Thursday, June 24, 2010

Vertigo (1958) at the Capitol Theatre

The Capitol Theatre is my local movie house. It is literally a few blocks away from my apartment building, yet I almost never go. It's proximity to my home makes me take it for granted because I know it's convenient and that's its always there for me. The last time I went to the Capitol was also the first time I went and that in October of 2008 when I saw the remake of The Women (1939) with Kevin.
A return visit has been long overdue.

Walking home one day, I saw this signage on the door of the Capitol. Hitchcock? On the big screen? Just a few blocks from my apartment? And I don't even have to worry about parking? Huzzah!

It's been years since I've seen Vertigo (1958) and while visually it's stunning, at that time I didn't much care for the story. I thought I'd give it another try. Initially, I had planned to go by myself but Carlos begged me to take him with me. He loves Hitchcock as much as I do, so date night was set. We had dinner then walked to the Capitol. We were a bit early so we stopped in on there ice cream shop and had a few pre-movie treats. While we were indulging in Maine Black Bear (raspberry ice cream with chocolate pieces) and Purple Cow (blackberry ice cream with white chocolate chips), Carlos asked me a question completely out of the blue...
What if Alfred Hitchcock directed Dr. Strangelove (1964)?

At first I brushed off the question but then I took a moment to think about it. Hitchcock would have never directed Dr. Strangelove because there are no no prominent female characters in it. Hitchcock REALLY loved his women. And he had a particular appetite for blondes.
In Hitchcock films, the camera is constantly making love to the female lead. Our eye is drawn to her instinctively. It's as though we are borrowing Hitchcocks POV for a few moments. However, it's always the female lead and never the other actresses. For example, in Rear Window (1954), the viewer is in a state of constant adoration for Grace Kelly but our eyes do not rest for very long on Thelma Ritter.

So when we watched Vertigo on the big screen, I kept an eye out for this detail (tee hee). And sure enough, Kim Novak is lovingly adored by Hitchcock's camera.

I must not have paid much attention the first couple of times I had watched the movie because there were a lot of great plot points I was missing. Watching it on the big screen, forced me to pay closer attention. Vertigo has everything. Great actors, stunning visuals, a plot that keeps you guessing, action, drama and romance. Plus a Jimmy Stewart with an excessive amount of make-up on.

I love how Hitchcock uses structures to represent different things. Brassieres and bridges hold things up and represent stability. Windows and door frame paint idyllic pictures but are often misleading. Ledges, rooftops and towers (heights) mean danger. The museum, cemetery, church and hotel are all purgatories for people in the present who are stuck in the past. There is enough meat in this film for an English major like me to feast on.

Watching Vertigo this once on the big screen is not enough. I need to own this film, watch it several times at home, take notes and break it apart. I need to watch it to analyze and watch it for fun.

Have you watched a Hitchcock film on the big screen? If so, which one? Did it change the way you watched the film or what you thought of it? I'd love to hear your thoughts!


  1. I would love to see Vertigo on the big screen. Of Hitchcock's films it is one of the ones that seem best suited to it! I have seen North by Northwest and Psycho on the big screen (both when I was at university). I can't say my opinion of Psycho changed. On the other hand, my opinion of North by Northwest increased. Okay, I already loved the film, but it was seeing it on the big screen that made it my favourite Hitchcock film!

    I do have to say you are wrong about one thing. Sometimes Hitchcock's camera linger on other actresses than the lead. In fact, Vertigo comes to my mind. While the camera does not adore her the way it does Kim Novak, it does seem to me that the camera does linger a bit on Barbara Bel Geddes. Of course, she was a blonde too. LOL.

  2. I've seen a few Hitchcock's on the big screen including Shadow of a Doubt and Strangers on a Train, but North by Northwest was STUNNING. The colors just popped out and AHH it was definitely an experience. Neat post :)

  3. I saw Vertigo on the big screen once but it was at an outdoor film festival - totally the wrong setting, a lot of people don't have patience for such a carefully crafted film, but I adored seeing it on the big screen!

  4. Ohmigosh, you are so luck you got to see Vertigo on the big screen! It is one of my favorite movies. I love the cinematography, the music, the costumes, the story, the symbolism...just everything. Jimmy Stewart's dream sequence is one of my favorite parts of any movie.

    I know what you mean about Hitchcock focusing on his leading women too. He did adore his blondes, and was pretty honest about how he meant his leading women to be the center of attention. I believe I read something once where he admitted he imagined people often forgot Vera Miles was Psycho alone with Janet Leigh, which is funny because both women were blonde in that film.

  5. Hey Raquelle - thanks for posting on Vertigo - one of the great films of any era.

    I was particularly interested to read the section you wrote that began, "In Hitchcock films, the camera is constantly making love to the female lead."

    You are certainly onto something: the film critic Laura Mulvey has written extensively on the issue of the camera's perspective in relation to certain leads in Hitchcock's films.

    In her essay 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema' makes the following point in regards to Hitchcock:

    "...he takes fascination with an image through scopophilic eroticism as the subject of the film. Moreover, in these cases the hero portrays the contradictions and tensions experienced by the spectator. In Vertigo in particular, but also in Marnie and Rear Window, the look is central to the plot, oscillating between voyeurism and fetishistic fascination. As a twist, a further manipulation of the normal viewing process which in some sense reveals it, Hitchcock uses the process of identification normally associated with ideological correctness and the recognition of established morality and shows up its perverted side."

    How does this critique fit in with your thoughts on this aspect of Vertigo?

    Perspective is such an elemental issue in terms of interpreting and enjoying Vertigo.

    I personally disagree with Mulvey's assertions and think that Hitchcock was celebrating sublime beauty rather than indulging in fetishistic voyeurism...but I spent far too long write an Undergraduate essay on that topic, so I won't go into too much detail!

  6. Mercurie - I agree that the camera lingers on Barbara Bel Geddes. I remember one particular shot in which the entire screen is filled with her face as she kind of disappointingly watches Jimmy Stewart leave. But the camera does NOT make love to her like it does Kim Novak. Geddes is safety/comfort Novak is sex/excitement And just in comparison, (sorry to be vulgar) the camera is literally having hot sweaty sex with Grace Kelly in Rear Window. It's almost ridiculous!

    Sarah - All Hitchcock films, especially the ones in color beg to be shown on the big screen no?

    Vagabondshoes - Outdoor classic film screenings are probably not the best, especially int he summer when the weather is nice. People get restless. I had a bad experience watching Rebel Without a Cause outside.

    Pixie - Oh that's interesting. Hitchcock loved his blondes but I guess he loved certain blondes over others. He definitely favors Novak over Geddes.

    A Anand - Thanks for posting that quote and for stopping by! I have always thought that Hitchcock's leading ladies and the way the Hitchcock camera makes love to them, was Hitchcock's way of bedding the beauties he couldn't in real life. It doesn't take away from his movies for me, but it's what I've always assumed. He did really appreciate their sublime beauty, but he was a man and men have needs!

  7. Congratulations for your Blog Raquella, I really Love It!

  8. Hi there Raquelle, I’m celebrating my post #100 and I’m going to upload a special-classic-actor-related-thing if someone answers correctly the question I posted. Wanna participate?
    Click here

    ps. I haven't seen any Hitchcock movie on the big screen, but I0d love to.

  9. My favorite film of all time, though I've never seen it on the big screen!

  10. I love VERTIGO, it is really one of the best Hitchcock films =)

    This is my first time reading your blog and I love it!!! I've just created my own little blog on Classic Hollywood...I'll be reading yours =)

  11. Great post. How lucky you are to have seen Vertigo on the big screen...

    Fortune was on my side! I recently saw Psycho at my local theatre. It was absolutely incredible. The masterful score enveloped me as the brilliant opening credits began to play. One of the coolest things I've experienced. Much better than watching it on my laptop. :)

  12. I live in Rochester (home of Kodak film) and the Eastman house plays old films all the time on the big screen. I don't make it out often, but I have seen Rear Window and Psycho on the big screen. Amazing experiences! I'm glad I stumbled upon your blog... now following.


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