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September 1998, Week 2


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Ken Mogg <[log in to unmask]>
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Thu, 10 Sep 1998 17:17:17 +1000
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Mike Frank notes how Scottie in VERTIGO objects to Midge's playing of
C.P.E. Bach; and that later she tells Scottie's doctor she doesn't think
Mozart as musical therapy will help Scottie.
Mike asks, in effect, what's all this about?
First, Mike, I think it's another eg of the 'working backwards'
script-construction technique in H that we've discussed before.  (You
once asked me why Miriam in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN has glasses.  I said
that I thought it might derive from how Pat H, who wore glasses, was
already cast as Miriam's 'double', Barbara, though of course glasses
then came into play in the script as a device of characterisation of
Miriam's self-centredness, as a further 'doubles' image, as, according
to Robin Wood, an 'obvious' sexual symbol - though I'm not still sure
what IS obvious about it ...).
That is, H wanted the Mozart line for various reasons. One comes from
how Bel Geddes had a similar moment in I REMEMBER MAMA (1948), which H
seems to have wanted to imitate.  Another concerns the characterisation
of the doctor (cf. the glib psychiatrist at the end of PSYCHO).  Another
concerns how Scottie prefigures Roger O. Thornhill in NxNW as someone
mainly concerned with 'the art of survival' and not your prissy, arty,
cultured stuff!  (Of course, Madeleine leads Scottie into precisely
realms of art, mysticism, etc., that this 'hard-headed Scot' had always
affected to scorn.)
Therefore, the earlier line about C.P.E. Bach's music setting Scottie's
teeth on edge (another, little 'vertigo') is planted, to prepare us for
what is coming.
Looked at more broadly, this whole business is another example of what I
call H's 'outflanking technique', whereby he runs rings round his
audience.  I'm sure that he was not critiquing art per se as ineffectual
in adding meaning, value, enlightenment, therapy ... to those who bring
receptive minds to it.  Rather, as I say, he was characterising someone
like Scottie in order finally to 'defeat' him, to show him up ...
Not without compassion, I might add - though first had to come the
'victory' over the poor chap, i.e., Scottie, for H was not without both
a cruel streak himself (cf. Scottie's treatment of Judy) and also a
compassionate, forgiving, empathic one ...
Now, please, what is the 'obvious' sexual symbol in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN
when Miriam's strangling is reflected in a lens of her glasses lying on
the grass (the other lens has been cracked)?  I'd love to know!  My mind
simply goes 'boingg!' when Wood says the symbolism is obvious.  Is the
lens supposed to represent spilt semen, or something? (But semen isn't
reflective.)  A ruptured hymen?  (But that sounds far-fetched to me.)
The equivalent of birds attacking people's eyes in THE BIRDS?  (Ditto.)
- Ken Mogg (Ed., 'The MacGuffin').
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