My Teen Obsession
How a Hitchcock Blonde Changed the Way I Look at Movies
By Joel Gunz
In 2003, I was invited, along with a small group of Hitchcock aficionados1, to pay written tribute to Kim Novak, the platinum blonde who starred in Hitchcock's 1958 masterpiece, "Vertigo." We each described the importance of "Vertigo" on our own approach to film studies. Across the board, our first viewing of the film was a watershed moment in our lives.
These messages were forwarded to Ms. Novak, who was so moved by them she granted a rare interview with Hitchcock scholar Stephen Rebello. Be sure to read the interview, along with all of the tributes. This is what I had to say:
"By the time I was 17 years old, I had seen almost every film in the Alfred Hitchcock canon. Hence, when it was announced that 'Vertigo' (one of the last few that I had not seen) would be released in a new print in 1983, I was ecstatic. For me, this was the cinema event of the year. I had no way of knowing that it would also turn out to be one of the greatest cinema events of my life.
"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 Ferguson'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, 'Vertigo' 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. Kim Novak 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, by definition of her character, 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, one more time, back to life."
Since writing this piece, a few others have come forward to tell me that this movie had a similar effect on them. Maybe you're one, as well. If you are (or if you think you'd like to find out if you are), drop by our screening on January 23rd. It will change the way you look at movies.
On Sunday evening, January 23rd, Anvil writer Joel Gunz will host an event called "How to Watch Hitchcock: 'Vertigo'." It will feature a very cool pre-movie presentation and a theater-size screening of "Vertigo" (1958). If you're reading this, consider yourself invited! Seating is limited; send Joel an email to reserve your spot.
What: How to Watch Hitchcock: Vertigo
When: Sunday, January 23rd, 7 PM
Where: BodyVox Dance Theater in the Pearl, Around the block from BridgePort Brewery, 1300 NW Northrup.Who: Joel Gunz, Hitch enthusiast and Anvil writer
Why: Experience Hitchcock in a whole new light via a private screening and discussion
Cost: Free; RSVP Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your seat.
1That group included Ken Mogg, author of "The Alfred Hitchcock Story" and publisher of the Hitchcock scholars' journal "The MacGuffin"; Stephen Rebello, author of "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho"; Richard Franklin, director of "Psycho II"; and others.
When Joel Gunz isn't collecting arcane facts about Alfred Hitchcock, he's relaxing with his two kids, Maxim (age 13) and Liza (age four). Possibly, he's also developing copy and media-neutral advertising strategies for Three Star Fix, Portland's smallest ad agency.