Saturday, 23 June 2012

He looks like he smells of biscuits

It was about midnight and I was watching Vertigo in the dark.

I had no idea of the plot or what to expect but I didn't anticipate being quite so creeped out. It just got to a proper weirdy bit - where Jimmy Stewart 'sees' Carlotta in the court room - when I saw it out of the corner of my eye. A face at my window staring in. Big, nanic eyes fixed on me intently. A face pressed against the glass. One minute it wasn't there, and then suddenly it was all I could see.

I metaphorically shat myself.

In reality I did a sort of strangled intake of breath and, well, squeaked a bit. You know when you're shocked and it takes a few long seconds to reassemble what you think you're seeing into reality?

Reality was Johnson. My cross-eyed cat stalker who pops up at the most inopportune moments.

The little twat.

It took my a good ten minutes to calm down and finish the film, which was the third in last night's Hitchcock marathon. I read a summary of his films last week and realised that I had only actually seen Rear Window. Out of all of his films, I'd only ever properly watched one. So, having no boyfriend, few friends in the immediate vicinity and the definite wish to shut out the world, I acquired Rebecca, Suspicion and Vertigo and settled down.

Weirdly, Hitchcock and I seem to have a similar taste in reading material. I am a massive fan of Daphne Du Maurier and love the fact that he made three of her books into films. But more than that, it turns out Suspicion is based on a random book I found in a charity shop and absolutely loved. It's an obscure story written in the '20s about a complicated and depressed woman who marries quickly and repents at leisure. Except that she doesn't really. Even though it turns out her magical knight in shining armour is a liar, adulterer, embezeller, thief and, eventually, murderer, the heroine cannot face a reality without his 'love'. It's a disturbing story that leaves a lingering sense of unease and, sadness. She eventually becomes complicit in her own murder by his hand, by willingly drinking the poison he feeds her.

It's a shame Hitchcock changed the ending so radically. Turns out that he couldn't force making Cary Grant depict an actual psychopath so wraps up the film by showing it's all in Lina's silly, little, female head. The novel is multi-layered and fascinatingly intense as it unpeels the layers of self-deception and compromise that Lina endures for the sake of a man she 'loves'. The film doesn't explain why Lina would have become so obsessed with the idea that her husband is a murderer and just sort of ends. I found it unsatisfying and frustrating. Grant does a good Johnnie, if only he'd been allowed to really go for it. Joan Fontaine... I can't quite get my head around. I never fully enjoy watching her for some reason. She made a dopey Jane Eyre, for example.

As the unnamed heroine of Rebecca she fares better, however. Mrs Danvers is hilariously hammy and Maximilian de Winter played to his prickish capacity by an effete and unsexy Olivier. It's totally saved by 'Danny's' scene-stealing performance as the lesbian lover (Hitchcock makes it pretty clear he  thinks that happened) of the eponymous (and very tedious-sounding) Rebecca. Hitchcock wriggles out of the icky bit where Max shoots his wife. Instead, Rebecca rather unconvincingly bangs her head and dies, rather taking the psycho out of Max's personality. And he is a psycho. A thoroughly unpleasant, cruel, manipulative mysoginist with a disturbing predatory prediliction for virgins with daddy complexes. A fine romance, it is not. No one could love such a man, other than a naif with little choice and no protection. The film skips the deep unease that lingers long after the book is finished.

And so onto Vertigo. I had no idea what this would be about. It's a film I have heard of and seen referenced as a Hitchcock classic and I understand it's based on a novel, which, for once, I haven't actually read. First thing I thought - and I always think this while watching Jimmy Stewart - is how deeply unsexy he is. He's clearly too old for the part and when he kisses Kim Novack I feel sorry for her. The sexual chemistry is unconvincing - it feels like he should be offering the pneumatic and filthily sexy Kim a Werther's Original and taking her to the park to play on the swings. It feels wrong and the kisses are uncomfortable viewing. Which is a massive shame as the film hinges on the weird love story. I still loved it though, and didn't expect to be so thoroughly spooked by the whole ghost story bit, even though it turned out it was bollocks. The film's twists are many and genuine surprises came relatively regularly. I can't help feeling that Hitchcock's view of phobias is pretty flawed and the link between a fear of heights and total insanity is a leap too far. But it's a gripping film. I totally loved Kim Novack, despite her distracting eyebrows, and would have loved to have seen it with another actor in the lead role. Stewart is just too much of a granddad. And looks like he smells of biscuits.

Next up: Psycho, The Birds and North by North West.

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