A to Z of Films Meme (V)

You can now book­mark and browse the entire list of movies I’ve writ­ten about, and those rec­om­mend­ed by you, here. After the meme is com­plete, those inter­est­ed can also get it as an Excel spread­sheet.

V

Vertigo

Ver­ti­go is one of Hitchcock’s most mes­mer­iz­ing, haunt­ing, and com­plex films I’ve seen. There are many lay­ers at work simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, and the more you probe, the more fas­ci­nat­ing it becomes.

A short intro shows past events that led to ex-Detec­tive John Fer­gu­son devel­op­ing an acute sense of ver­ti­go. An old acquain­tance Gavin asks John to tail his wife Madeliene, who he believes to be los­ing her mind, appar­ent­ly pos­sessed by the spir­it of a woman, Car­lot­ta. After a few days of watch­ing her, they fall in love, but it is short-lived. Dur­ing a vis­it to a church, John is unable to save Madeleine from falling from the church bell tow­er, because of his ver­ti­go.

After recov­er­ing from his trau­ma, John hap­pens to encounter Judy, who is an exact look-alike of Madeleine. While John attempts to con­trol, shape, and mod­el Judy to fit the image of his dream woman Madeleine, Judy starts to pity and care for him, and even­tu­al­ly falls in love. What John doesn’t know is that Judy is the real woman who played the role of Gavin’s wife in a mur­der plot.

When John sus­pects the truth, he takes Judy back to that church bell tow­er, and accus­es her of being an accom­plice in the mur­der. While doing so, we also see how John’s (the hero’s) attempt at re-mak­ing Judy into Madeleine was exact­ly the same as what Gavin (the vil­lain) did. An emo­tion­al­ly shat­ter­ing cli­max has John twice falling in and los­ing his love.Vertigo

Two scenes in Ver­ti­go rep­re­sent great heights (no pun intend­ed) in Hitchcock’s film-mak­ing. The first is to show John’s point-of-view when he looks down the square-shaped stair­case of the church bell tow­er towards the bot­tom while pur­su­ing Madeleine. This is a famous shot for its tech­ni­cal bril­liance and inno­v­a­tive­ness to achieve the mes­mer­iz­ing effect of ver­ti­go. Hitch­cock pulls the cam­era back (reverse dol­ly-out) while for­ward zoom­ing in with the lens. The effect is visu­al­ly stun­ning.

The sec­ond is a more pro­found sequence after Judy reluc­tant­ly accedes to John’s obses­sion with remod­el­ing her exact­ly like Madeleine. Her hotel room is bathed in green from a neon-light, and John is wait­ing for Judy who is get­ting ready in the bath­room. He is appre­hen­sive as well as hope­ful, yearn­ing for his dream woman. When Judy appears, it is a dream-like sequence where she appears re-incar­nat­ed as Madeleine. (Her appear­ance is sim­i­lar to how Madeleine had entered his bed­room in his apart­ment ear­li­er in the film.) Judy yearns for his love and is des­per­ate for it, even if it means she has to act like Madeleine. Both are slaves to an illu­sion cre­at­ed by a man, not even present in the room, to mur­der his wife.

When they embrace and kiss, the cam­era pans and revolves around them. With­out any cut in the embrac­ing sequence, Hitch­cock alters the back­ground as the scene revolves. It changes from the hotel room, to a liv­ery sta­ble where he had tried to cure Madeleine’s hal­lu­ci­na­tions, back to the hotel room. The hope­less­ness of the sit­u­a­tion and the futil­i­ty of desire is elo­quent­ly expressed as we expe­ri­ence the vast chasm between real­i­ty and illu­sion that always pre­vents any attempts to achieve hap­pi­ness by dis­tort­ing real­i­ty.

This sequence is a pro­found philo­soph­i­cal state­ment as well as the most psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly reveal­ing scene by Hitch­cock. Ear­li­er, fem­i­nists derid­ed how Hitch­cock used, feared, humil­i­at­ed, and tried to con­trol blond stereo­typ­i­cal women in all his films, but this changed over time. In ‘The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitch­cock and Fem­i­nist The­o­ry’, Tania Mod­les­ki ana­lyzes Hitch­cock to be nei­ther misog­y­nist, nor sym­pa­thet­ic, but rather ambiva­lent towards women:

Through­out his work Hitch­cock reveals a fas­ci­nat­ed and fas­ci­nat­ing ten­sion, an oscil­la­tion, between attrac­tion to the fem­i­nine… and a cor­re­spond­ing need to erect, some­times bru­tal­ly, a bar­ri­er to the fem­i­nin­i­ty which is per­ceived as all-absorb­ing.

By with­hold­ing his films from cir­cu­la­tion for rere­lease many years lat­er, Hitch­cock showed a resem­blance to his char­ac­ters who exert influ­ence even from their grave – like Car­lot­ta and Madeleine in Ver­ti­go. Some schol­ars con­tend that like his oth­er films, Ver­ti­go was influ­enced heav­i­ly by Oscar Wilde’s The Pic­ture of Dori­an Gray.

Stay­ing true to its title, the movie sug­gests the ‘falling’ con­cept in addi­tion­al ways. Falling in love, and com­plete­ly los­ing one’s self-con­trol by giv­ing in to obses­sion. The three lev­els of Car­lot­ta-inhab­it­ing-Madeleine-emu­lat­ed-by-Judy forms a ‘ver­ti­go of love’. And dri­ving in the hilly streets of San Fran­cis­co, John is always shown dri­ving down­hill, nev­er uphill. Also self-ref­er­en­tial is the par­al­lel of the car’s win­dow-screen to widescreen cin­e­ma – just like us, John is a spec­ta­tor. The dis­tinc­tive red-green col­or schemes, and the long pas­sages with­out dia­logue beau­ti­ful­ly held togeth­er by Bernard Hermann’s bril­liant score that per­fect­ly cal­i­brates Hitchcock’s craft. A romance, a mur­der mys­tery, and a thriller, Ver­ti­go is as com­plex and psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly deep as Hitch­cock him­self.

Runner Up

Von Ryan’s Express

I saw Von Ryan’s Express as a very young kid on the big screen. Only the gist of the movie remained in my mem­o­ries, not the specifics. Except the end­ing. An unfor­get­table end­ing.

VonRyan'sExpressWhen I watched it again a few years back, I enjoyed the movie again. Unlike true-sto­ry based WWII films, this is a pure­ly fic­tion­al, action-adven­ture movie. It is not con­strained by any moral state­ments about the futil­i­ty of war, or any his­tor­i­cal accounts to not devi­ate from, and hence is thor­ough­ly enter­tain­ing.

Amer­i­can Colonel Ryan (Frank Sina­tra) is forced to col­lab­o­rate with a British Major Fin­cham (Trevor Howard) in an Ital­ian POW camp when WWII is near­ing an end with Allied forces caus­ing the Ger­mans to retreat. The Ger­mans pack the POWs in a train head­ed back to Germany’s con­cen­tra­tion camps, and Ryan schemes an escape plan that results in a series of hair-rais­ing escapes and near-miss­es. Real trains on loca­tion were used except in the most dif­fi­cult scenes, and the tech­ni­cal craft is impres­sive for its time.

The bat­tle scene at high alti­tudes in the Ital­ian alps, with their train pur­sued by Ger­man troops and planes is nail-bit­ing, lead­ing to that won­der­ful cli­max.

Noteworthy Mentions

I have heard that V For Vendet­ta is a good film, but I have not seen it.

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  • vig­neshjvn

    Yes, V for Vendet­ta is a fab­u­lous movie! Flaw­less Eng­lish! A must-watch!

    And great writ­ing on the oth­er two films — I haven’t seen either of them yet, but your meme’s have for sure con­vinced me to watch them.

  • Yay! I have seen Ver­ti­go! I was a lit­tle tak­en aback by the end­ing though! What was the need of doing…that? But, I guess that was AH’s forte.

  • A detailed and a nice review of ver­ti­go! haven’t seen it yet though. I saw v for vendet­ta. it was okay, noth­ing real­ly great.

  • Mahen­dra

    Love this theme 🙂

    V For Vendet­ta, although list­ed by me in this meme response, is/ was a high­ly con­trived set-up. The only rea­son I paid atten­tion was that the sto­ry line involves Lon­don and bla­tant ref­er­ences to the Gun­pow­der plot. If you watch it with low expec­ta­tions, it will deliv­er.

  • Good choice. I cant even think of that many movies that start with V!! Recent one I saw was of course Valkyrie. It was time pass — although kept me inter­est­ed even though I knew how it will end! 🙂

    Arun

  • Dev

    Mahen­dra, again a very detailed and well researched write up. Enjoyed read­ing it. Ver­ti­go is my all time favorite too and as I wrote in my brief descrip­tion of the film, “This was the best exam­ple of Hitchcock’s unde­ni­able tech­ni­cal accom­plish­ments, visu­al elo­quence and infal­li­ble abil­i­ty to thrill”
    I remem­ber I watched this film once with a girl at my place and our date went bit sour after watch­ing this film. 😉

  • Dev

    Yes, cer­tain­ly a wrong choice. But, that’s my prob­lem in life..either I pick a wrong girl for the right movie or a right girl for a wrong movie..lol

  • saw ver­ti­go eons ago. it wasn’t my fav. Hitch­cock film — but maybe i was too young to under­stand the lay­ers. It’s gone on my list of ‘to watch’.
    ‘Von Ryan’s’ express was one of those films that they used to dust out and play dur­ing xmas in Eng­land — the end­ing is a kick in the guts.

    do check out V for Vendet­ta — the graph­ic nov­el writ­ten by Alan Moore. it’s view on the dystopi­an state is very dif­fer­ent from the film. Alan Moore btw is an anar­chist. I stayed away from the film for quite a bit — coz i hate adap­ta­tions. But, when i final­ly did see it, i didn’t tear my hair out. thank­ful­ly, the direc­tor has man­aged to cov­er up natal­ie portman’s non exist­nant act­ing skills 🙂

    as she­faly puts it — watch it with low expec­ta­tions 🙂