There are moments in Hitchcock's Vertigo
where the film seems ready to implode under the weight of so many layers of elaborate and unnatural artifice:
--the con game around doubles and desire in the film (X doesn't mean X, it means Y),
--the florid psychological thickets of symbol and image (X doesn't mean X, it suggests XY),
--the self-reflexive and overdetermined framing of every shot
--not to mention the echo chamber of Hitchockian context
Such game-playing, such showboating technical virtuosity
the deliriously melodramatic hyperbole of Stewart's Scottie. . .
I mean, seriously. Yet every time I watch this film, my eyes are drawn ever into each image, the constant swirling visual rhymes that seduce
Seduce is the perfect word. The hint of power in a verb signifying desire, or vice versa. I want to get lost in--but I also want to master--the story, these images, to pin down center of the vortex, to unwrap the hair, the cons, the auteur. But my desire isn't really my own. Hitchcock owns me.
There is something of such loss of self in every intense, intimate desire. Ross' novel, like Hitch's film, is a showboating blur of narrative tricks, a hall of mirrors, a noirish melodrama in a noirish melodrama in a noirish melodrama, each one of them lurid enough to make Douglas Sirk blush with sympathetic embarrassment at such a feverish vision. And yet. As with Vertigo
, that artifice heightens the impact (and allure) of the central passions -- no plot or character helps us box emotion into a tidier package of themes and morals. Desire, rage, aggression, submission, fear, hatred, need . . . love. Kathrina wrote a lovely review
noting that, in Ross' central protagonists David and Alice, there emerges a counterintuitive sympathy in the reader: hating Alice when David seems most to love her, loving/feeling for her when he's most furious. The reader mirrors--reverses, yet echoes--the passions in the novel. You get sucked in, seduced. Or, maybe, we see--we stare back, goggle-eyed like Scotty, trying to see, to really see... and seeing ourselves everywhere. Ross' novel may be a great meditation on the ambivalence found in--maybe even vital to--long-term intimacy and love; it is certainly a wickedly-inventive recreation of Hitchcockian tropes of desire, obsession, and violence which resist (if not refute) the detective's neat courtroom testimony about who done it and what done happened. But the artifice isn't simply showy, and neither are the overdetermined mechanics of psychoanalytic notions (Desire is Rage is Desire; identification is aggression is identity); it is crucial to the seduction: like Hitchcock's masterpiece, at its finest Mr. Peanut
arouses the reader's sense of deja vu -- this has happened before. I've felt this.
My favorite moment in the film is far less showy, seemingly irrelevant to character development or (hyper)plotted narrative tricks or symbology. Novak rises from a table in a lushly-colored dining room, and walks out, the camera framing a profiled head-shot -- she's moving toward a bright light, blazing, red -- and away from shadows...
But while I'm tempted to tie it into my obsessive hermeneutical passions, what catches me in this moment is not the Image or the Artifice or the Symbol or the Frame which I would try to slow down and unpack, re-weaving it into a thesis. No, at this moment, I intensely gaze, as Madeleine (a whiff of Proust, motherfucker!--more text!) walks across the room, turned away from Scottie, turned away from me. It doesn't make much sense, but at this moment I come closest to merging with the film. The novel had a similar impact on me. At its strongest, Ross and Reynolds converged, and it was as if I was reading one of my own dreams--not quite logical, endlessly seeking a logic. The novel doesn't always nail it for me--and maybe, as this review suggests, what Ross does so well reminded me of someone who did it better than anyone has ever done it. But the novel really braces, and reads like a fever. Good stuff.