CineAction (1999) - "Vertigo": Authorship as Transformation
- article: "Vertigo": Authorship as Transformation
- author(s): Tony Williams
- journal: CineAction (01/Sep/1999)
- issue: issue 50, pages 56-59
- journal ISSN: 0826-9866
- publisher: Cineaction Collective
- keywords: "Hitchcock's Films" - by Robin Wood, "Vertigo" - by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, Adaptations, Alfred Hitchcock, American cinema, Barbara Bel Geddes, Bernard Herrmann, Cornell Woolrich, Daphne du Maurier, Feature films, Film & television production, Film (Productions), Film (USA), Film criticism, James Stewart, Marnie (1964), Novels, Paramount Pictures, Pierre Boileau, Plot synopses, Psycho (1960), Rebecca (1940), Robin Wood, Rope (1948), San Francisco, California, Thomas Narcejac, Vertigo (1958), William Rothman
"I would make a plea, then, for criticism of Wuthering Heights to turn its attention to the human core of the novel, to recognize its truly human centrality. How can we fail to see that the novel is based on an interest in, concern for, and knowledge of real life? We cannot do it justice, establish what the experience of reading it, really is, by making analyses of its lock and window imagery, or by explaining it as being concerned with children of calm and children of storm, or by putting forward such bright ideas as that Wuthering Heights might be viewed at long range as 'a variant of the demon-lover-motif' (The Gates of Horn, H.H. Levin) or that 'Nelly Dean is Evil' — these are the products of an age which conceives literary criticism as either a game or an industry, not as a humane study. To learn anything of this novel's true nature we must put it into the category of novels it belongs to - I have specified Women in Love and Jules et Jim and might add Anna Karenina and Great Expectations — and recognize its relation to the social and literary history of its own time."
(Q.D. Leavis, Lectures in America, 1969, quoted by Garry Watson, 121)
Since the original appearance of Hitchcock's Films by Robin Wood, the status of Vertigo as a major cinematic achievement whose last third is "among the most disturbing and painful experiences the cinema has to offer" (387) has been more than confirmed by the volume of critical studies devoted to the film. It is not my purpose to add to this continually flowing stream nor to critique many of the insightful works devoted to this film. However, I wish to suggest that future studies of this film do not neglect the significance of the original source novel upon which it is based. Although the novel may contradict any claims made for the pure originality of Hitchcock's authorship, it is an important object in revealing the transformative nature of the director's talent. It is one using the novel's themes of voyeurism, male insecurity, and patriarchal oppression but developing them in an artistically significant manner.
According to Wood, "Hitchcock took very little from D'Entre les Morts apart from the basic plot line, and then proceeded to minimize the importance even of that.' Writing at a time when cinema defined itself as a unique art in the Anglo-Saxon world, Wood dismissed the original novel as "a squalid exercise in sub-Graham Greenery.'(108). This is a judgement which needs challenging on several levels. First, an examination of the original novel reveals the presence...