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2 Spellbound and 4 Vertigo by Les LeVeque

Les LeVeque, a NY based former sculptor, has taken two beloved Hitchcock classics and turned them into contemporary short films. LeVeque uses simple algorithms and computer interface to develop these shorts, and in some of his other works, encourages political and social activism through this unique medium. However, in these two videos, LeVeque attempts to push the boundaries of artistic expression through Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945) and Vertigo (1958).

Critic Patricia Zimmermann explains that “in 2 Spellbound (1999), LeVeque condenses Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945) into a 7 1/2 minute flickering Rorschach test by extracting a single frame from every second of the original film in a linear fashion–from Hitchcock’s opening sequence to the copyright warning” (Zimmermann). The short is given a soundtrack of electronic music that fits the pace of the flashing images, with excerpts of dialogue like the words “hallucination” or “charming diagnosis.” One can see a LeVeque influence on the music video for Wax Tailor’s 2005 song “Que Sera,” which features clips from Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and Shadow of a Doubt (1943), and the song itself, which is electronic, features clips of Doris Day singing “Que Sera” from The Man Who Knew Too Much in its refrain.

Alternatively, in his 2000 short 4 Vertigo, LeVeque uses a slightly different algorithm to alter Hitchcock’s Vertigo. In this short, LeVeque still uses the same Rorschach-like element, but also flips the clips upside down, so it seems as if they are spinning in a circle. What LeVeque does change about this short is that the soundtrack is not original music, but is actually an edited version of the original Vertigo soundtrack by Bernard Herrmann, giving this short a much more eerie and chaotic feel.

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.

Impressions of Vertigo

Having previously seen Vertigo about two years ago, my opinion of it has certainly been altered after watching the film a second time. After my first viewing, I felt robbed. The plot line was not cohesive, the ending was abrupt, and Jimmy Stewart’s character was incredibly irritating. However, I definitely needed that second viewing to appreciate the film’s artistic value. While I personally do not rank is as high as the #1 movie ever, I understand the rating. With the second viewing, I had more time to pick up on smaller cinematographic details, as opposed to being wrapped up in the extensive plot line. I can now appreciate Kim Novak’s versatility as an actress in this film, along with Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal of a psychopath. During my first viewing, I struggled with the way Scottie treats Judy, him wanting to completely change her, even though she does technically understand why he is doing what he is doing. Because of this, I think this movie is a bit unsavory to my generation as an audience, as opposed to the generation actually rating these films. Alternatively, I can now view Scottie as a character haunted by Madeline, and the disconnect between the way he treats Judy and the way he actually is, as he is seen in the beginning of the movie towards Midge, almost as if they are not the same character. So, to anyone who had trouble watching this movie, I recommend giving it another chance.

Views on Vertigo

I really liked Vertigo. The acting and the directing were amazing. I can see why scholars name this one of the most influential films of all time. I think the shots that Hitchcock used were fantastic. I like how it looked when Scottie was hanging on for dear life. I also loved the scene at the end when he seems to overcome his vertigo and follow Madeline/Judy up the tower. This film is the most personal to Hitchcock because of the way Scottie controls Judy and the way he tries to make her into Madeline. This film also takes a look into the theory of voyeurism and gaze. Laura Mulvey is a strong feminist who is not a particular fan of Hitchcock’s work. She observes Vertigo and thinks that when Scottie stalks Madeline/Judy that he is objectifying her. Mulvey thinks that men always look at women in a dirty way and the women are always objectified. I do not agree with Mulvey’s statements. A woman could just as easily gaze at a man in a way that objectifies him. I somewhat agree with Mulvey, but only to a degree. I think men can look at women in a way that objectifies them (pornography), but women also have the power to do this as well. I don’t think women are as innocent as Mulvey makes them out to be. They aren’t always the victim.