Vertigo (1958) starring James Stewart & Kim Novak

Hitch was quite upset at he failure of the film when it was first released; he blamed this on James Stewart for “looking too old” (nearly 50 y.o.) to attract large audiences. Bernard Herrmann’s musical score was inspired by Wagner’s Tristan & Isolde which is also about doomed love. This film was the first to use computer graphics. The second-unit cameraman (most likely) invented the famous zoom/out and track/in shot to convey the sense of vertigo to the audience. 

Let’s not probe too deeply into these matters, Kim. It’s only a movie. -Director Alfred Hitchcock explained to actress Kim Novak (when she asked for more info on her character’s motivation during a scene)

John “Scottie” Ferguson (Stewart) is a middle-aged/retired/detective who suffers from acrophobia. He is a bachelor who is still good friends w/ his former fiance, Midge Wood (Barbara Bel Geddes), who works in fashion merchandising (being an artist). An old friend from college, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), calls Scottie to his office (in the San Francisco shipyards) and asks him to follow his wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak). Gavin explains her unusual behaviors and fears she is losing her mind, though he hasn’t discussed the matter w/ any medical professionals. Scottie is skeptical, BUT agrees after seeing the beautiful Madeleine. 

Stewart would NOT be one you would think of portraying a voyeur and a stalker, yet he pulls it off so well. As one viewer commented (see #TCMParty on Twitter): “Vertigo shows how versatile Jimmy Stewart could really be. That’s the sign of a great actor.” Another movie fan tweeted: “This is where Jimmy’s ‘nice guy’ persona becomes so effective. It’s esp. painful to see him reduced to this.” He enables viewers to sympathize w/ him, even as we cringe at his character’s actions and decisions. 

Hitchcock set his film in San Francisco, a city well known for its unique topography and hilly landscape, in order to add a further torment to Scottie’s life and emphasize the debilitating nature of his vertigo. Location shoots were done at the Big Basin Redwoods State Park and the Spanish mission at San Juan Bautista. Hitch spent a week filming a brief scene where Madeleine stares at a portrait just to get the lighting right. After Judy has been made over into Madeleine, she and Scottie kiss; the actors were on a revolving circular platform (a la Gone with the Wind). 

Vertigo is full of scenes where the colors have been saturated or changed to create a special feeling. Hitchcock even went so far as to openly dye some frames is bright unnatural colors. He played around with colors in all his color films, but never as much as in this one. -Excerpt from IMDB review

Much is done with color and light in this film; you will notice it (even upon first viewing). I noticed more tonight- my second time viewing it fully. An astute viewer noted: “Am noticing for the first time that each scene is pretty monotone – yellow, red, redder, green, blue.” The lighting changes when important events occur. Here are some examples: 1) When Scottie first sees Madeleine in the restaurant, the light around her becomes unnaturally bright. 2) While Scottie is listening to the story of Madeleine’s ancestor in the bookstore, it gets very dark; once he exits, it brightens again. 3) When Scottie first sees Judy made over as Madeleine, she is lit by a ghostly green light (the reflected light from the neon sign outside). On this point, a viewer tweeted: “Bathed in the color green… the ghost of Madeleine is wiping out Judy’s identity.”

There’s a dark sexiness to the film that lends the film an air of mature and serious art. Barbara Bel Geddes’ tragic Midge practically throws herself at Stewart’s Scottie Ferguson, while Novak’s “Madeleine Elster” seems rather matter of fact when she realized that Ferguson had completely undressed her after saving her from death. Later, as Judy Barton, her real identity, she shows a frank knowledge of pickups, sizing Ferguson up as a masher. Judy, it seems, has been around the block once or twice. Where earlier Hitchcock movies played coy with sex, here he tackles the subject head on, and it adds to the film’s mature atmosphere. -The Hitchcock Report blog

The words “power” and “freedom” are repeated three times in the movie: 1) In the beginning, Gavin longs for the old San Francisco b/c there was more power and freedom. 2) At the bookstore, the elderly history buff explains that, in Carlotta Valdes’ time, a man could just throw a woman away b/c he had more power and freedom. 3) During the climax, John suggests that after the murder was completed, Gavin left Judy b/c he had more power and freedom (w/ his wife’s fortune). 

[1] Vertigo is Alfred Hitchcock’s most discussed, dissected and critically reappraised film…

[2] This movie is so deep that you could write a thesis on it and keep adding to it from time to time… Hitchcock really gave his all in this picture… it’s about the ultimate love… wanting to achieve the ultimate love, and, as happens in life, never having love turn out to be the way we want it to be…

[3] If a flaw is to be found, I would say that the script developed for the film was probably not the most friendly for the audience. This film is certainly not for everyone, as it’s slow pace and heavy darkness in the subject may turn off people familiar with Hitchcock’s lighter films as his usual dark humor is not present here…

[4] Hitchcock is in his very best form creating hypnotic scenes and a general sense of unease and dread in even the most banal of situations. A particular favourite of mine is the extended (largely silent) segment where Stewart follows Novak for the first time. Nothing much happens, but the atmosphere of these scenes is enough to keep you on the edge of your seat!

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

 

 

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Rear Window (1954) starring James Stewart & Grace Kelly

This month (July) TCM has been showing Hitchcock’s films every MON & WED; Rear Window is probably my fave of his films. (Strangers on a Train would come in second, b/c WHO could resist the devilish Robert Walker!?) This is a simple story, BUT there is a LOT going on (once you watch it a few times)! Most of you know the synopsis (below from IMDB): 

Professional photographer L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries breaks his leg while getting an action shot at an auto race. Confined to his New York [Chelsea] apartment, he spends his time looking out of the rear window observing the neighbors. He begins to suspect that a man across the courtyard may have murdered his wife. Jeff enlists the help of his high society fashion-consultant girlfriend Lisa Freemont and his visiting nurse Stella to investigate.

When two people love each other, they come together – WHAM – like two taxis on Broadway. -Stella tells Jeff her view of relationships

The relationship between Jeff (James Stewart) and Lisa (Grace Kelly) is a BIT complicated; they are VERY attracted to each other, BUT have different lifestyles and personalities. Jeff thinks that Lisa is TOO good for him; you can tell by the way he describes her (to others and also during their evening dates at home). Lisa is (obviously) waiting for him to settle down (note the comment about the art gallery) and ask for her hand in marriage (b/c she loves him a LOT, putting up w/ his quirks). Straight-talking Stella (Thelma Ritter- always a delight) bemoans the fact that courtships have become SO complicated (LOL- a LOT of modern/single people would agree).

Stewart gets to flex his acting muscles in this darkly comic role. You can’t help but laugh at a LOT of Jeff’s lines, the way he looks, and generally expresses himself. He doesn’t have the luxury of much movement, being confined to a wheelchair (though is still VERY effective). Lisa is willing to make their lives work together, though he has doubts. And when she faces danger, Jeff realizes just how much he loves her! 

[1] Alfred Hitchcock is considered by most to be the master of suspense. I believe he was also a master of understanding human nature. He intuitively understood that human beings are voyeurs by nature, not in the perverted sense, but in the curious sense. 

[2] The acting is superb in this film. Jimmy Stewart is unabashedly obsessed as the lead character. Photographers have an innate visual perceptiveness and the ability to tell a story with an image and Stewart adopts this mindset perfectly. Grace Kelly has often been accused of being the “Ice Maiden” in her films, yet in this film she is assertive and even reckless. Though cool at times, she is often playful and rambunctious. 

[3] The main characters are wonderfully portrayed and full of life. The apparently simple setting in an apartment complex is developed into a world filled with intriguing and sometimes unsettling possibilities, and this apparently average neighborhood comes to life with a wealth of lavish visual detail and interesting minor characters.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

 

 

House of Cards (Netflix): Season 5

NOTE: This review contains SPOILERS for the latest season of the streaming series. Fun fact: My dad also doesn’t like “sorry” (like Claire). 

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“I will not yield!” Frank (Kevin Spacey) declares to Congress.

“You don’t want me to stand for something,” Frank states to the viewer late in season five. ‘You just want me to stand.” But, uh, reality would beg to differ. We increasingly want politicians to push back against the bland, corporatist kind of politics Frank and Claire represent, to elevate outsiders. House of Cards is a show about the ultimate insiders, and it can’t overcome that central fact. -Vox

Frank’s “war on terror” has deadly consequences for ICO-inspired Joshua Masterson. With a little help from Asst. Dir. Green (FBI), Underwood had stashed the homegrown terrorist in an underground/high-tech prison. Frank tells Green “to get rid of the asset.”So, did you think that Frank was upset re: the reaction of the Millers’ teen daughter at the funeral? It’s like that girl saw through Frank, though she was SO young and grief-stricken (b/c of her father’s murder). 

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Frank (Kevin Spacey) and Claire (Robin Wright) drink a toast.

…the name of Frank’s secret society can be traced back to Greek mythology. “Elysian Fields” is said to be a true paradise where gods who are gifted immortality are sent. Basically, only the most favored gods got to go to this place and live out their endless lives in bliss. This is especially fitting for a reference point because on House of Cards, Elysian Fields is essentially a place for important men (and only men) to hang out together in the woods. -Bustle

It was one of the most talked about ep of the season, as I learned from Twitter (and later on- few articles). Viewers wondered: “Is that real!?” once it was revealed that prominent men were behind the masks at the weekend retreat (or shall we call is “glamping?”)

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Marc Ursher (Campbell Scott) and Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman)

Will Conway, the Republican presidential candidate was clearly modeled on Obama (w/ a side of Kardashian-level status on social media, as we saw in S4). We learn that he has PTSD, which he keeps hidden from even Marc Usher (Campbell Scott- still slim and handsome) and retired Gen. Brockhart (Colm Feore- one of Canada’s best theater actors). The CEO from Pollyhop, also Conway’s old pal, knows about the PTSD.

Marc finds out what’s up when Conway loses his cool on a small jet, demanding that pilots let him fly (“I’m going to be the president and you’re going to flip me those motherf****ing controls!”) This rant is caught on tape, then later leaked to the Underwoods. The tall telegenic family man is a damaged individual (after serving in Afghanistan after 9/11). 

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Eric AKA Augustus Underwood (Malcolm Madera) comes to the White House.
At the peak of Frank’s unpopularity, it seems that Eric [who role plays Confederate soldier Augustus Underwood- Frank’s grandfather] is just about the only person left who truly believes that the man could make a great president… -Bustle
Eric never openly states why he thinks Frank could be a good president; I think it’s his youthful naiveté. Eric and Frank get closer over his visits; he starts working as a personal trainer (his day job). Over talking about the world and laughing about how Eric actually made up Augustus’ backstory, the two become fast friends (something rare/unexpected for Frank). Things eventually get VERY intimate (which I expected) and also a BIT scary (nope, did NOT see that).  
Secretary of State Catherine Durant (Jayne Atkinson) decides to testify to the senatorial investigation into the President’s misdeeds. She goes to the White House and delivers the news to her frenemy Frank (VERY bad idea). “You need to take a fall,” he says, before pushing Cathy down a flight of steps. She’s alive, but won’t be testifying any time soon. Poor Cathy- she was one of the FEW good characters on this series! 
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Jane Davis (Patricia Clarkson) in the Oval Office.

Something terrible always happens when I go to a party. -Jane tells Claire

…I’m more interested now, going forward, with how this murder [Tom Yates’] will wind up compromising Claire since Mark Usher knows about it and – perhaps Jane Davis too! The two people Claire’s now relying on to steer her forward have a big advantage over her, and she doesn’t fully trust them. -Mark Fowler (IGN)

Some of you on Twitter thought that Miss Davis was NOT a believable character. Is she a war profiteer?  She has created this unassuming personality, BUT under it all, is a force to be reckoned w/, no doubt.

Claire turns more to Jane over time, shutting out LeeAnn (Neve Campbell), who is worried re: her old friend Aiden Macallan (Damian Young). It took me a BIT of time to figure out what was going on w/ Mac! I felt bad for the guy, even though he was NOT the most exciting character.  

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Tom Yates (Paul Sparks) and Claire (Robin Wright)

Stamper has never made peace with killing Rachel Posner – shouldering the responsibility for Barnes’ death is his penitence. –The Telegraph

Lisa (Rachel Posner’s girlfriend) turned to drugs, and also became a threat, BUT Doug (Michael Kelly) decided NOT to kill her. The story of Anthony Moretti being bumped off the organ donor list, then dying to save Frank, is found out by Sean, Seth, and Claire. Back in S2, then VP Underwood murdered Washington Herald reporter, Zoe Barnes, by shoving her in front of a metro train. Over dinner, Claire and Frank share their plan w/ the ever-loyal Doug: “We need you to implicate yourself in the death of Zoe Barnes.” 

Tom, don’t cheat on my wife. –Frank tells Yates (after seeing photos of him w/ a White House tour guide)

Yates’ death cannot be considered a surprise. He had persisted in writing thinly-disguised accounts of the Underwood’s double-dealings and, as his ill-considered interview with a journalist early in the season confirmed, had a big mouth to boot. Applying patented Underwood logic, he had to go. -The Telegraph

Now, I was NO fan of Tom Yates (Paul Sparks), BUT I was troubled by his death. Claire poisoned him; like Lady Macbeth, there is “blood” on her hands now. Did she ever love Tom? We see that Tom became possessive over time, which she was turned off by (duh). 

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Claire (Robin Wright) as the Acting President

Hauled before young/upstart Arizona Congressman Romero (James Martinez) and his House Intelligence Committee, Underwood snaps and says he is resigning- WHOA! 

In real American politics, the Congressional Progressive Caucus is composed of 75 representatives, led by co-chairs Rep. Raúl Grijalva (a Democrat from Arizona) and Rep. Mark Pocan (a Democrat from Wisconsin). There’s a good chance Alex could be loosely based on either of the co-chairs of the caucus or any of the 75 representatives who are members, though the the House Of Cards showrunners have not indicated that there’s any real inspiration behind the character. -Bustle

What is this job? -Angela asks her boss

Not what it used to be. Tom Hammerschmidt replies

Perhaps the biggest surprise in this is that Frank has himself become a leak to Tom Hammerschmidt as the Washington Herald, revealing insider secrets to add press interest on the crumbling administration and justify monitoring of the entire White House and its staff…  –Screenrant

Frank will walk away from it all, so that Claire will step in as the new President, and pardon him for his crimes. Then, in the private sector, Underwood will become a source of power, working in tandem with his wife, to “own this house.” It turns out that Claire will NOT be pardoning him too soon!

If she doesn’t pardon me, I’ll kill her. -Frank states in his last monologue

But while he’s thought of every possibility, like the constitutional loopholes he took advantage of to get here, there’s one eventuality not accounted for; while Frank is functioning on a higher sociopathic level than seemingly anyone else in Washington D.C. and able to connive his resignation and transition of power, he doesn’t consider his wife’s fury. Screenrant

Claire also breaks the fourth wall (NOT a total surprise, as it had been hinted at before). I think MANY of you enjoyed those moments. Did you notice how Claire’s outfits became more conservative, buttoned, and (somewhat) militaristic as the season went on?