Film Scholar, David Thomson: Hitchcock's "Vertigo" and its "Male Fantasy" Will "Not Go Unchastised," Calls Hitchcock a "Predator"

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I have not been shy in my unadorned love for Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo." It's quite simply the best movie I have ever seen.

"Vertigo" received poor reviews upon its release, but since then has routinely been cited on numerous important film polls. Its most pronounced critical achievement was topping Sight & Sound's illustrious, once-in-a-decade film poll, of close to 200 film critics and scholars, as the greatest movie of all-time. It surpassed "Citizen Kane," which had topped every poll between 1962-2002 

I consider myself lucky enough to have seen "Vertigo" twice in theaters, and, yet, it seems to have not escaped the wrath of today's social media hysteria. We live in an age when everything needs to be politicized. Even renowned film scholars like David Thomson, whose writings I studied and admired during my tenure at film school, has decided that "Vertigo," well, it's just not "woke" enough for today's world. 

Thomson's recent essay entitled 'Vertigo after Weinstein' makes the case that Hitchcock's masterpiece won't age well over time because of its "male gaze" perspective, even going as far as using the word "predator" to describe Hitchcock's intent in the film.

Thomson's lost his mind. He's clearly politicizing a great movie, saying it hasn't aged well because Twitter would surely deem it sexist, a male-gazing love-affair. I still think "Vertigo" is the greatest movie ever made. The film is such a profoundly beautiful statement. Its dream-like atmosphere, about two people who are not sure who they are, but keep looking for answers, can easily be the same description used for David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive." It's one of the 4 or 5 most transcendent cinematic experiences I've ever had.

Here's a passage:

“I didn’t vote for Vertigo; I didn’t love it enough in 1958 or in 2012. [And] I can’t see Vertigo holding the title in 2022, if the known world prevails then and remains ready to attend to another fanciful poll. It’s irrefutably clear that Vertigo is a confession to the damage done by men’s grooming of women’s desirability. And even if the film is tragic, and even if Kim Novak’s performance more and more seems brave or poignant, I don’t think its fantasy can go unchastised.”

A few more passages from his essay:

“We have to be clear-eyed about Vertigo, and about what its power and influence tell us. It isn’t just that Alfred Hitchcock was devious, a fantasist, a voyeur and a predator. It isn’t just that no matter how many Harvey Weinsteins are exposed, it could never be enough to deliver justice to those who have been wronged and exploited. It isn’t even that men invented and have dominated the command and control of the movies, both as art and business: that they have been the majority of directors, producers and camera people despite, over the years, being a minority of the audience."

“In 2012, the Sight & Sound poll was urged on by a feeling that we’d all had enough of Citizen Kane. Welles’ film had been voted the best ever from 1962 to 2002. Few felt that the verdict had been unjust, but in a young medium was it proper for the champ to be a pensioner? Didn’t cinephiles deserve a more mercurial model, made in their lifetime? But the new winner was Vertigo, not very much younger than Citizen Kane, and its triumph was acknowledged as a rueful commentary on the ambivalent glory of being a film director, the auteur status that Sight & Sound was pledged to uphold.

“We have to be clear-eyed about Vertigo, and about what its power and influence tell us. It isn’t just that Alfred Hitchcock was devious, a fantasist, a voyeur and a predator. It isn’t just that no matter how many Harvey Weinsteins are exposed, it could never be enough to deliver justice to those who have been wronged and exploited. It isn’t even that men invented and have dominated the command and control of the movies, both as art and business: that they have been the majority of directors, producers and camera people despite, over the years, being a minority of the audience."

"Is what Vertigo has to tell us, beyond this history of male control, that the medium itself is in some sense male? Is there something in cinema that gives power to the predator, sitting still in the dark, watching desired and forbidden things? Something male in a system that has an actress stand on her mark, in a beautifully lit and provocatively intimate close-up, so that we can rhapsodize over her?

"I didn’t vote for Vertigo; I didn’t love it enough in 1958 or in 2012. [And] I can’t see Vertigo holding the title in 2022, if the known world prevails then and remains ready to attend to another fanciful poll. It’s irrefutably clear that Vertigo is a confession to the damage done by men’s grooming of women’s desirability. And even if the film is tragic, and even if Kim Novak’s performance more and more seems brave or poignant, I don’t think its fantasy can go unchastised."