Sunday, May 06, 2012

Yeah.....Vertigo. I re-watched it recently.

Now, technically, it's great, innit? Beautiful shots and all that, San Francisco as a heavenly, monumentally vast and purgatorial non-place.

Except, re-watching some Powell and Pressburger ie A Matter of Life and Death and Black Narcissus, both of which it directly rips off, either in shot for shot terms (as in Stewarts and Kerrs' responses to the Final Fall) or in terms of the suspended-between-two-worlds milky luminosity and hypersharp colour (AMOLAD) it was hard not to think, hang on, isn't Vertigo, especially in comparison to Black Narcissus just a load of one dimensional, misogynist old shit, really?

 I mean BN seems much the richer film on every level, even just dramatically. Vertigo is saggy and meandering, overlong, Black Narcissus is dense AND has a lot of forward momentum, manages to be genuinely scary and tense and at least has an interesting, multi-dimensional ensemble female cast whereas Vertigo is just about a couple of frustrated Puppet women who are thrown around by and slaves to James Stewart's tragically and heroically impossible male desire. Probably really meaningful if you're a hardcore Lacanian, but as my friend Chris likes to say, end of the day, maybe Lacan was just married to the wrong woman.

Plus, I remembered that back in the 80s Hitchcock was broadly regarded as a great director of thrillers but a reactionary old fuck. That shifted during the Nineties with the popularisation of certain academic discourses, which went, essentially, ahhhhh but isn't it his misogyny which actually makes him really interesting/ but doesn't his misogyny reveal to us an unbearable truth. Then again, times change and maybe its time we cleared away this (re)lauding of Hitchcock.

Give me Black Narcissus' complex historical/political/social/metaphysical/psychological depth plus its cinematic bravura and daring any day. Or for that matter (if we are talking Nuns) The Magdalene Sisters, which I watched again recently. If anyone has better managed a move through comedic delight into sustained horror the way Mullan manages it in the "you're not a man of God" sequence I'd be keen to know who it is.

AND while I am on the subject I noticed that in Cahiers Du Cinema's list of the 100 most beautiful films there isn't a single British film. Now whatever you might think of The Red Shoes or Tales Of Hoffman (just to stay with P and P for moment) I can't figure out any list of that length which wouldn't have them in there somewhere.


David W. Kasper said...

On a masterpiece to turkey ratio, P & P piss all over Hitchcock. Unlike Hitch's join-the-dots Fruedianism, P & P burn really do bypass endless 'theorizing' and communicate with something warmer and directly emotional.

Plus 'Vertigo' is a semi-rip-off of Preminger's 'Laura', which doesn't have any of the former's gimmickry, miscasting, flatness and silly 'twists' (Vertigo looks and 'moves' exactly like a 50s mystery comic, as does Marnie and The Birds).

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I have to agree. Powell is a far more interesting director than Hitchcock, and I go back to view Powell's films far, far more often than Hitchcock's.

It's been years since I saw Vertigo, but when I viewed it again yesterday, Hitchcock's borrowing from Black Narcissus immediately jumped out at me.

Hitchcock's over-reliance on rear projection looks bad even from 1950s standards. Powell's work from the 1940s looks far better and uses a far bigger variety of techniques. In a Powell film, you wonder how he does things. In a Hitchcock film, you are often drawn out of the film by some ridiculous technique he decided to lazily employ.

Take Psycho's climactic falling down the stairs scene. Can anyone really say it doesn't look ridiculous?

And I also agree about the scripts. Hitchcock did not choose particularly compelling stories, and the treatment of women, without fail, is embarrassing. Emeric Pressburger was always writing empathetic scripts that could be thought about on many levels, which is one of the many reasons repeated viewing of P & P films is so rewarding.