Vertigo: Authorship as Transformation

By Williams, Anthony | CineAction, Annual 1999 | Go to article overview

Vertigo: Authorship as Transformation


Williams, Anthony, CineAction


"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 of many motifs Hitchcock transferred and then transformed in his own creative manner. It does not deserve dismissal in such cavalier terms and needs further study. Significantly, Wood later reversed his earlier dismissal of Daphne du Maurier's novel Rebecca in relation to the Hitchcock version. Secondly, although this is not the place to argue for Graham Greene's significance as a novelist exposing the ideologically sterile nature of British life (as well as his claim to be regarded as one of the literary influences behind forties British film noir), not all works outside the evaluative realm of F.R. Leavis's great tradition are completely devoid of interest as Wood seemed to believe when he wrote the original Hitchcock's Films in the early 60s. Significant works do not appear in a vacuum and it is important to examine the nature of the original source material and how it may lead to artistic transformation. The same is true of D'Entre les Morts.parUntil Tim Lucas's brief examination in Video Watchdog the novel received very little critical attention. The book definitely displays themes Wood exclusively ascribes to Hitchcock such as male insecurity, violence against women and their victimization within a deadly patriarchal romantic illusion. Male fears concerning female sexuality also appear. Written by the authors of Les Diaboliques, D'Entre les Morts ("From Among the Dead") was published in America as a Dell paperback in April 1958 prior to the release of Hitchcock's film.

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