Reema Sengupta's Study Blog for RCP


Posted in Uncategorized by reemasenguptacmp on November 11, 2009

Researching on any film provides the possibility of infinite approaches, limited only by time constraints. The Vertigo film scene that I have been researching on can be analysed in ways specific to the scene, like its characters and themes, and their recurrence in other Hitchcock films, the role the background music plays in enhancing the scene, the development of the technical methods used in the scene, the suspense building techniques employed, the symbolism and hidden connotations, etc; or in wider contexts of the film’s genre, depiction of cities in movies and enhancement of their cultural value because of movies, psychoanalysis, reflection of the director’s personal experiences and feelings in his films, Hitchcock and shock value, the industry scenario in which the film was made, the objectives and working of Paramount- the Studio that made the movie, why Vertigo was chosen for an expensive and tedious restoration process,  how was the restoration executed and whether or not the final outcome was in-keeping with Hitchcock’s original vision, etc. But the one question that I found highly intriguing was why Vertigo received more appreciation when it was re-released than when it was first released. Despite the fact that Hitchcock had given hits before Vertigo, it did not do well at the box office. But the same film, when it was re-released, was called a masterpiece, a classic. What changed- the creative sensibilities of the audiences?  Or the outlook towards the film-maker? This blog looks at how Hitchcock’s reputation was built, whether or not it was well-deserved, and whether Vertigo received the success it did because it was a Hitchcock film.

Vertigo was released in the year 1958. The Paramount case had been filed in the year 1948. By the time Vertigo was released, the Studio system was already on its way out. Hitchcock had entered Hollywood under the Studio system in the early 1940s around the time when the Studio system was running strong. The producer ruled supreme under this system. He exerted complete authority. Everyone else involved in the making of the picture had to adhere to his decisions and tastes. But from the very beginning, Hitchcock, as a director under the Studio system, was treated slighted differently than his counterparts in other studios. He was allowed great involvement in the scripting process and relatively greater autonomy on the sets. Hitchcock was also a meticulous pre-planner, which enabled him to shoot the movie exactly as he had visualized it. The profit-oriented nature of the Studio system led to the evolution of genres. Genres led to studios specialising in a particular type of cinema. That is what Hitchcock did as well. He specialised in the suspense thriller genre. At every point in his career, Hitchcock is seen to ensure he maintains his independence and individual identity. His first Hollywood picture Rebecca (1940) was publicized as distinctly reflecting Hitchcock’s personality. During the seven years for which he worked with his first Hollywood producer- David Selznick, there was a lot of friction between the two about the extent of producer’s involvement in the film-making process. Selznick was known to want to have complete control over his projects. Hitchcock, on the other hand, had always advocated directorial pre-eminence, and wanted his creative freedom. In fact, development of the Hitchcock-Selznick relationship and the ultimate outcome of the battle for freedom and control can be viewed in the larger context of the contemporary director-producer relationship development in Hollywood through the 1940s. When Hitchcock and Selznick’s seven year contract ended, Selznick went downhill and never came up again. Hitchcock went on to make movies that would be considered classics. The ‘producers’ of Hollywood lost their supreme importance with the fall of the studio system, while the ‘directors’ were given more creative freedom and credit as the ‘Auteur theory’ became widely known.

By the time Vertigo was released, Hitchcock had already made a name for himself. From the very beginning of his directorial career, he had been emphasizing the role of the ‘director’ in film-making, and promoting himself as a director. But in the 1950s, he publicised himself essentially as an entertainer who dealt with a particular “brand” of cinema- suspense. He was promoting his movies as adhering to popular culture. In fact, Hitchcock had been and always continued to be an audience oriented film-maker. With the signature cameo appearances and extensive publicity, ‘Hitchcock’ had become a well-known name, but was not looked upon as a maker of serious art. So when Vertigo was first released, by Paramount in 1958, it was viewed as another suspense thriller from the man who has made entertaining suspense thrillers. It did not appeal to the critics and did not do very well at the box office.

The 1970s saw the propagation of the idea of the ‘Auteur’, which had been propounded by the critics who write for the French Film Journal ‘Cahiers Du Cinema’. The Auteurist critics held Hitchcock in great regard. Not only did they build his reputation as an Auteur, they also fiercely defended it, criticizing any negative reviews he received. Suddenly, Hitchcock was in the top league of directors. He was an ‘Auteur’. Not only was he technically competent, he also used film as a medium for his individual creative expression. His work was now being viewed in a different light. Hitchcock’s name was rapidly evolving as a widely appreciated brand. His self-publicity strategies combined with the auteurist critics’ strong support, positioned brand Hitchcock very strongly in the movie market.

By the time Vertigo was re-released by Universal in 1983, ‘Brand Hitchcock’ was looked upon as auteurist cinema, competent and insightful. It had transformed from popular culture to high art, pieces of work that deserved contemplation and called for a deeper interpretation. When Vertigo was re-released, it received critical and popular acclaim. The film was exactly the same; all that had changed was Hitchcock’s image and the value of his brand name. The sensibilities of the audience had also changed, but they had become less susceptible to “shock value” (Booker 2007), which should have made them relatively less receptive to the film. While some may argue that the film was ahead of its time when it was first released, it is fairly obvious that it was the director’s changed reputation that brought the movie tremendous success when it was re-released.

Having analysed the industry in which Hitchcock was working in the 1950s- the studio system, the prominent debates surrounding the theories that emerged through the studio-system era- that is, the genre theory and the Auteur theory, the building of ‘Brand Hitchcock’ and the changing sensibilities of the audiences from 1960s to 1980s, and having deconstructed Vertigo into its core Hitchcockian elements it can be concluded that it was Hitchcock’s brand value that was responsible for Vertigo’s success when it was re-released. This can be interpreted in a wider context by saying that the reputation of the director conditions the audiences to view his films in a particular light.


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