pleasure. Clifford T. Manlove argues that attributing the power of the gaze to pleasure, as Laura Mulvey does, minimizes its meaning. He argues that the gaze, in three specific Hitchcock films, is actually about women as the true heroes trying to resist the male gaze and make sense of the world around them. Mulvey characterized the feminine gaze with “nostalgia and repression.”
He argues that there is a split between the gaze and the eye. The gaze becomes the invisible and the eye is the real. In Vertigo, Scottie's vertigo is the gaze and other objects or characters, such as the nun at the end, is the real. In Blackmail, it is Alice's gaze because the knife used to kill Crewe and the real is the portrait of the jester that reminds her of her shame. Manlove asserts that if the gaze could be verbalized than it wouldn't be a gaze resulting in death. If Alice had been able to express herself, would she have had to reach for the knife?
McGilligan, Patrick. . Alfred Hitchcock : a life in darkness and light / Patrick McGilligan. 1st ed. 006039322X series New York : Regan Books, c2003.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1998.3.H58 M38 2003
In Part 5 (Paramount: The Glory Years) chapter 15, the author describes the process by which Hitchcock decided on the actors that he chose to star in the film. Originally, James Stewart had be slated for the role of Thornhill, but due to the poor performance of Vertigo in the box office it was unclear whether Hitchcock and the studio could justifiably use him instead of Cary Grant. Stewart was an immensely popular actor, but not considered sexy enough for the role. By using Grant who appeared younger, the studios were happy because there would be a greater draw for women to see the film and Hitchcock was happy because he signed a lead actor whom the audience would have more emotion invested in. Hitchcock next arrived at the task of picking the female lead. He rejected the studio's suggestions and chose Eva Marie Saint, a well regarded actress but not regarded as exceptionally sexy or mysterious. Hitchcock hoped to mold her and give her a specific role. James Mason comments on this, accusing Hitchcock of using his actors as "animated props".
The choice of actors in a film a critical first step towards creating the desired output. Despite Hitchcock's often firm hand in micromanaging the details of each shot, the actor has a great deal of responsibility and artistic license in the way they portray their character in the film. Hitchcock made his decisions based on the overall effect upon the audience. Thus, careful selection of each actor was an important prerequisite for achieving his desired outcome in each shot. The decisions made however led to great success. The strength of the movie rests on the audience's concern for Thornhill's successful resolution of the dangerous challenge he was forced into, and also of Eve's safety as she plays the role of secret agent to the enemy spy. While casting the correct actor into a role is critically important, it can also be argued that massaging that actor into the desired character during filming is of equal importance. If the character is not playing the part as envisioned, the director essentially loses control over his tool he uses to manipulate the emotions of the audience. Hitchcock not only carefully screened his actors, but was also known for his adept manipulation of their skills into the finished product he himself desired.
The MacGuffin website interviewed lead actress Kim Novak to ask her questions about her memorable dual-performances in Vertigo. When Novak received the script for Vertigo, she was known as the number one box-office star of the time. She explains that the only reason her agent let her take the part was due to the fact that Hitchcock was directing. When asked if Hitchcock made her feel valued as a performer, Novak responded by saying that “he didn’t necessarily, but, on the other hand, he didn’t make me feel less than.” A director obsessed with perfection, Hitchcock occasionally forced Novak to do things against her will. For instance, Novak was very against the constraining nature of the costumes that she was required to wear. Although Hitchcock gave her the chance to express her opinions, he felt that her “reasons weren’t good enough.” Novak decided to live with the costume and was able to play against it in a way that made it “right for Madeleine.” Asked about the ending, she explains that her belief is that Judy “absolutely” hurled herself from the tower in her untimely suicide. When the film first came out it was greeted with mixed reviews and a disappointing box-office. Novak described the experience on a personal level as being very “painful.” She explained that the “work [she] did in Vertigo meant nothing if no one cared about the movie.” Fortunately, the film would go on to experience a revival and people began to understand its value.
The interview confirms that fact that Hitchcock exploited the “star system” as Novak was the biggest attraction at the time. Unfortunately for him, his approach did not result in instant success. Hitchcock never wavered in his vision of the film and over time people became to appreciate the film. Viewers and critics alike now hold the belief that Vertigo is a cinematic masterpiece.
Wood, Robin. “Vertigo.” Hitchcock’s Films Revisited 1989, 108-130. Google Books.
University of Pennsylvania Library, Philadelphia. 8 Apr. 2008. <http://books.google.com/
In this chapter, Robin Wood discusses his analysis of Vertigo and provides a review of the film. He starts off by declaring it one of the most beautiful films that has ever been made. The chapter breaks down various scenes and character interactions until he comes to the conclusion that the film is both “deep and universal.” He goes into detail about how Scottie tries to reasonably overcome his acrophobia and Madeleine’s situation. This progresses into the second stage of the film where he becomes overwhelmed with guilt. In the final third, Scottie becomes lost in the world around him. Wood applauds the fact that Hitchcock includes the audience in the film by having it understand what Scottie is going through. Although the film gives a disturbing attitude to life, it also demonstrates the power and value of love. The only flaw Wood finds is that Kim Novak could have shown more inwardness while playing Judy. The scene of her writing the letter is too drawn out and as a result loses some of its power. Nevertheless, he praises the film’s “emotional depth” and its “power to disturb.”
This analysis and review was of great importance to Vertigo’s eventual rise to prominence. When it was first released, the film was greeted with mixed reviews and a poor box office. It was not until critics began focusing on the artistic elements of the story, that Vertigo gained its much deserved respect.
“Vertigo Movie Review.” Variety Magazine. 14 May. 1958. 8 Apr. 2008.
In this original 1958 Variety Magazine review of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, the critic provides a very mixed assessment of the film. The reviewer lauds the performance of Jimmy Stewart while noting that under Hitchcock’s direction, Kim Novak is “nearer an actress than she was in [previous films].” The reviewer also notes the beautiful photography of San Francisco and feels that the images will play a paramount role in whatever success the film generates. The major problem with the film is that “the film’s first half is too slow and too long.” The critic believes that this may be the result of Hitchcock becoming too enamored with scenery or with a screenplay that just takes too long to get going. The reviewer describes the action as “mainly psychic” while appreciating and even giving away the final scene of the film. The review culminates by questioning if the two-hour runtime could be better spent by the viewer. The critic finds the film to be “basically only a psychological murder mystery.”
This review is important because it shows the overwhelming sentiments that the film received when it first came out. The critic goes so far as to question if she wasted her time watching the film. And this is a film which is today regarded as a masterpiece. It is interesting to note that the Variety viewer believed that the film’s photography would play a part in its success. Although this turned out to be incorrect, Hitchcock too believed that extravagant settings would lead to a strong reception. Overtime, response to Vertigo changed as critics began to find deeper meaning in the film.
Goodkin, Richard E. “Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Proust’s Vertigo.” MLN Dec. 1987, 1171-1181. JSTOR.
University of Pennsylvania Library, Philadelphia. 4 Apr. 2008. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/2905316>.
In this paper, Richard E. Goodkin investigates Proust’s In Search of Time to find the true inspiration for Vertigo. While he admits that there are striking differences, Goodkin finds elements that are so similar that they are impossible to ignore. For instance, the name Madeleine Elster is simply a combination of Proust’s memory-cake and the narrator’s favorite painter. Scottie’s attempt to remake Judy as Madeleine is similar to Proust’s Madeleine in that they both embody the attempt to relive the past. Time is central to both stories, for in Vertigo the entire second half focuses on Scottie’s desire to go back on time; nostalgia for the love he once had. In the beginning of the film, Scottie tries to slowly get used to heights by climbing up a stool. He attempts such a task through “habit,” one of the central tenements in Proust’s story. In his novel, the only way the narrator finds “lost time” is by going “against his habit.” Scotties inability to succeed through habit demonstrates the uncontrollable nature of time. Goodkin moves on to focus on the second half of Madeleine’s name: Elster, the name of Proust’s painter. The critic is quick to explain that “not only is Madeleine modeled after a painting, but Scottie attempts to recreate her as a sort of living painting.” The similarities between the works do not end there. Not only does In Search of Time have a bell-tower, but it also carries with it the association of death. The Aunt in the story is terrified of climbing it because at the top “Certain people claim to have felt the coldness of death.”
Goodkin concludes the article by affirming the belief that through Vertigo, Proust has been translated into film. The writer believes that while many of the themes have been carried over, Hitchcock’s film focuses on the inability of return, and is thus unable to be re-watched and still retain its original value. Nevertheless, it seems apparent that inspiration for Vertigo was drawn from Proust’s story.
Vest, James M. “Reflections of Ophelia in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.”The Journal of
the Midwest Modern Language Association 1989, 1-9. JSTOR. University of Pennsylvania
Library, Philadelphia. 4 Apr. 2008. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1315269>.
Focusing on the use of water as a pivotal plot device, James M. Vest attempts to draw a connection between Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Hitchcock’s Vertigo. He states that in Vertigo “water couples with the idea of the suicide of a beautiful young woman in ways that precisely reflect images of Ophelia” (1). Shakespeare’s work is said to have been very influential to Hitchcock, who grew up reading his plays. Vest believes that Vertigo is Hitchcock’s attempt at creating a modern Hamlet. After Madeleine falls we see her floating in the water in a posture that draws striking parallels to Ophelia’s suicide. Hitchcock insisted on surrounding the dead body with flowers, a depiction seen in John Everett Millais’s painting of Ophelia in the stream. The connection is further emphasized throughout the film when Madeleine talks about her previous falls into water. Scottie serves as the “Hamlet-like hero” who develops an unexpected relationship with her. Vest also notes that after Madeleine is fished out of the bay, she speaks incoherently and assumes a “somnambulistic” appearance which rivals that of Ophelia’s madness. Other links include the multiple roles each character fills. In Hamlet, Ophelia is the “playful sister,” the “dutiful daughter,” and the “disenchanted lover, while Kim Novak’s character is associated with Madeleine, Judy, and Carlotta. According to Vest, “both stories conclude with an expression of love intimately linked to death.” He also notes that both Vertigo and Hamlet follow a main character who not only is mentally unstable, but also appears to see ghosts.
James M. Vest provides us with some very interesting insight onto the inspiration for Hitchcock’s story. Hitchcock had always dreamed of directing a film version of Hamlet, and even went so far as to begin production on such a film in 1946. Although the project never came to be, it is clear that his intentions have lived on through Vertigo.
Modleski, Tania. “Femininity by Design: Vertigo.” Post-war Cinema and Modernity 2001, 275-286.
Google Books. University of Pennsylvania Library, Philadelphia. 10 Apr. 2008. <http://books.google.com/
Tania Modleski finds that Vertigo is in reality a film which questions masculinity. She notes that Scottie’s interaction with Midge in the female clothing scene provides a humorous link between his vertigo condition and femininity. She also finds this connection imbedded in the film’s use of high locations and suggests that a link between femaleness and fear of heights can also been seen in North by Northwest. Modleski continues on to explain how Scottie becomes possessive of Madeleine. His failure to cure her is a substantial blow to his masculinity. He experiences a dream where he “actually lives out Madeleine’s hallucination…and he dies Madeleine’s death.” Failing to cure her, his mind falls into a “feminine” world of madness and death. Scottie is devastated when he learns that Judy was part of Elster’s plot to murder his wife. The essay explains that his pain stems not from her actual death, but from the fact that she had been molded and used by another man. Fashioned for another purpose. Up to this point, Scottie had believed that he was in control of her. That he had the “power” which the film associates with masculinity. The author says that “like a woman, he is manipulated and used by Gavin Elster.” The essay goes on to provide further details to these principle claims.
Modleski’s essay is important because it shows critical response to the themes of masculinity and femininity in Vertigo. By focusing on Scottie’s perceived failure to live up to the expectations of a man, we are given considerable insight on how women are treated in film. The essay supports the finding that Hitchcock’s film shows an objectification of woman. In failing to live up to his masculinity, Scottie is forced to take on the implied lesser role of a female.
Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” 17 Jan. 2007. Brown Wiki.
Laura Mulvey uses psychoanalysis to highlight the ways in which film reveals society’s view on sexual differences and desires. The paper explores the structured implementation of phallocentric themes which acknowledge the dominance of the male gender. Such an argument is centered around the image of a castrated woman. Mulvey states that “woman's desire is subjected to her image as bearer of the bleeding wound, she can exist only in relation to castration and cannot transcend it.” Without the male reproductive organ, the woman is at a loss. The sole meaning for a woman is to signify the existence of the better male version. Deriving their meaning solely from males, women passively submit themselves to the wants and obsessions of the imposing male. By analyzing this concept, Mulvey believes that feminists can find the true roots of female oppression. The paper explains that the magic of Hollywood is derived from its manipulation of visual pleasure. The article discusses the integration of erotic themes in film and the meaning of such undertones.
Mulvey discusses the way that the male looks at the female in Vertigo. Scottie looks at Madeleine in a way that fluctuates between “voyeurism and fetishistic fascination.” Scottie’s desire to remake his lost love and Judy’s willingness to do so, is an example of his dominance over her. Through the use of camera techniques, Hitchcock allows the viewer to take Scottie’s perspective and thus take on his position. The paper relates Scottie’s drive to reconstruct Madeleine to a fetish. As a woman, Judy knows that her role is to submit, and realizes that such a role is necessary to retain his erotic interest in her.
This paper affirms the feminist belief that Hollywood seeks to affirm male dominance by integrating it into its films. The oppressive manner in which men look at women, the “male gaze,” can be demonstrated through point of view shots. By making Madeleine the object of the camera’s desire (Scottie’s), the audience also experiences the possession. The paper is important as it serves as an example of feminist reaction to Hitchcock’s film.
Allen, Richard. “Camera Movement in Vertigo.” The MacGuffin. 2007. 9 Apr. 2008.
In this article Richard Allen analyzes the camera movement of three scenes to show Hitchcock’s artistic adeptness. The first scene he comments on takes place at Ernie’s restaurant. The camera begins by tracking back from Scottie to reveal the room. The camera then moves forward towards the woman Scottie is gazing it: Judy. Allen believes that the use of forward-tracking shots throughout the movie “imply Madeleine’s allure for Scottie.” Backward-tracking shots are used to show the means in which Scottie is tied to his object of desire. When these two types of shots are cut together, they create the feeling of pursuit as well as attraction. The article goes on to explain how the camera sets the stage for their relationship. Allen next comments on the “vertigo shot” which allows the audience to take part in Scottie’s acrophobia. He explains the power this has on the viewer as well as its symbolic meaning as an opposition to the relationship between the two characters. The final shot he explores is the 360 degree turn that takes place after Scottie has recreated Madeleine through Judy. In a sense, she transcends the dreary world around him. She is perfect to him. As we spin, Scottie and Judy become the center of the 360 turn as if they have become one. Slowly, Scottie notices the background around him changing. His memories come back to him as his mind transcends time.
The article explains that the spirals seen in the vertigo shots, as well as the spiral nature of the 360 degree shot, aid in revealing the link between his acrophobia and his sexual desire. Richard Allen’s article is written as a testament to Hitchcock’s artistic influence in the film. He begins the article with the following quote from esteemed critic Robin Wood: “Vertigo seems to me of all Hitchcock’s films the one nearest to perfection. Indeed its profundity is inseparable from the perfection of form: it is a perfect organism.” Allen shares this belief.
Manlove, Clifford T. “Visual ‘Drive’ and the Cinematic Narrative.” Cinema Journal 2007, 83-108.
Project MUSE. University of Pennsylvania Library, Philadelphia. 4 Apr. 2008.
In this essay, Clifford T. Manlove comments on Laura Mulvey’s 1975 essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” and its application to Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Manlove explores the concept of “gaze theory” to explain opposing perceptions of the events that happen in the film. This idea of gaze refers to how the surrounding world views the presented characters. According to Manlove, Vertigo provides us with an “example of the formative split between the eye and its gaze.” The split is caused by Scottie’s near-death experience at the beginning of the film. Through the use of subjective camera positioning, we too as an audience experience a change in perception as we follow him around. Scottie’s vertigo forms a barrier between him and the people and objects that surround him. Things that may appear ordinary to others take on a special visual meaning to him. Manlove uses the example of the policeman who saves Scottie. Scottie sees a horrifying fall below him, while the policeman is unaffected and reaches out to help him. As an audience we can gaze upon Scottie, but only through camera techniques can we truly see how he sees. Hitchcock invented the “Vertigo shot” as a means of conveying his unique perception. The camera tracks backwards while zooming in, thus highlighting the occurrence of the split. “What to a rational observer looks like an alleyway, Scottie sees as a threatening object, simultaneously approaching yet infinitely receding.” Manlove goes on to relate the gaze to Scottie’s failure to save Madeleine, and its eventual result in Judy’s death. The essay further applies the concept of gaze to Rear Window and Marnie.
Manlove’s analysis helps us distinguish the fact that what the surrounding characters in the film see may be different from what Scottie sees. As an audience we are provided with insight into Scottie’s troubled mind by understanding the effects of his vertigo and how this might affect his insistence in reconstructing his lost love. Manlove helps us see that the story is driven by and conveyed through Scottie’s unstable state of mind. It is clear that Manlove has an appreciation for the techniques that Hitchcock used to convey his vision.
Wexman, Virginia. “The Critic as Consumer: Film Study in the University, ‘Vertigo’, and the Film Canon.”
Film Quarterly Spring 1986, 32-41. JSTOR. University of Pennsylvania Library, Philadelphia. 4 Apr. 2008.
Virgina Wexman discusses the varying types of critical response that Vertigo has generated, and how they ignore the commercial aspects of the film. According to Wexman, Vertigo “most owes its preeminence to the opinions of cinema scholars rather than the enthusiasm of less ‘committed’ film fans” (33). Critics tend to come from two folds. One line of approach analyzes Hitchcock’s artistic influence on the film. They feel that Vertigo is a demonstration of the director’s visionary genius. The other group of critics finds value in Vertigo’s skillful objectification of women. Regardless of their focus, both sets of critics refuse to accept the notion that Vertigo was made solely for commercial success. Upon further review it becomes apparent that Hitchcock was preoccupied with such a goal. The director exploited the “star system” with big names such as James Stewart and Kim Novak. In fact, he committed to the actors before the script had even been written. Hitchcock knew that Kim Novak could be employed as a romantic idol and utilized profile shots to capitalize on her unquestioned beauty. In addition to using stars, Wexman explains that Hitchcock increased the film’s commercial appeal through the use of extravagant settings. He was aware of the fact that audiences had an appreciation for traveling to far off, exotic locales. Viewers of Vertigo are treated as tourists as they are taken on a journey to all of San Francisco’s famous sites.
According to the article, Hitchcock envisioned the stars, envisioned the settings, and had his writer fill in the rest. The article introduces the fact that there are two distinct types of criticism that have spawned in response to the film. One type focuses on the technical and aesthetic achievements of the picture, while the other type focuses on the film’s negative depiction of women.