What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Matthew Trammell is not like a piece by James Wood, and neither is like a piece by Peter Schjeldahl. One could not mistake Finnegan for Frazier, or Lepore for Paumgarten, or Goodyear for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Vertigo's "Happy Ending"

Does Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo end happily? Richard Brody thinks so. He says that Vertigo’s “happy ending, of health restored and crime punished, resembles an aridly monastic renunciation” (“Vertigo,” "Goings On About Town," The New Yorker, May 28, 2012). New York Magazine thinks otherwise. It says, “New Yorker film writer Richard Brody boldly but delusionally states that Hitchcock’s Vertigo has a happy ending” (“The Approval Matrix: Week of June 11, 2012,” New York Magazine, June 3, 2012). In “‘Vertigo’: The Search For A Cure” (“The Front Row,”, June 7, 2012), Brody replies that he was using “happy ending” ironically (“So, please allow me my irony of suggesting that the movie has a truly happy ending: the revelation of unhappy truth”). Why irony? Is Brody now saying he meant the opposite of what he said? Recall Samuel Johnson’s definition of irony: “A mode of speech of which the meaning is contrary to the words” (quoted in D. J. Enright’s The Alluring Problem, 1986). Vertigo’s dark last scene shows Scottie (James Stewart) standing on the ledge at the top of the Mission San Juan Bautista bell tower where, only moments before, he witnessed his beloved Judy (Kim Novak) plunge to her death. He’s conquered his acrophobia, but he’s lost (for the second time!) the woman he loves. Standing on the precipice, looking down, Scottie is caught in a sad equilibrium. It could be a scene in an Edward Hopper – a vision of a chill, ominous world, noir to its bare bones.  

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