Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” is the ultimate re-watch movie. Film critics prescribe this movie like Tylenol: If you’re in love, see “Vertigo”; if you’re depressed, see “Vertigo”; if you just saw “Vertigo,” see “Vertigo” again. (Director and cinephile Chris Marker boasted that he’d seen the film 19 times.) And the critics have a point, mostly. “Vertigo” is a film about a man obsessively pursuing a woman until she cannot live up to the image he has created of her. To that end, to watch “Vertigo” is to live “Vertigo.” See it enough times and you’ll have your own “Vertigo,” a movie in your mind that says more about your psyche than that of Hitchcock’s.
Enter Guy Maddin, experimental filmmaker and admitted “Vertigo” obsessive. Maddin’s style is a cool combination of kitsch and confessional. His pseudo-documentary “My Winnipeg” dealt with his childhood in Winnipeg, Canada using extracts from silent film, while his film “The Saddest Music in the World” was a musical with a legless protagonist. He holds cinema as the most hallowed and the silliest of all the arts, and this tension between reverence and parody underlies his entire work.
Maddin’s latest film, “The Green Fog,” is both a loving and a deeply goofy remake of “Vertigo,” but it not really about the “Vertigo.” It’s about your “Vertigo.” In the film, Maddin splices together footage from hundreds of films and TV shows set in San Francisco in order to retell the central story of “Vertigo.” The callbacks are subtle but immediately resonant; Maddin need only show a bouquet of flowers, a tombstone or a man falling in order for you to remember its analogous function in the original film. Watching “The Green Fog” is like having two films playing side by side. There’s “The Green Fog” on the screen in front of you, and then there’s the memory of “Vertigo” playing in your head.
If “Vertigo” is a film about obsession, then “The Green Fog” is about obsessives. It’s not a parody of “Vertigo” so much as a parody of the people who watch it. Indeed, the film features a framing device where the main story is interrupted by cutaways of people watching the film itself. The film is an ode to watching and re-watching, to the films that exist not on screen but in our minds.
I suggest you see it at once. Then see it again.
“The Green Fog” is playing at the Roxie Theater on Jan. 9, 10 and 14. Learn more about it here.
Contact Rey Barceló at rbarcelo ‘at’ stanford.edu.