Saturday, September 8, 2012

Orpheus Film Festival: Vertigo

Hitchcock's Vertigo is an adaptation of Boileau-Narcejac's gumshoe novel, D'Entre les Morts (From Among the Dead; also titled Froides Sueurs Cold Sweat). The opening credits of Vertigo acknowledge this, and the development of the screenplay is well documented.

The French novel narrates a thematically engrained usage of the Orpheus myth: Flaviers calls his girlfriend "mon petite Eurydice" and a cigarette lighter inscribed with that name plays a key role in the plot's denouement.

When you watch the film, you may be struck by the similarities between Scottie Ferguson and Orpheus — his brooding melancholy, his involvement in the realm of the dead, his retrospective moment that leads to final loss. And you might conclude that Hitchcock liked the Orpheus myth for its archetypal qualities. Royal Brown astutely noted these similarities in 1986.

I wonder about Hitchcock's process of removing the overt references to the Orpheus myth. In the process from source-novel to screenplay and then subsequent drafts of that, Hitchcock systematically removed these and replaced them with less obvious, i.e. merely similar, narrative similarities to the Orpheus myth. Does the film still "count" as a usage of the Orpheus myth?

Select Bibliography for starters:
Brown, Royal S. "Vertigo as Orphic Tragedy," Literature/Film Quarterly 14 (1986): 32-43 = Rprt. in Perspectives on Alfred Hitchcock, edited by David Boyd (NY: GKHall 1995) 112-27.
Krohn, Bill. Hitchcock at Work. London: Phaidon 2000. Pages184 - 94.

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