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By Jake Watt
29th September 2018

Named the best film of all time in Sight & Sound's 2012 decennial critics' poll, Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’ starred James Stewart as former police detective John “Scottie” Ferguson. Scottie is forced into early retirement because an incident in the line of duty has caused him to develop an extreme fear of heights and vertigo (a false sense of rotational movement). Scottie is hired by an acquaintance, Gavin Elster, as a private investigator to follow Gavin's wife Madeleine (Kim Novak), who is behaving strangely.

‘Vertigo’ was shot on location in the San Francisco Bay Area, California (and at Paramount Studios in Hollywood), emphasising its steep hills and tall, arching bridges. In the driving scenes shot in the city, the main characters' cars are almost always pictured heading down the city's steeply inclined streets. Visiting the San Francisco film locations has developed something of a cult following as well as tourist appeal (such a tour is featured in a subsection of Chris Marker's documentary montage ‘Sans Soleil’).


Originally conceived as a love letter to the city of San Francisco, ‘The Green Fog,’ the new film from director Guy Maddin (‘The Forbidden Room’, ‘Keyhole’), acts as an hour-long reconstruction of Hitchcock’s 1958 suspense classic, replicating the original using only clips from other '50s noir, experimental films, '70s prime-time TV, and more (98 films and three television series, in total) that were shot in and around the city. It also acts as a record of the social and architectural changes the city has endured over more than a century.

Casual viewers of 'The Green Fog' will find all of this stuff completely impenetrable, but super fans of Hitchcock's film will be able to follow the narrative thread. Mostly. It also helps if you're a film buff.

The roles of Scotty Ferguson and Madeleine Elster are assumed by any number of acting duos, including Louis Jourdan and Doris Day, Jeff Bridges and Glenn Close, Andy Garcia and Meg Ryan, Joseph Cotton and Donald Sutherland. The repurposed visuals pull from films like Orson Welles’ ‘The Lady From Shanghai’, Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘The Conversation’, Leonard Nimoy’s ‘Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home’ and Paul Verhoeven’s ‘Basic Instinct’.

Casual viewers of 'The Green Fog' will find all of this stuff completely impenetrable, but super fans of Hitchcock's film will be able to follow the narrative thread. Mostly. It also helps if you're a film buff.

A major theme of ‘Vertigo’ is voyeurism, and Maddin underscores this by bracketing clips of characters watching other characters on TV or closed-circuit monitors. Maddin returns often to two TV crime series from the '70s: Karl Malden and the young Michael Douglas circulate through in frequently sampled episodes of ‘The Streets of San Francisco’ and the Rock Hudson-Susan Saint James police procedural ‘McMillan & Wife’.

Nearly all the clips have been stripped of dialogue, with the threads of Hitchcock's narrative woven into a mixed media decoupage, set to a lush score composed by Jacob Garchik and performed by the Kronos Quartet.

Hitchcock often used the “double” or “doppelgänger” in his films as a way to draw parallels between two characters (for example, two characters sharing the same type of desire, although only one of them is ruthless enough to take action). However, the main characters are not the only things that were doubled; scenes or locations (like train stations or amusement parks) were doubled as well.

It’s the ultimate homage to Hitchcock that ‘Vertigo’ (and its San Francisco setting) now has its own imperfect double of sorts in Maddin's ‘The Green Fog’.

RUN TIME: 1h 3m
Evan Johnson
Galen Johnson
PRODUCERS: Evan Johnson
Guy Maddin
SCORE: Jacob Garchik
Looking for more Sydney Underground Film Festival reviews? Click here to check out our collection of this year's highlights.
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