Between Two Deaths

Stop press: August, 2012:

Alfred Hitchcock’s «Vertigo» has usurped Orson Welles’s «Citizen Kane» as the greatest film of all time in a poll by the BFI’s «Sight and Sound» magazine. (BFI = British Film Institute.)

The magazine polls its experts once a decade – and «Citizen Kane» has been their top pick for the last 50 years.

This time, 846 distributors, critics, academics and writers chose Hitchcock’s 1958 suspense thriller, about a retired police officer with a fear of heights.

Starring James Stewart and Kim Novak, «Vertigo» beat «Citizen Kane» by 34 votes.

In the last poll 10 years ago, it was five votes short of toppling «Kane».

Hitchcock called it his most personal film and it sees the director tackle one of his recurring themes – love as a fetish that degrades women and deranges men.

James Stewart and Kim Novak almost kiss in «Vertigo». Almost!

Fetish? Degraded women? Deranged men? Hmmm… sounds about right. My two most recent poetry collections, «Urban Myths» and «Starlight», contain poems that (presciently!) deal at length with «Vertigo».

Here’s critic Martin Duwell writing about the one in «Starlight», “Boy in Mirror”:

Probably the most complex of these poems is “Boy in Mirror”, about Hitchcock’s «Vertigo» — its companion piece, “Girl in Water”, can be found in the “At the Movies” section of «Urban Myths». It includes an opening section on adolescent responses to the film and is built out of a free flowing commentary on the film which stresses its complex motifs and openness to an allegorising approach. The poem gives a generic-narrative interpretation of «Vertigo» which, like «North by Northwest», contains, the poem says, a woman imprisoned by a monster who must be killed so that the princess can be rescued.

Cherchez la femme, then the action
moves to a strangely threatening rural arena
far from the city: dangerous heights and fatal falls:
the (blonde) is unfaithful to the hero, maybe because
she has been captured and possessed by another monster
and soon the hero is a cuckolder and the woman adulterous
and thus fallen, or falling, or dead and gone…

We also get a lot of impressively detailed critical reading, especially involving connections with Proust that perhaps derive from the original novel on which «Vertigo» is based.* These may be well-known in the land of film-criticism [in fact they’re not] but they are new to me. The perspectives in this poem are not only the different ways of reading the narrative itself (ie with a progressively wider lens producing an archetypal reading) and the increasingly fine observation of detail, but they also bring in the adolescent boy’s response to the eroticised body of Kim Novak and his identification with the wounded policeman.