Vertigo: The Christian Hipster’s Summer Guide to Hitchcock

Considered by some to be Hitchcock’s masterpiece, this week’s movie is also known as “the other Hitch film where Jimmy Stewart watches other people (there are as many reaction as action shots of him in the film), loves a blonde, and figures out a murder.”


The Hitch film where feminist film critics stop ignoring the terrible things Hitch does to women  (the film starts out with Madeline/Judy’s face chopped into close ups of eyes and lips. Female characters don’t get any better treatment throughout the rest of the movie. Really it’s up there with The Birds for “Let’s attack women” content, a Freudian field day) but somehow can’t help loving the movie anyway and feel terrible about it. It’s dizzying…


Vertigo (1958). Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. With James Stewart and Kim Novak.

Reasons for Hipsters to love this movie:

  • In the opening titles, Jimmy Stewart’s name appears above the title as a mustache above a close up of Kim Novak’s lips.

    Chopped up face. Laura Mulvey would have a field day.

    Chopped up face. Laura Mulvey would have a field day.

  • Costumes by Edit Head
  • Music by Bernard Hermann.
  • Flannel Suits, fedoras, pencil skirts, swirly updos, and underwear jokes.
  • Kim Novak wearing Edith Head couture. Sigh.
  • More plot twists than Lombard Street.

    Get it, Edith.

    Get it, Edith.

  • More cool camera work than a LOTR film.
  • Filmed in VistaVision!
  • Did we mention Edith Head did the costumes?

Iconic moments (that are disorienting and don’t always make sense…but is that the point?) Hipsters look forward to:

  •  Madeline and Scottie look at California Redwood trees. Scottie: “If I could just find the key, the beginning, and put it together…”  Madeline: “Explain it away. But there is no
    For melodrama, add scarf, waves, and Herrmann score.

    For melodrama, add scarf, waves, and Herrmann score.

    way to explain it you see. If I’m mad, then that would explain it, wouldn’t it?” (Reaction shot of Scottie.) Scottie: “Maddie!” Madeline:”Oh Scottie. (She embraces him by the turbulent seashore.)  But I’m not mad, I don’t want to die….oh Scottie don’t let me go.” Scottie: “I’m here. I’ve got you.” (They kiss, waves crash.)

  • Scottie’s nightmare sequence with red, magenta and blue


    filters, psychedelic animation, Carlotta, open graves, disembodied heads, shadows falling on tile roofs and cold sweats looking straight at the camera. Try sleeping after that.

  • Judy walks out of the bathroom transformed to look just
    Wait...are you?...

    Wait…are you?…

    like Maddie, bathed in garish green light. Chills. Feminist film critics feel a strong desire to throw the DVD out of a Spanish mission bell tower but keep watching anyway.

Other things for Hipsters to look for:

  • Low (hip to knee height) level long shots that place the viewer looking up ( as if Scottie is at a height) especially when he is disoriented or confused.
  • The number of shots (especially of Madeline) from the
    Low angle, from the back. We're voyeurs too.

    Low angle, from the back. We’re voyeurs too.

    side or behind.

  • Jimmy Stewart reaction shots and POV shots through the windshield. Seriously. Count them.
  • Diagonal lines and symmetry in the frame. Rather like a Spirograph…

Things to be ware of after watching this movie:

  • Husbands into Freudian psychology.
  • Acrophobic ex detectives with Edith head’s sense of style.
  • Spanish mission bell towers.
  • Women who wear their hair like dead grandmothers in paintings and get suicidal tendencies while standing beneath the Golden Gate Bridge but are actually putting you on to stage a murder and come back as an ugly version of themselves only to be manipulated and suffer a terrible end anyway –or–
  • In general, Kim Novak naked in your bed (the beginning of your (and her) downfall–pun intended–Jimmy).

Stupid things Jimmy Stewart’s character does:

  • Live in San Francisco while suffering from acrophobia.
  • Not fall in love with Midge. (But of course he can’t, she’s not Kim Novak.)
  • Follow another man’s beautiful wife around, save her life, fall in love with her and start calling her Maddie. (MADeline. Get it? She’s crazy.)
  • Think he can fix her because “you’re in love and that’s all that counts.” (Life lesson there, kids.)
  • Take said beautiful crazy women to a Spanish mission with a rickety staircase in the bell tower. (Really?)
  • Fall in love with who he thinks is another person who looks just like Madeline but is really her.
  • Follow said “other” woman like a stalker.
  • Dress Judy in Madeline’s clothes, make Judy wear Madeline’s hair, take Judy to the mission. (Messed up, Jimmy, messed up.)
  • Conquer confusion and vertigo but keep going to the top of the tower.
  • Get distracted by a nun. (Dang it, just when everyone might be able to get over their trauma, the bell tower strikes again.) 

Stupid things Kim Novak’s character does:

  • Help murder a wife and fake her own death.
  • Rip up the confession letter to Scottie. (Well, at least now the audience knows… Classic Hitchcock.)
  • Wear that bad wig and those eyebrows. (They would give a person nightmares!)

    Mirrors and identity issues.

    Mirrors and identity issues.

  • Let Scottie fall in love with “Judy.”
  • Let Scottie turn Judy into Maddie.
  • Go with him up the bell tower.

Stupid and smart things Midge (Barbara Bell Geddes) does:

  • Stupid: Keep hanging out with Scottie even though he’s never going to really care about her.
  • Smart: Kiss him goodbye at the looney bin.
  • Stupid: Paint herself as Carlotta.

    That's very interesting, Midge. And weird.

    That’s very interesting, Midge. And weird.

  • Smart: Engineer strapless underwear.
  • Smart: Know the locations of helpful pet stores.
  • Smart: Live in a classy apartment with big windows.
  • Stupid: Be a blonde in a Hitchcock movie.
  • Smart: Be the blonde wearing trendy glasses (that’s the clue you’re the smart one).

Stupid brilliant things Hitchcock does:

  • Hire Edith Head and Bernard Herrmann.
  • Not let the audience get to know Kim Novak’s character (she doesn’t speak until well into the film) as her own person (so she, like the 2nd mrs. DeWinter, is a woman with no real identity).
  • Make the audience vacillate between being on Jimmy’s side and Kim’s until we think they’re both nuts and we’re dizzy (or at are least disoriented).
  •  Jump cut to people’s thoughts to connect images. Like Scottie noticing Judy’s necklace and seeing the Carlotta painting. (Followed, you guessed it, by a Jimmy Stewart reaction shot.)
  • Keep backs to the camera, paintings out of sight, and important information off screen.
  • Twist the plot until it hurts.
  • Mess with our heads until we too have vertigo.
  • Zoom in while tracking backward so that we feel Scottie’s vertigo, thereby making one of the most well know camera effects of all time.



Stupid things Hipsters will do:

  • Watch this movie right before bed, inducing bizarre and disturbing dreams that also seem to be shot in VistaVision with swirling optical effects and geometric patterns, trailing scarves, flower bouquets, and bell towers.



About jenletherer

BA, Theater and Speech Communication; English:Creative Writing. Siena Heights University, 2002. MFA, Film Production. Boston University, 2005
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