I've only written about Alfred Hitchcock's immortal Vertigo (1958) once for an episode of the old series "May Flowers" so I thought I'd dig up that old piece now that Vertigo is in the news having been named "The Greatest Film" by Sight & Sound. I always think of Vertigo as an early summer movie. What other movie besides its closest descendants Robert Altman's Three Women and David Lynch's Mulholland Drive feel more ruled by twin sign Gemini? Hitchcock films generally deserve complete dissertations but we don't have Scottie Ferguson's (Jimmy Stewart) stamina when it comes to fetishizing doppelgangers. So today let's merely glance back at his introductions to Madeleine/Judy (Kim Novak).
Ferguson has been hired to follow Madeleine and as he first spots her in a deep rose red restaurant. [Click here to open a panoramic shot in a new window]. Hitchock slow zooms out from Scottie (far right) at the bar and pans left, following his gaze, into the dining area filled with flowers and well heeled customers and even a painting of a floral arrangement framed by floral arrangements before it finally stops at Madeleine (tiny, far left) in her emerald green dress.
As she leaves the restaurant we get Kim Novak's first bewitching close up, carefully calibrated and emphasized by Hitchcock's editor George Tomasini and cinematographer Robert Burks. Scottie likes what he sees but this is a job.
Some enchanted evening
you may see a stranger
you may see a stranger
across a crowded room.
And somehow you know
You know even then
that somewhere you'll see her
again and again.
-"Some Enchanted Evening" from South Pacific which opened two months before Vertigo
Scottie will be seeing Madeleine again and again. His interest is thoroughly piqued. Hitchcock sees Ferguson's obsessive spiral coming long before the man himself does. When Scottie next follows Madeleine she enters a door in an alley way and he enters, not knowing what he'll find there.
I thought about choosing Vertigo as a "Best Shot" entry early on in the series but I already knew that this stalking sequence would include my all time favorite shot and I had already written about it right here. Hitchcock gives us Scottie's POV as we head into a dark hallway and peek through a backdoor and suddenly the room is bursting with color as Madeleine shops for florals and then our POV shifts back to omniscient as we peer on Scottie drinking Madeleine from the shadows.
This is psychologically astute visual storytelling. Once he's in pursuit, Scottie is cast into shadow and suddenly it's all color, flowers, woman. This, too, will be happening to Scottie again and again, albeit not in the literal sense. His personality will darken (obsessive bullying voyeur coming right up) and soon his life will be entirely focused on colors (it must be the gray suit! the hair must be blonde!), flowers (his eyes darting from bouquet to bouquet) and this particular woman. All he will be able to see is Madeleine.
Or Judy as the case may be...
Scottie also first "meets" (okay, stalks) Judy, who looks suspiciously like Madeleine, in a setting bursting with colored petals. His eye is drawn to a floral shop by a familiar bouquet... And then he spots Judy, introduced with a right profile closeup just like Madeleine. Her introductory shot isn't as elegant but she's from Selina, Kansas. What did you expect?
Though she lacks Madeleine's class, she's practically a fraternal twin. Scottie will force the issue until she's identical. Hitchcock, Novak and Stewart aren't afraid to commit to unlikeable characters (pity that neither actor was Oscar-nominated for this but it took a long time for Vertigo to achieve its current lauded status) and the movie is richer and darker for it.
Vertigo makes you dizzy with its duplicate women, tripled bouquets -- oops, I didn't mention the third woman, Carlotta Valdes, and that painting that hypnotizes Madeleine?
We can't venture there, lest we be sucked into the knotty insane spiral of all of these doppelgangers. We don't want to end up like Scottie or Madeleine who'll violently toss her flowers into the river before jumping in herself.
This movie was all too much for her.
In the week since the Sight & Sound announcement, which Vertigo moment has relodged itself in your head? Without watching it again would you already have a "best shot" in mind?