Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Skuriels Countdown: #2 (tie)

Alfred Hitchcock, 1958
[23 votes]

“17 minutes deep into Vertigo, we get our first glimpse of Madeleine, dining at the venerable Ernie’s restaurant where Scottie, aiming for a visual identification of Elster’s wife, is stationed.  We first get a good look of her as she’s gliding out of the dining room and into the foyer.  As Madeleine comes to Scottie’s purview, she pauses, holding her pose perfectly still as if modeling for a sculptor.  The camera lingers on Madeleine enigmatic visage for a few beats, her exquisite profile framed by a wash of deep red.  And then she's gone, but not before leaving behind an image seared into Scottie's -- and the viewers' -- memory.  

“By the time Madeleine is re-introduced near the end of the film, the aching romanticism promised by her introduction scene has long since been dispelled. In its place is pathology. When Madeleine emerges from a green haze, resurrected, instead of swooning to the camera’s fetishistic gaze, we recoil from it.  With Hitchcock adrenalizing the romantic cues--the swirling camera captures the reunited lovers in passionate embrace, the walls rotating and shape-shifting into the stables at San Juan Baustita, while Herrmann’s bombastic riff of the Madeleine theme crescendos -- Scottie and Madeleine get on with what may be the creepiest erotic consummation in movie history. Yet we can’t turn away, as Hitchcock had already drawn the viewer into identifying with both the necrophiliac and the ghost.

“Vertigo, on the surface one of the romantic movies ever made, is finally about deadly limits of romanticism. For Scottie, neither love nor the heroic moment can overcome his agoraphobia. And for a segment of cinephiles fixated on time, loss, and memory, Vertigo exposes the folly of a romantic vision of cinema itself.  The movies offer the tantalizing possibility that time can be controlled -- that what’s been lost can can be resurrected and transformed into a tangible, malleable memory.  But as we see in Vertigo, time stops for no one and imposes limits on the power of artistic recreation.  Although Madeleine the ghost and Madeleine the simulacrum are one and the same, the replay is fatal to both.

“Maybe it’s the deeply pessimistic undertow of Vertigo that explains why the film has vaulted over the exuberant, drunk-with-possibility Citizen Kane in the latest Sight & Sound poll.  With celluloid on the wane and cinema seemingly losing influence, Vertigo -- a masterpiece about the impossibility of recapturing what’s been lost -- may well be the film of the moment.” ~ Ryan Wu

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