Tag Archives: Hitchcock

Vertigo: Does it Deserve its Spot?

The films Vertigo and Citizen Kane have been battling it out for the number one spot in most cumulative lists made by prestigious film institutes all over the world ever since their respective releases in 1958 and 1941. Having seen both films, I can say with much resoluteness that these two films certainly have a spot in the top ten most influential films of all time. In my personal opinion, Citizen Kane is a much better movie in all respects than Vertigo, simply because it has that flawless combination of great story, impeccable acting, incredible cinematography, and intuitive directing. Vertigo has all of that as well, but it proves to be a bit top-heavy on the stylistic side than the story side. Rather than striving to be a complete package, this film becomes an artistic tour de force, which is certainly not a bad thing at all. Citizen Kane simply proves to be a more watchable film. I had to watch Hitchcock’s work twice before I could fully understand what had happened, which does not happen when one has watched Orson Welles’ masterpiece. I absolutely love Hitchcock, and Jimmy Stewart – one of my absolute all-time favorite actors – does not disappoint in his performance, but I feel that in the battle of two of my favorite directors, Welles comes out on top.

I believe that the film that epitomizes all of Hitchcock’s strengths and comes out as the better all-around movie in his repertoire proves to be Psycho; I had never even heard of Vertigo, but everyone has heard of the harrowing story in Bates Motel. However, Vertigo proves to have made much of a bigger impact on film itself as an art than Psycho has, though the latter has made much more of an impact on society and movie genres as a whole. I do believe that Vertigo deserves to be ranked higher than Psycho, simply because film as a medium never would have developed quite in the way it has without that particular film. I also believe that Vertigo is a much scarier film than Psycho, and indeed Hitchcock’s scariest film in all. It is not scary in the typical sense of the word, but the way that Stewart’s character completely dominates Kim Novak’s character would have left me shaking and crying in terror if I had not been surrounded by my peers. It is in this respect that this film surpasses other films – its revolutionary characters and character development. Most other films had never before addressed such topics as stripping away one’s identity for love and giving oneself wholly to another, and what happens to one when that happens, and if a relationship under such a premise could ever be healthy. Roger Ebert aptly describes this volatile relationship and characterization in his film critique, in which he describes Vertigo as “one of the two or three best films Hitchcock ever made”:

Vertigo… is the most confessional [of Hitchcock’s films], dealing directly with the themes that controlled his art. It is *about* how Hitchcock used, feared and tried to control women. He is represented by Scottie, a man with physical and mental weaknesses (back problems, fear of heights), who falls obsessively in love with the image of a woman–and not any woman, but the quintessential Hitchcock woman. When he cannot have her, he finds another woman and tries to mold her, dress her, train her, change her makeup and her hair, until she looks like the woman he desires. He cares nothing about the clay he is shaping; he will gladly sacrifice her on the altar of his dreams.”

He then goes on to expose Scottie’s hypocritical anger at Gavin and Judy, in which Scottie laments that he could not shape the woman he so desired, as the woman he loved was pure fiction. In no other film has this topic been scrutinized to the length that it was in this film, and in no other film does the treatment and complete submissiveness of the woman strike such fear into the viewer as this film. This characterization and the gleeful pleasure Hitchcock takes in playing with audience expectations and preconceptions, as well as the unnerving examination of the role of women in society and in romantic relationships, combine to help make this film into the work of art that it is.

While I do not think that this Hitchcock film is necessarily the best film ever made, it assuredly deserves to be in every top ten list of best movies ever made. Its contributions to film-making as an art is undeniable.

Also, who can resist the absolute beauty that is Kim Novak?!
(Pre-surgery, of course.)

Ebert, Robert. “Vertigo.” Ebert Digital LLC, October 6, 1996.

Vertigo: The Greatest Film of All Time???

Though determining the best film ever created is not something that can ever really be determined, I can certainly see why and how Vertigo is in the “50 Greatest Films of All Time” list. Not only is the movie entertaining, but also the cinematic elements of the film including Hitchcock’s creative use of shots, POV, and several other features make up “Pure Cinema.” Though this term is often considered to be ambiguous and difficult to define, it is certain that everything that Hitchcock is known for is featured in this film through his profound cinematic style. It is evident in not only his technique in cinematography, but also in the plot, choice of actors, themes, and his unique sense of directing as a whole. For example, no matter what film, Hitchcock always goes back to involving the audience as much as possible, as well as generating suspense and visual stimulating/disorienting sequences, and using the same motifs such as the integration of stairs. Despite the negative things critics had to say upon the release of this film, there is no doubt that Vertigo is in itself a masterpiece of Pure Cinema, rightfully earning its place as one of the most influential films of all time.

A Dysfunctional Family Dynamic in Shadow of a Doubt

Within Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, it is evident that there is a disconcerting relationship between Uncle Charlie and Charlie. The sexual tension between the two is an unlikely feature in any family dynamic. In discussing the interactions between those within the immediate family, James McLaughlin observes how Charlie has an “unmistakable, barely conscious, hostility directed at a father”; another unlikely feature of a typical family (148). This assertion is supported with Charlie being portrayed as critical daughter who often makes snide remarks towards her father, Mr. Newton. This can be described as passive aggressive behavior and is perhaps her way of expressing her resentment towards Mr. Newton. Charlie’s resentment is possibly spurred by her boring and idyllic life for which she blames her father. Consequently, there is an innate desire to experience something out of the norm and dangerous, which does happen with the arrival of Uncle Charlie. It is also interesting to see how just as critical Uncle Charlie can be towards Mr. Newton. This is evident from they way he embarrasses Mr. Newton at his work, disregards his comment about leaving a hat on the bed, sits at the head of the table, and continues to rip up Mr. Newton’s newspaper despite the children’s protests. Hitchcock’s intentions for having Mr. Newton characterized as a pushover is unclear, but it is certain that it is used to further intensify the discomfort and to reveal how seemingly typical families can be in reality, dysfunctional.

McLaughlin, James.” All in the Family: Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt.” In A Hitchcock Reader, 145-155. 2nd ed. Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

Hitchcock Themes

After watching many of Hitchcock’s films such as Shadow of a Doubt, Spellbound, and Strangers on a Train. I have decided to comment on the family dynamics in Shadow of a Doubt. The family dynamics throughout this movie are downright creepy and incestuous. When the movie starts out with the parallel of Uncle Charlie in his bed and young Charlie in her bed there is a weird dynamic. They both appear to be sick and something is missing in their lives. Young Charlie desperately wants Uncle Charlie to visit and he somehow gets this message without being contacted. They seem to have a weird telepathy that only the two of them seem to understand. When he arrives young Charlie is oblivious and doesn’t realize that he is a creepy man. As the movie progresses she starts to become suspicious of him and eventually kills him. The family dynamic is also screwed up because Charlie’s little sister is very mature for her age and automatically realizes that uncle Charlie is bad. Also uncle Charlie treats the family’s dad as if he is a child. He tries to take the dad’s place as the head of the family. In the end they realize that uncle Charlie was bad news and that he was contributing to the bad family dynamics.

Love Triangles in Hitchcock’s Lodger and Blackmail

A staple in romantic fiction since its inception, the love triangle was implemented by Hitchcock in his early romantic thrillers The Lodger and Blackmail. However, Hitchcock uses the love triangle in vastly different ways in these two films.

In The Lodger, the love triangle is played traditionally between the three lead characters: Daisy the model, Joe the policeman, and the titular Lodger. At the beginning of the film, Joe tries unsuccessfully to win the affections of the beautiful Daisy, who does not return his feelings. A mysterious man soon takes up rent in the house of Daisy and her parents. It does not take long before Daisy and the Lodger begin to fall in love.

The Lodger and Daisy bonding over a chess game

Jealous of the Lodger’s relationship with Daisy, Joe accuses the Lodger of being the Avenger, a serial killer who targets women. His jealousy, and the measures he uses to remove his competition are typical of the antagonistic corner of the love triangle. Eventually, the real Avenger is caught, and Daisy and the Lodger live happily ever after.

Joe confronting the Lodger

In Blackmail, we are introduced to Scotland Yard detective Frank Webber and his girlfriend, Alice White. They get into an argument while on a date and Alice runs off with Mr. Crewe, an artist whom Alice agreed to meet with earlier. Here, it appears that we are going to have another traditional love triangle.

Alice and Crewe at Crewe’s studio

However, this love triangle is “resolved” half an hour into the film when Crewe attempts to rape Alice and she defends herself by stabbing him with a nearby knife. Feeling both scared and confused after the situation, Alice flees the room, but leaves behind her gloves. One is recovered by Frank, who wants to prevent Alice from confessing, and the other is found by Tracy, an unpleasant fellow who threatens to turn Alice in if his petty demands are not met.

blackmail.3.breakfast.big

Frank and Tracy negotiating the blackmail deal, with Alice in the foreground

Here we have a twisted parody of a love triangle, with two men, Frank and Tracy, fighting over the destiny of the same woman. Alice is caught between turning herself into the police, or living with guilt for the rest of her life; two equally unpleasant fates which the men represent. Unlike a traditional love triangle where the woman has the final word in the matter, neither Frank nor Tracy lets Alice have any choice, instead taking Alice’s fate into their own hands.

When Tracy is framed for the murder and dies fleeing the police, Alice’s option to turn herself in dies with him, as she tries to confess to the murder only to have Frank prevent her from doing so. This is a tragic twist on the usual ending to a love triangle, with Alice seemingly stuck with a bad “choice,” over which she has no real control.

Alice confessing to Frank, who prevents her from telling the police

The comparison of the love triangles in The Lodger and Blackmail shows how Hitchcock grows as a storyteller. He takes a well known trope he used in a previous film and plays around with both it and the audience’s expectations

 

Recognizing Hitchcock’s Reoccurring Shots

As we’ve discussed in previous classes, Hitchcock did not shy away from recycling certain shots. In a visual occupation such a film-making, I believe that the best directors are the ones who leave images in your head that never leave. Hitchcock’s dark and ambiguous style particularly stays with an audience long after watching his films, and this is a big reason why his films are considered timeless. Here are some of my favorite reoccurring shots from his films.

Shadowy people by lamp-posts.

From Blackmail

From The 39 Steps

From Strangers on a Train

Faces obscured by darkness.

From Rear Window

From Rear Window

From To Catch a Thief

From To Catch a Thief

From Psycho

From Psycho

The use of reflection.

From Blackmail

From Blackmail

From The 39 Steps

From The 39 Steps

From Strangers on a Train

From Strangers on a Train