Monday, October 11, 2021

Sidney Gottlieb and Donal Martin (ed.): Haunted by Vertigo (a book)

Sidney Gottlieb and Donal Martin (ed.): Haunted by Vertigo : Hitchcock's Masterpiece Then and Now. Herts (UK): John Libbey Publishing Ltd. Distributed worldwide by: Indiana University Press. 2021. 241 p. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data: ISBN: 0 86196 742 1 (Paperback).
    Sidney Gottlieb: Introduction
    Mark W. Padilla: Reading Hitchcock's Vertigo Through the Myth of Io and Argos
    Janet Bergstrom: Hitchcock After Murnau: The Influence of Perspectival Shooting in Vertigo
    Mark Osteen: Versions of Vertigo: They Wake Up Screaming
    Charles Barr: Hitchcock and Vertigo: French and Other Connections
    Barbara Straumann: Fatal Resemblances: Cross-Mapping Hitchcock's Vertigo with Nabokov's Lolita
    Christine Sprengler: The Sounds and Sights of Vertigo's Afterlife in Art: Chamber Made Opera's Phobia (2003) and Jean Curtan's The Vertigo Project (2018)
    Robert Belton: Incidental Meaning and "Hidden Hitchcock" in Vertigo
    Ned Schantz: The Hospitality of Scottie Ferguson
    Steven Jacobs: Hitchcock and the Tourist Gaze: Vertigo and the Monuments of San Francisco
    Sidney Gottlieb: The Variety of Gazes in Vertigo
    Laura Mulvey: The Metaphor of the Beautiful Automaton Reanimated: Artifice, Illusion, and Late Style in Vertigo

In my guest bag at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto on Saturday, 2 October, I found a copy of a book I instantly started to read: Haunted by Vertigo, edited by Sidney Gottlieb and Donal Martin. I jumped to Janet Bergstrom's piece on Hitchcock after Murnau, because I had met Bergstrom the evening before having travelled on the same bus from Aeroporto Marco Polo to Pordenone, and I had shown her the travel reading I had just finished – Tony Lee Moral's wonderful book Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie (Scarecrow Press, 2005).

A lot has been written about Vertigo, and there are two books about Vertigo even in Finnish (by Peter von Bagh and Heikki Nyman). This, the newest contribution to Vertigo studies, may be a bit uneven, but at least four pieces I find outstanding.

The Murnau influence in Hitchcock's cinema is a familiar theme for everybody who has read books about the master of suspense, but Bergstrom in her chapter pursues the matter further than anybody before, based on primary sources, archival documents and rarely quoted interviews and illustrations. Bergstrom's piece is also extremely illuminating on Weimar cinema. For the first time I truly understand the revolutionary meaning of Murnau's perspectival shooting and forced perspective and the impact he made in Hollywood. Hitchcock happened to be at the Neubabelsberg studio to witness first hand Murnau creating his magic, and the experience made a lifelong impression on him. This article is a film historical detective story.

Charles Barr conducts a parallel feat with Vertigo's French influences, analyzing the whole story of the Clouzot / Hitchcock connections, also the full legacy of Boileau and Narcejac in detective fiction and the cinema. His piece goes also deep in the question of Hitchcock's reception as a major artist: belittled in his native Britain, and revered in cinephilic France. Some of the parallels are amusing: Le Corbeau by Clouzot / The Birds by Hitchcock, the humoristic warnings "soyez pas diaboliques" in Les Diaboliques, and "no one, not even the manager's brother, is allowed into the theatre after the start of each performance of Psycho". An intriguing passage is devoted to the screenwriter Alec Coppel, who in 1949 wrote a film directed by Edward Dmytryk called Obsession, which may have been an inspiration for Boileau, Narcejac, Clouzot and Hitchcock.

During the Me Too revolution and the rebirth of the "male gaze" discourse of the 1970s, also Vertigo has been subjected to reassessments. Sidney Gottlieb, one of this book's editors, focuses on this in his article on the variety of gazes in Vertigo. The result is unexpected and hardly supportive of a simplified "male gaze" discourse. Gottlieb finds in the diegesis of Vertigo at least ten kinds of gazes, such as: an interrogative look, the look of recognition, an observed look, looking beyond the physical world of the present, the look elsewhere, a tranced or traumatized gaze, downward looks, an averted look, and a reciprocated or mutually engaged look. Might I add the most important one: the look of the camera / the director / the spectator.

To top it all, there is a new essay by Laura Mulvey, the author of "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" (in Screen magazine in 1973), probably the most quoted work of film scholarship in the world. Mulvey distanced herself from simplified interpretations long ago, but sometimes a polemically one-sided text can be more fruitful than a carefully balanced one, and the Mulvey thesis continues to be extremely rewarding. For instance Sidney Gottlieb would not have written his piece without the Mulvey provocation. Mulvey herself has recently revisited the theme in Afterimages: On Cinema, Women and Changing Times (2019), and her essay in this Vertigo book is a version of a chapter in that one.

The most moving passage in the Vertigo book is by Mulvey. "Eve (Eve Marie Saint) and both Tippi Hedren's characters, in Marnie and The Birds (1963), are designed, as it were, to attract the male gaze, both erotic and investigative, that I analyzed in 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema'. I only now realize, in retrospect, that Vertigo's particular significance for the essay was probably due to the film's self-reflexivity. I now see the film as an actual reflection on the very Freudian concepts of voyeurism and fetishism that I was attempting to analyze. Hitchcock had already, that is, visualized my argument: voyeurism, a key structure, according to Freud, of human sexual pleasure, had been unprecedentedly harnessed by the cinema's luminous screen, and projected onto a particular and spectacularly luminous figuration of femininity" (pp. 221–222).


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