Today , May 9, is a special day. Not only it is my birthday, but it is the anniversary release date for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” starring Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak. “Vertigo” has a slight tie to Boulder City thanks to its famous director.
Back in 1942, Hitchcock’s film “Saboteur” was the first to have coast-to-coast location shots, including Boulder City. Stewart also dated actress Ginger Rogers around the time she filmed a movie Boulder City titled “The Groom Wore Spurs.”
The plot for “Vertigo” follows a retired police detective (Stewart) who suffers from acrophobia, a fear of heights. It is the first movie to employ the dolly zoom, an in-camera effect that is used to create a feeling of disorientation that the audience can somewhat experience. While in retirement, Stewart’s character is hired by a friend to follow his wife, Madeleine. The friend suggests his wife is in danger but does not share details. A possible possession that leads to a suicide, a murder plot, and hallucinations start to shape up as the movie plays out, all while Stewart’s character is forced to deal with his acrophobia. “Vertigo’s” critics panned the movie as a psychological thriller either bent on male aggression or romantic obsession with a female.
“Vertigo” went through three writers. Novak was not Hitchcock’s first choice, either. Vera Miles was originally cast but the film had delays and by the time it went to production, Miles was pregnant.
The movie earned $2.8 million opening weekend, barley making a profit after all the delays and expenses associated with getting the film off of the ground. Two years later, Hitchcock would reveal “Psycho,” which would go on to make millions and remains a classic situational psychological thriller today.
Hitchcock, who was a prankster, had a dark side. Often collaborating with his wife, Hitchcock specialized in capitalizing on people’s fear of losing control of themselves for most of his movies. Many people believe Hitchcock used Sigmund Freud’s theories as a playbook to create feelings of suspense within his movies.
The director used hype to his advantage, often creating secrecy around most of his movies to demand publicity when it came to his self-created on-set mysteries. According to Freud, “the essence of repression lies simply in the turning something away, and keeping it at a distance, from the conscious.” Freud believed traumatic memories, usually of childhood events, are repressed by the conscious mind.
Freud’s work showed this repression is a defence mechanism and that the traumatic memories remain hidden in the subconscious, eventually manifesting themselves in the neuroses and psychoses of the individual, triggering a neurotic or psychotic episode when the memories surface. This was the basis for not only Hitchcock’s work, but also for how he marketed his movies. The director used the audience’s hidden fears, repressed memories and secret instances of trauma (no matter how small or large) to create a sense of relatability and loathing for his on-screen characters
Hitchcock’s work reminds us that we are all subjected to living with that one thing we hold inside, hoping it never comes to light. Whether it be an unsaid fear or emotion or a memory that haunts us, we all are forced to either deal with our issues or repress them, and sometimes thinking about the darkness inside us is scarier than any movie on the silver screen.
“Vertigo” is my Throwback Thursday movie recommendation for today. If you’re like me and scary movies are your thing, I also suggest reading author Donald Spoto’s “The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock.” The book examines Hitchcock’s own obsessions, as well as his life as one of the world’s most renowned filmmakers, who, ironically, never received an Academy Award.
Tanya Vece is a ghostwriter and independent marketing specialist. She can be reached on Instagram @TanyaLVece.