Thursday, August 11, 2005

Down, Down, Down

In the dreamy machine that is Vertigo, Scottie wants the "power and the freedom" to pick up, make, and toss away women in the same way that the film tells us men in the Old San Francisco could. Scottie's obsessed by that, so lost, in the vertiginous fall he almost suffers at the film's opening, in his own desire for control.

Madeleine/Judy is the other half of this roundelay, a character always shaped by another, and therefore a stand-in for women in Hollywood. It's one of the ways the film is so striking, as it proceeds both ethereally and structurally, really, truly a dreamy machine.

But its heart isn't the James Stewart-Kim Novak twosome, its heart is Barbara Bel Geddes as the motherly, bra-sketching Midge. She's the one we can identify with, the best friend hoping to be lover, the one who gets to say, "Was it a ghost? Was it fun?" knowing the lure of mystery will get men every time. She's the only one who understands Scottie's problem, since she's part of it--he can only have a woman he can have. His whole life is a fear of falling, and a woman, all sensuous curves (none moreso than Kim Novak, but he has to learn that lesson the hard way--twice), is just the twirling abyss.

But now Barbara Bel Geddes is dead, and so is Midge. Forget all that Miss Ellie ca-ching time on Dallas, which was good campy check-cashing fun. Midge was a career performance, the very definition of a supporting role, the sweet yet tart artist who sold out her talents to do commercial art, who lost out on Johnny-O as a lover, who paints herself into the portrait of Carlotta in the movie's funniest, bitterest joke. For Scottie can't laugh, and then she can't either, left saying, "Stupid, stupid, stupid," to herself, but to both of them, the couple that couldn't be even if they should. Bel Geddes nailed that hurt but good.


Blogger ted said...

Oh you are so right about Midge, so hot in those glasses, so sexually frustrated, in love with an invalid who looks right through her! She knows she can't compete with an obsession and can't become his ideal, because a suicidal ghost fetish is a hard one to get into.

Maybe some young waggish writer will rewrite Vertigo from her point of view, and call the novel "Midge!"

7:30 PM  

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