This article originally appeared in The Anvil as part of the promotional build-up to the above event.
By the time I was 17, I'd seen almost every film Alfred Hitchcock had made. So, in 1983, when it was announced that Vertigo (one of the last few that I had not seen) would be released in a new print, I was ecstatic. For me, this was the movie event of the year. I had no way of knowing that it would also turn out to literally change the way I look at movies.
I was about as unprepared for Kim Novak's portrayal of "Madeleine" as Pearl Harbor was for a Kamikaze attack in 1941. "Madeleine" was everything I thought I desired in a woman at that time, in all of her glorious contradictions: timid, audacious, intelligent, sophisticated, mysterious, simple, complicated — often all in the same breath. I will never forget the devastation I shared with Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) when I suffered her loss—twice—in a period of about 60 minutes. Even after the movie ended and the house lights came up, I sat in stunned, slackjawed silence, my eyes fixed on the curtains covering the movie screen like a red velvet burial shroud. People stared at me as they filed out of the theater. Later, I went to a vintage shop and bought a dark three-button suit just like Scottie's. Hey, I was 17. I'll obsess my way, you obsess yours.
Novak's performance changed how I viewed not only Hitchcock's movies, but also film in general. In the years B.V. (Before Vertigo) I was drawn to Hitchcock's films because I enjoyed his technical prowess. The very word montage—as uttered by Hitch—held an almost mystical fascination for me; its concepts were a Rosetta Stone-like key to interpreting the hieroglyphics of film imagery. Vertigo changed all that. Thanks to Ms. Novak, I was shoved headlong into an emotional abyss—one with stucco walls and a tile roof not unlike those of the film's Mission San Juan Bautista. In my psyche, Madeleine's bones remain there, twisted and sunbleached, to this day. After Vertigo, I understood film's unique power as an art form to reach into one's soul and play it like an organ.
Happily, Hitch's masterpiece remains a perennial screen favorite. I can count on seeing the film return to one of Portland's independent theaters about once a year. For that reason, I'm proud to say that I've never seen the movie on a television set. Nor would I want to. He gave us a big-screen performance, and watching it on an ordinary TV screen would be like listening to Maria Callas' performance of Carmen on a clock radio. Novak's Madeleine is, ipso facto, unattainable. I'm grateful to Hitch for giving us the few images of her that exist, so that I, like other Scottie Fergusons, may sit in a darkened theater and will her, once more, back to life.
Perhaps this movie had a similar effect on you. If so—or if you think you'd like to find out if it would—drop by our screening. It will change the way you look at movies.
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