The Masculine and Feminine Depictions in Vertigo

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In this essay, I will be discussing how my Vertigo and Rear Window represents the overall divide of masculine and feminine within the films and portrayal of female desire and sexual objectification. The films I have chosen to discuss in this essay are Vertigo and Rear Window that are both directed by Alfred Hitchcock who was shown to depict females in a voyeuristic manner. An essay by feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey published in 1975 ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ states how the art of film offers a range of different pleasures, for example Laura Mulvey highlights scopophilia that is the pleasure one derives from watching people naked. Scopophilia is part of the natural sexual instinct and is the reason for the male/female gaze. Mulvey implys in her essay that females are often seen to be highly submissive individuals who are objects of desire they should be desired for their beauty.

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Vertigo (1954 has been picked upon and analysed on various levels. On a surface level approach it is a film about the male lead Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) who is a detective in San Francisco who suffers from the disorder called Vertigo, this is all shown within the opening sequence infamous chase scene. Vertigo subverts the expectations of masculinity within the 10 minutes of the movie. The use of dolly zoom technique highlights Scottie acrophobia by portraying Scottie’s weakness early on in the film it makes it easier for the audience to relate to him as a character. The following scene starts of with Scottie recovering from his incident hobbling on a cane to emphasise his frailty, the female in the scene Midge is shown to be a former lover but Scottie does not view her as on object of desire. There relationship can be characterised as maternal, Midge tries to help Scottie overcome his condition of acrophobia by making him climb a stepladder but the attempt proves futile when he glances out the window and is overwhelmed with fear.

Scottie Ferguson is a character who is held back by his fear of heights he finds himself redundant due to his own decision as he views the role of working behind the desk as undermining his role of hegemonic masculinity. Nonetheless, his former college friend Gavin Elster offers Scottie an investigation that is to follow his wife Madeline Elster (Kim Novak). Scottie Ferguson is adamant to take the case on, but changes his mind as he secretly observes Madeline and Elster. The composition in this scene done intentionally to highlight the male gaze as the camera pans out and displays the restaurant we see Scottie at a bar stool glance at the couple over his left shoulder and look through a doorframe. From first glance Scottie is infatuated with Madeline. Laura Mulvey highlights “In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split active/male and passive female.” (Mulvey 62) This scene highlights how women are viewed as object of desire. Framing of shots with Madeline are shown to be in a picturesque manner further refining her elegance and beauty. However the Madeline Elster the audience know along the film is a fabrication she was merely an invention from the viewpoint of Scottie and his subconscious projection of feminine desire.

However Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes) does not embody the male gaze theory she is not objectified in a sexual manner. It is stated that Midge was briefly engaged to Scottie, she is characterized as a motherly woman this is shown through her working in the opening scene with the job as an artist, and this highlights her freedom as women. Midge is a pivotal character within Vertigo when it comes to understanding gender roles within Vertigo she represents other part of the feminine nature. Alfred Hitchcock used framing within Vertigo to make sure Midge and Scottie do not appear in the same frame. It is clear to the audience that Midge still wants to be romantically involved with Scottie, but she does not possess the alluring sensual power of Madeline that Scottie falls head over heels for.

Tania Modleski states, “Male spectator is as much deconstructed as constructed by the films, which reveal a fascination with femininity that throws masculine identity into question and crisis” (Modleski 87) Within Vertigo the audiences gaze predominantly follows what Scottie witnesses, throughout the movie we see Scottie sexual fantasy grow out of control, he pursues her around San Francisco and all without uttering a phrase to her. Scottie is a tragically flawed character his pursuit of Madeline proves futile when he chases Madeline inside the bell tower and his acrophobia hold him back and causes him to fail to rescue Madeline as she jumps to her demise.

Subsequently, Scottie witnesses Madeleine’s doppelgänger who we later find out is named Judy, a small-town girl born and raised in Kansas. Scottie pursues Judy in an attempt to alter Judy into Madeleine into his romanticized version of the perfect women. Judy’s revamp into Madeleine shows women’s beauty has been fetishized within film and how there is no room for Madeleine but instead Judy has taken her place. Scottie has not fallen in love with Judy he has fallen in love with the recreation of Madeleine he is falling in love with the fact that he can mould and recreate her into his perfect desire.

Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) is a critically acclaimed film by director Alfred Hitchcock; the film is about a photographer restricted to his wheelchair after he is recovering from his broken leg in his apartment. Rear Window main theme is voyeurism; through the use of perspective and world building by Alfred Hitchcock the audience feel like co-conspirators actively taking part in Jeff’s voyeuristic fantasy.

L.B Jefferies finds himself spying on people from his apartment complex from his rear window soaking in there lives day by day until he suspects a murder has occurred in the courtyard across him. Hitchcock films Rear Window with a probing eye one that is actively interested in lives of others, from the first frame the use of camera angles makes the audience feel like a prying visitor scouring the mise-en-scene delving into the photos and papers of the L.B Jefferies apartment, once this examination is finished the cameras eyes goes outside the apartment complex as a whole. Hitchcock pleaces the camera for most of the film within L.B Jefferies apartment, we as the audience actively feel like we are taking the role of the voyeur in the film as we witness most of the shots are from his perspective. L.B Jefferies is seen to give labels to the various women he witnesses throughout the film e.g. Miss Torso. This highlights the objectification of women and patriarchal control and power.

In Rear Window the narrator is restricted to his apartment, as are we through the cinematography. By having all the shots from within the apartment looking out on the rest of the small apartment complex the viewer is automatically isolated within the plot of the film. With our point of view being restricted to Jeff’s point of view, the audience is put directly in his shoes. For example, one of the best examples of cinematography as being representative of the voyeurism within the film is the scene where Lisa and Jeff decide that it would be a good test of Thorwald to slip a note under his door, and judge his reaction from the safety of his window. After showing the writing of the note through, the shot is a bird’s eye view with a dutch tilt, then moves to the point of view shot through the view of Jeff’s large telephoto lens camera to show the entire event. By reducing the viewers eyes to the suspenseful use of the camera Hitchcock creates a view where the audience is actually the main character, thus replicating the fact that Jeff himself is just a viewer with no real play in the action of the film. The suspense builds in the scene when the camera shifts to a long shot in order to show the entirety of the scene with Lisa slipping the note under the door to the moment where Jeff realizes that Thorwald is coming after her, where the camera then switches to an extreme long shot so we can see the positioning of where the characters are. Lisa successfully makes it out easily but that’s besides the point, the real message lies in what the camera has shown the viewers. The audience has just witnessed what it is like to be completely powerless in a scene. Thus throwing the comment back on the audiences head as after all, aren’t they watching someones actions with no ability to help? By Hitchcock showing the audience the question of whether or not Jeff represents the people in the cinema, he’s observing through his camera and looking for the answers, but it’s ultimately other people who find out all the clues, and he has to put them together. Compare that to the average film viewer and you get the exact same, someone who is sitting behind a ‘screen’ and is trying to piece together what is going on, without actually being involved, and trying to figure out the ending before the credits roll. This comparison is important in the fact that it is highlighted by the camera work withing Rear Window, the cinematography in itself comment’s on the truth of film, in that it is essentially watching someone else’s story and not being able to get involved, as shown through the binocular and camera shots.

Rear Window challenges male and female stereotypes throughout the film women are viewed as superficial objects but also having a sense of dominion, this can be shown through L.B. Jefferies naming system who he gives to the lady across from his apartment he labelling her Miss Torso. Throughout the narrative of the film Lisa Freemont is shown to hold a position of power over Jeff. Laura Mulvey states “The women is shown to be physically superior to the hero, not only in physical movements but also in her dominance within the frame” (Mulvey 82)

Alfred Hitchcock portrays the masculine through the use of visuals; Jeff is displayed to be emasculated, passive and immobile, while female characters e.g. Lisa and Stella are shown to be independent and active. By doing this, Hitchcock subverts the ideal gender position of what it means to be masculine or feminine in 1950’s America. The character Jeff in his wheel chair reinforces the fact to the audience to the audience he is a slave to sensory pleasures he is in a vulnerable state he gazes at other people but yet he cannot change their situation or his predicament.

Throughout Rear Window, it’s underlined to the audience the characters Lisa and Stella are the characters that exert dominance and power over Jeff’s passivity and meekness. In a scene towards the end of the film Lisa is dressed in casual attire - in trousers and a shirt. Lisa controls the overall dynamic and embraces her power over Jeff’s sexual desires in which stops the patriarchal male gaze.

When the audience first meet Lisa Freemont she is depicted in a menacing manner she appears to be looming over Jeff with her shadow cast over him emphasising her tension. This forms a false impression to the audience of what is to come, Lisa then moves into a close up shot, nearly looking into the camera. This is followed by POV shot showing Lisa directly from Jeff’s perspective. This is followed by a two frame shot where we have an extreme close up shot in slow motion of Jeff and Lisa slowly kissing.

In conclusion, Alfred Hitchcock portrays the gender differences between men and women in various ways in 1950’s America through the use of camera angles and lighting. In Vertigo, Alfred Hitchcock shows women in a progressive manner. Hitchcock’s representation of masculine and feminine does not conform to traditional gender stereotypes In Vertigo, Alfred Hitchcock we see women portrayed as objects of desire they are merely presented as sexual objects, in Vertigo we see the protagonist Scottie mould his depiction of beauty in his own idealised image which is Judy.

Alfred Hitchcock predominantly tackles the issues of scopophilia and voyeurism. Vertigo and Rear Window both capture a snapshot on the positioning of women in 1950’s America. Madeleine Elster dialogue within the film is self-reflexive and substantially decreases the overall dominance of women within the film. Women’s overall reliance on men in Vertigo to approve their self-worth reinforces the patriarchal system that women face in film.

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