“Vertigo,” Further

10Oct12

I recently got to see a 70mm screening of “Vertigo,” the new “Best Movie Ever Made” and semi-controversial film in almost every regard. Here are some random thoughts on such things:

1.) Most Interesting. “Vertigo” still isn’t my favorite Hitchcock movie, but I think I can safely say it’s his most interesting, in almost every aspect. There are movies with layers, and then there’s “Vertigo,” which seems to build layers upon layers after being designed about layers. It’s a movie about an obsessed guy who can’t get deal with his guilt or his lost love, so he makes up a girl who looks like his lost love to look like his lost love… when, in fact, SHE IS the lost love… and it was made by a filmmaker who notoriously (read: “obsessively”) made over actresses into a certain image.

Once I was discussing a sketch writing class with a friend, and we were talking about how we really couldn’t show the SNL “Cowbell” scene with any academic light. We couldn’t show that sketch and say “Here’s an example of _____” or “You can write a sketch this way because_______.” It just kind of IS funny, and it just kind of IS. We found it easier to have academic-like discussions about the “same old” stuff (Monty Python sketches, that one silent dance scene between Gilda Radner and Steve Martin) because there was simply more to talk about. So it seems with “Vertigo.” There’s stuff to talk about with “Psycho” and “Rear Window,” but there seems to be cavernous depths to “Vertigo.”

2.) Where’s the Discussion? Which makes it all the more puzzling that there isn’t more on the topic. Maybe it’s too confusing. Or maybe it’s all speculation. Or maybe people have discussed it enough over 50 years and they’re done with it. But whatever the case, I haven’t found suitable (for me) discussion on this film, outside of a book I bought and a few reviews. There’s a dude who has a whole series on the meaning of the monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and I’m kind of surprised he — or anyone else — doesn’t have anything for “Vertigo.” Perhaps it’s coming. Maybe the Sight & Sound top spot will garner such discussion, and it’s just taking a while to produce. Facebook has made me impatient.

3.) “Vertigo” is Hard to Look Up. I did find some podcasts discussing the film, mostly in light of the Sight & Sound list. But in searching for podcasts, I also came across many about the actual psychological condition as well as tributes to U2, who wrote a song of the same name. I had the same problem a while back, trying to look up information about the Flash — the comic book superhero, not the computer program.

4.) Three Beats Surrounded by Harmony.  I may be reading too much into this, but with the famous Paramount “mountain” logo at the beginning, I couldn’t help but think that the structure of “Vertigo” moves a lot like a mountain. The movie essentially starts (at the base) with Scottie seeing someone fall to their death, has another fall-to-the-death at the midpoint/peak, and ends with a final fall to the death (the other base). And as you move up the “mountain” and then back down, you find that similar beats almost occur at the mirror timing point. That is to say if you cut the movie-mountain in half, Scottie sees Madeline/Judy in a second-story window at roughly the same time (a feature illustrated by this video…)

During this latest screening, this realization gave me a feeling of post-modern harmony. I could see what was going to happen as well as experience the scene and the tension in the moment. It’s a really weird structure — it’s almost like making two separate movies, or like the first movie and then the sequel.

5.) Post-Modern Enjoyment. I alluded to it, and here it is. As I’ve routinely said, in this entry and others, “Vertigo” isn’t my top Hitchcock film. In fact, I didn’t like it when I first saw it. I found some parts laughable (still kind of do, and not for the right reasons). But during this last screening, I noticed so many bald-faced set-ups that I was amazed I wasn’t amazed by them during my four or five previous viewings. These set-ups (everything from Midge saying the only way to cure Scottie’s fear of heights was an emotional shock to the fact that Elster has a picture of a Spanish mission in his office) may have stuck out more because I was seeing them on a big screen and I had no household chores to distract me, but I think another element was the fact that I really knew what the ending of the movie was about. I mean, I knew what happened in the end of the movie by the first time I saw it, but something in me clicked this time: I was enjoying these set-ups more because I knew where they were leading. This leads me to believe that a cold viewing is not the most beneficial way to see “Vertigo.” It’s one of the few movies I can think of where major spoilers would actually benefit the viewer, because then he or she could appreciate all the work going into that first half of the movie.

6.) Act 2-B. I’ve heard from (only a few) people that the second half of Act 2 is the “least important” in a script. I never really believed that, and assumed anyone saying that was really just saying they didn’t enjoy writing that section of the story, which is indeed traditionally difficult. But “Vertigo” has one of the most entertaining, gut-wrenching Act 2-B’s I can recall. Normally the portion where things heighten, “Vertigo’s” story kicks into weird gear, sending things into crazy town. Scottie has the nightmare, goes insane, gets committed, thinks he sees Madeline everywhere, then actually DOES see Madeline in Judy, she considers leaving town, then doesn’t, then they date, but she feels less-than the whole time because Scottie is still in love with Madeline. A person who NEVER REALLY existed. All that is in the second half of Act Two. It’s astonishing to me. So to anyone who grumbles about the second half of their script where “the bad guys are closing in,” take a look at this monster and see how to make things go from bad to worse to insane to gross.

7.) That Hotel Scene. There’s a part in the first half where Scottie trails Madeline to the Kilpatrick Hotel and sees her open up a second-floor window. He then tries to go inside, but the woman working the front desk says nobody’s in that room. She shows him, and she’s right. When Scottie looks out the window, Madeline’s car is gone. Or was it never there…?

I can’t figure this scene out? I suppose it’s just there to ratchet up the mystery, but it seems weird because it’s one of the few scenes that has no second-half payoff. Maybe it’s supposed to drive home the “chasing a ghost” theme, which is certainly artistic. But the coolest thing about a Hitchcock movie like this (and “Psycho”) is that it starts off giving all evidence to a supernatural conclusion — so much so that we actually believe ghosts exist — only to pull the rug out in the second half and come up with an even crazier “real world” explanation. Except for this scene. Did Madeline and Elster pay that woman to hold up Scottie at the lobby desk so Madeline could escape? I may have to watch it again to see.

8.) Again and Again. I’m starting to get obsessed with this movie, when I really thought I wasn’t going to. It’s the lists, damn it. They tricked me. They made me reconsider things. You should never do that.

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