Blog Directory CineVerse: Mad about Madeleine

Mad about Madeleine

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

by Erik J. Martin

Note: This is part seven of a seven-part article on Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”; parts 1-6 were posted over the last six days.

The hidden but inherent evil within Judy as Madeleine in "Vertigo" makes her a classic femme fatale--an overpowering, attractive woman who seduces men into danger--so characteristic of the malevolent, sexy "spider woman" indicative of film noirs of the '40s and '50s. Noir blondes have traditionally been depicted as conceited, cold and resistant to love and trust while remaining sexually vivacious.

In Hitchcock's cosmology, blondes must be punished for their self-centeredness and emotional detachment, both to himself as the director and to the characters they portray in his films. Hitch's female characters are usually perverse from the start, leading men astray through deceit, detachment, sex and delirium.

It is important, finally, to realize the extent of the director's invested self-revelation to his audience. Hitchcock was notorious for obsessively coaching his actresses as pupils, and for choosing only voluptuous blondes to play his roles of women sexually repressed by their own sophistication. His goal onscreen was to expose the erotic, carnal female hidden beneath her formal attire, and thus present the perfect physical representation of woman in film.

As Judy dresses up and submits herself to physical objectification and degradation in “Vertigo” to please Scottie, so is she also, in her non-diegetic reality as Novak, surrendering to perverted and manipulative whims of the director (Vera Miles was originally cast to play Madeleine/Judy, but Hitchcock lost her to a pregnancy and ensuing marriage). Hitchcock's fantasy of dressing and undressing women is embodied in Jimmy Stewart, while the archetypal Hitchcock woman is epitomized in Kim Novak.

Film theorist Royal Brown put it best when he commented that " transforming Judy Barton into Madeleine, Scottie will remarkably mirror precisely what Hitchcock did with his famous blondes. Seen within this perspective, “Vertigo's” Orphism mirrors the sexism inherent in the patriarchal American culture." If we can swallow this observation, we must conclude that, in “Vertigo”, the male viewer is allowed, truly, to have his cake and eat it, too.

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