Friday, March 1, 2013

Femme-spiration Friday: Kim Novak and Barbara Bel Geddes of Vertigo (1958)

A few weeks ago, on a snowy Friday night, K. and I made some homemade hot chocolate and curled up to watch one of my favorite movies, Hitchcock's Vertigo. I still remember the first time I watched the film during my very first semester of college, as part of my introduction to the study of literature class. The scene where Kim Novak glides through Ernie's, the deep red walls setting off her ice blonde hair and the green silk of her shawl, will remain forever entwined with Laura Mulvey's "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" for me. The film's depiction Scottie's obsessive voyeurism provides the perfect illustration of the male gaze devouring the pleasurable spectacle of the woman's body—and I have always found myself captivated right alongside the good detective, caught up in the pleasure of looking at the film's leading lady.

Novak as "Madeline," her sophisticated gray & black suit set off by the flowers in the market.
Color is very important in Vertigo, and Hitchcock had a very specific vision for (Judy as) Madeline Elster. Light gray, black, and white might seem like a dull color pallet, but Novak makes these demure shades so compelling that the bright jewel tones of Judy's later ensembles seem stark and garish in comparison to the subtle elegance of Scottie's woman of mystery.

The famous scene where Scottie first lays eyes on Madeline in Ernie's.
I've always been especially captivated by Madeline post falling into the bay, wearing Scottie's red robe, her hair unpinned and wavy
The transformation of Novak from Madeline to Judy and back to Madeline again never ceases to fascinate me, despite the terrifying implications of Scottie's struggle to control his lover's visual representation. Judy's look is entirely different from the soft, subdued elegance of Madeline; and Hitchcock invites us to notice the way Judy's purple dress clashes with the backdrop of Ernie's. I like the colorful contrast Judy offers—and as always, Novak's eyebrows remain truly admirable. I can't get down with these bangs, though.

This post wouldn't be complete without some love for Bel Geddes as Midge, the quick-witted bra designer Scottie fails to fully appreciate. Wardrobe choices seem just as important here; Midge, a career woman, dresses much more practically than Judy or Madeline. In fact, like a comic book character, she has several versions of the exact same shirt—surely a deliberate choice on Hitchcock's part. But even though Midge is meant to be on the opposite end of the glamor spectrum, I think she still offers some great femme-spiration. She's hip, smart, and very cute. And her glasses are totally amazing!

So there you have it! Your weekly dose of femme-spiration in the form of three of Hitchcock's most vivid female film characters. Along with some Laura Mulvey. You're welcome.



  1. The Vertigo & Mulvey combo was the first week of Intro to Film Studies for me! The film quickly became a favorite of mine because of Novak, too, and the way Hitchcock played with her two characters. Whenever I think of the movie, I always think of her in the gray suit with the white scarf - so put together and chic as Madeline. So femme! And then, as Judy, out of place, a little garish with the heavy eye makeup and the red lips, more working class, also so femme!

    I'm a sucker for the French twist too, which probably has roots in Vertigo for me. I'm with you, though, I can't get behind Judy's bangs. How do you even set curls that tiny??

  2. So glad you feel the same way! I can't believe I forgot to mention the french twist. And yes, I love the colorful working-class femme edge that Judy offers.

    By the way, I really love your blog! We should do some kind of cross-featuring. :)


  3. We definitely should! I love your blog, too. I was, actually, going to email you guys about a cross-feature once I had a bit more of a following. I only just started blogging a month or so ago. I'd love to do it though. Let's talk! Yay for femme academic networking! xoxo, FF