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Gender Confusion In Hitchcock's Film, Vertigo

2124 words - 8 pages

Gender Confusion in Hitchcock's Film, Vertigo

Post World War II America was a society full of anxiety. In the late 1950s Americans were deeply troubled by so many social shifts. Major changes were occurring both internally and externally. They were in the midst of the Cold War, and were vastly approaching the atomic age. There was a communist scare and fear of Russian expansion. Joseph McCarthy was hunting down major celebrities for their communist involvement and the 'Red Influence' seemed to be everywhere. The move toward suburbia and the growth of multinational corporations were flourishing. People seemed to be pulled in every direction. Another change that would have a major impact on society for years to come was the re-identification of gender roles. In Robert Kolker's book, Film, Form and Culture, he states that, "During the time of the Cold War, the political and the personal, the power of the state, the workplace, the family and the sexual all became confused and self contradictory" (Kolker, 83). The gender confusion of the time would cause major conflicts and can be seen in many forms of popular culture from the mid-to-late fifties, from magazines to movies. By the time Alfred Hitchcock was starting production on his forty-fifth film Vertigo, gender had become a major issue. This is obvious through watching the film and looking at the main characters, both male and female. In Hitchcock's Vertigo, the struggle for socially recognized gender roles is acted out, mostly through a battle for sexual domination between Scottie and Madeline/Judy. The film also supports the idea of the submissive domestic female, through the character of Midge. This film is definitely a marker of its time.

The loss of male identity and sexuality was of major concern at the time. Articles in the popular Look magazine, gathered in a 1958 book called The Decline of the American Male, claimed that women control male behavior, from the early formation of men's psyches, to the kinds of jobs they take, to their competitiveness. Because women now demanded equal or greater satisfaction than the male, they were beginning to control his sexuality (Kolker, 84). Scottie is the perfect example of the 'weak' male of the 1950's. In the film Scottie and his friend Midge go to a local bookshop to try to find out more about the history of Carlotta. They find out that Carlotta had a child with her lover, and once she had it the man took the baby and tossed her aside. The shopkeeper comments that, "men could do that in those days, they had the power." Obviously he is commenting on the lack of male dominance and power of the day, and men are not what they used to be. In the final scene of the film Scottie finally beats his vertigo, and makes it to the top of the bell tower. The audience thinks that the male will succeed and he has made it to the top. However, once he makes it up there his world has once again fallen apart when Judy tumbles out the window, literally illustrating...

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