The amount of critical analysis surrounding Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo is itself dizzying, but as the film has recently been restored, it seems appropriate to provide it with a fresh critical reading. The purpose of this paper then, is to draw this film out of the past with a reading that offers not only a new way of understanding it, but a close look at the culture that produced it. Specifically, Vertigo offers its most exciting ideas when contextualized in a culture of consumerism. Consumerism shaped the film, and also shapes the way we view it. The desire of the consumer is the driving force behind not only our economy, but our mode of seeing the world, and seeing films. As consumers, we are always looking for, and looking at, new commodities, especially clothing. We gaze at clothing in shop windows. We purchase it and wear it, making it visible to others. Indeed, the desire to buy clothing is linked closely to our desire to show it off. We shop in a visual economy, a visual culture of consumption. To understand this culture it is important to understand the historical figure of the flâneur. The flâneur is a wandering male consumer of images who is, and was, particularly in the nineteenth century, the visual and economic agent at the center of consumer culture. He is also at the center of Vertigo, personified in the main character, Scotty.
The flâneur is an inveterate urban wanderer and voyeur who is at home in the public spaces. In the words of Baudelaire, "for the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement" (qtd. in Brand 5). Walter Benjamin, in his work on the...
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...lso of women displayed in windows. 3 Sometimes coincidence aids criticism. Kim Novak was, according to Hitchcock, quite proud of the fact that she didn't wear a bra during the filming of Vertigo (Truffaut 248).
Brand, Dana. The Sectator and the City in Nineteenth-Century American Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991.
Gleber, Anke. The Art of Taking a Walk: Flanerie, litera ture, and Film in Weimar Culture. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1999.
Friedberg, Anne. Window Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern. Berkeley: U of California P, 1993.
Simmons, Patricia. "Women in Frames: The Gaze, the Eye, the Profile in Renaissance Portraiture." The Expanding Discourse. Ed. Norma Broude and Mary Garrard. New York: Harper Collins. 39-57.
Steele, Richard. "Spectator No. 454" 1712. The Spectator, A new edition. Cincinnati: Applegate & Co., 1857.
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