Thursday, January 12, 2012

Relationship Advice from Alfred Hitchcock - Vertigo

Again it is probably sensible to have watched at least Vertigo before reading this analysis...
Vertigo examines relationships in a much more complicated sense, both directly and indirectly, as seen in Rear Window. Also similarly to Rear Window, the protagonist, Scottie, is an injured man, whose cane suggests the subtext of impotence. He is introduced with the female counterpart, Midge, in the second scene. However, it becomes clear that despite the clear sexual potential and also history to the relationship, it is, at present, an arrangement of convenient companionship rather than faithful partnership. Hitchcock keeps the two framed separately for almost the entire scene, except for a brief moment when Scottie pokes a bra on Midge's desk with his cane – one that she is designing advertising for. Midge's desire for a relationship is made clear by her comment that there is only man for her, indicating Scottie. Midges distress regarding their relationship is highlighted in Hitchcock's typical high angle shot, indicating the anxiety of the person or situation, and cued by Scottie's comment, “We were engaged once. Weren't we?” This trademark high angle anxiety shot is found in Hitchcock's films as far back as The Lodger (1927). In fact, much of “Hitch”'s visual brilliance as well as his innovation was born out of the fact that his career was developed in the era of silent film making, forcing him to learn to tell the story primarily visually and value this ability of cinema. According to Hitchcock, this sense of visual cinema was mostly lost with advent of sound to, “photographs of people talking,” and effectively transformed cinema into theatre.1

Thus Vertigo begins with what ought to be a relationship but isn't spelling disastrous results from the very outset. Scottie becomes involved in an investigation regarding a college friend's wife, Madeleine, after rescuing her from San Francisco Bay in what appeared to be an attempted suicide. Hitchcock now show us in reverse the couple that ought not to be. Scottie sits on the couch in a green sweater framed by red curtains signaling a sense of stage. Green used here echoes the green used to highlight Madeleine in her debut at the restaurant. The fact that Scottie is now in green framed by the red curtains suggests both that this scene is the reverse of the other in that this is when Madeleine first sees Scottie. However, it also serves to indicate Madeleine's psychological possession of Scottie. Green is often used by Hitchcock as a colour to indicate something positive. It is with subtle reinforcement such as colour that the audience is aided in liking and identifying with Scottie and Madeleine as well as warned of their fate. The camera pans and dollies across the room revealing Madeliene's clothes hanging across Scottie's cane in the kitchen and Madeleine, now understood to be naked, through a doorway in a bed. Scottie gets up and walk toward the bedroom, stopping and staring at the woman across the threshold. A telephone call draws him into the room. Telephones are a common device used by Hitchcock across a number of his movies. The telephone represents, in a very real way, an intrusion into one's life or equally significant, a manner in which to intrude on others. In this way, the telephone is often used to underscore the insecurity of our lives, perhaps hinting at the fact that death could call at any time2.

Madeleine's bare shoulders further add eroticism into the situation as she hides herself under a yellow blanket. Yellow has only been seen significantly in Midge's apartment, thus there is the subtext of Madeleine being where Midge ought to be. Yellow is also usually an aggressive colour in Hitchcock films, as most clearly displayed in Marnie(1964). Mark Rutland, while on his and Marnie's honeymoon, clothed in a housecoat of an identical yellow, is frustrated by Marnie's pathological inability to consummate their marriage. He and Marnie, who is clothed in a green dressing gown, have a strained conversation in the front room after which he storms after her into the bedroom becoming verbally aggressive and tears her nightgown off, in the most sexually violent moment of the film, an act which he immediately regrets and apologizes for. Thus we should be alerted and concerned by the yellow colour of the blanket, which also confirms the violation already suggested by the drying clothes. Furthermore, when Madeleine enters the front room in a red dressing gown, it echos the red restaurant in which Scottie first saw her, highlighting the passion he feels for her but also marking her for death. Again, going back to Marnie  and her pathological fear of red because of its psychological connection to murder, is key here. Also the red carpet in Frenzy (1972), running down the stairwell of Rusk's apartment, is significant. It is seen just after he and Babs enter to, what the audience is certain via a dialogue cue, will be her doom. The slow camera moves away from the closed door and down the stairwell, highlighting the red carpet, suggesting a waterfall of blood, and serving to underline the audience's horrified awareness of the present rape and murder in a long string of rapes and murders that have taken place in the room above. Vertigo's use of colour remains consistent within this framework and thus Scottie's presentation of two yellow pillows for Madeleine should be understood to maintain the subtext regarding Midge as well as perhaps foreshadowing his responsibility for Madeleine's death. In the course of Vertigo we discover that Madeleine is not actually Madeleine but rather Judy, an aid in a deception so as to make the murder of the real Madeleine, by her husband, look like a suicide.

The death of Madeleine at the Mission, in spite of Scottie's futile attempt to cure her psychosis, plunges him into a catatonic state. It is in the hospital that we have one of the final moments for redemption slip away as Midge is unable to coax him out, acknowledges his ongoing love for Madeleine, and leaves the hospital. She is unable to save Scottie in the way that Lisa is able to save Jeffries in Rear Window. Her exit of the hospital marks her last appearance of the film. When he emerges from the hospital he is alone, a point consistently emphasized by the camera framing throughout the film. He blunders once again down the trail of his torrid affair with Madeleine only to discover Judy, in front of the flower shop, wearing a green outfit, matching that of the flower shop's cart and definitively drawing the connection between her and Madeleine.

Scottie discovers Judy by accident and is unaware of the truth and sets about recreating her into Madeleine. The final moment where their doom is sealed is Judy's renewed resolve to restart their relationship in reversed deception in order to make their love true, in contrast to her initial intention to reveal the truth. There is significant echoes between this process of transformation and that which occurs in Rebecca (1940) and Scottie's makeover of Judy – both explore the desire for transformative deception in a lover. In Rebecca, it is the perception that transformation is desired that is, in reality, false. Whereas, in Vertigo, the desire is real and instead it is the unanticipated truth of the deception which reveals its own horror. Furthermore, what in Rebecca is more or less dressing up, Vertigo reverses into a slow erotic undressing.3 The scene after Scottie and Judy first have dinner, when Scottie proposes another meeting as he drops her off in her apartment, demonstrates further Hitchcock's genius at being able to tell the story through image. The scene is lit in low key and Judy disappears into the shadows early in the scene. Scottie stands lit, proposing a 'non sexual' relationship to her dark, haunting silhouette, as he lusts with necrophilia for the ghost she reminds him of. She remains hidden in the shadows of her own secrecy and love for Scottie. She, Judy, loves Scottie, but Scottie loves the non-existent shadow called Madeleine, whom Judy pretended to be. This division of person is perfectly captured in the shot of Judy sitting looking out the window away from Scottie, her face cut perfectly in half by shadow. Scottie sees her only in shadow but longs for greenish lit side of her which evokes Madeleine. When, later, Judy exits from the green light fully reversed back into Madeleine she stands finally naked before Scottie for his necrophilliac fantasy.

The film concludes with the horrifying repetition of the earlier death scene. Scottie has once again transformed Judy into Madeleine and Madeleine will once again fall to her death, only this time Scottie, in the midst of the madness of his psychotic obsession, has become Gavin Elstor. Scottie, while not wanting to be alone and lamenting his availability in the opening scene, is also unable to admit dependance or need for a woman. Because of this, he is blind to Midge's consistent assistance, clarity and love, unable to stand her independence, he instead drowns in his own obsessive desire for the illusion of love, power, and control presented to him in Madeleine. An illusion, which when revealed, results in a fit of erotic rivalry4, ultimately causing Judy's death, albeit indirectly. Interestingly, this theme of illusion, deception and artifice, while worked out most often in relationships, has also a definitive reflexive nature that casts judgment on both the desire to and watching of films as well as the creation of them.

It is this exploration of the desire to be deceived that I continue to find most haunting. In what ways do I reject reality around me and pursue illusion and delusion toward my own and others destruction? In what ways do I construct those around me into false personae, related to my own neurosis? In what ways do I allow myself to be constructed by the neurotic fantasies of others?

1Fran├žois Truffaut, Hitchcock, Rev. ed., 1st Touchstone ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985), 61.
2Dial M for Murder
3Truffaut, Hitchcock, 244.
4Jones et al., The Hidden God, 256.

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