Kim Novak, Vertigo

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Sunday, October 16, 2005

David Thomson

"Novak was a big, shy blonde, diffident about her beautiful body and forever trying to speak up and project. Many critics saw this tense endeavor and concluded that she was not an actress. But film sometimes flinches at the expertise of actresses, and the sympathetic viewer may come to realize that there was a mute honesty in Novak: she did not conceal the fact that she had been drawn into a world capable of exploiting her. Filming seemed an ordeal for her; it was as if the camera hurt her. But while many hostile to the movies rose in defense of the devastation of Marilyn Monroe--whether or not she was a sentient victim--Novak was stoical, obdurate, or sullen. She allowed very few barriers that raw self and the audience and now looks dignified, reflective, and resonsive to feeling where Monroe appears haphazard and oblivious. Novak is the epitome of every small-town waitress or beauty contest winner who thoguth of being in the movies. Despite a thorough attempt by columbia to glamorize her, she never lost the desperate attentiveness of someone out of her depth but refusing to give in. Her performances improve with time so that ordinary films come to center on her; even Vertigo, Hitchcock's masterpiece, owes some of its power to Novak's harrowing suspension between tranquillity and anxiety.

"....Less a performance than a helpless confession of herself, Novak's contribution to [Vertigo] is one of the major female performances in the cinema. Among its many themes, Vertigo is about a rough young woman who gives a superb performance as a kind of Grace Kelly blind to being watched, and then finds herself trapped. The "Judy" in Vertigo loves Scotty, but it is her tragedy that she can only meet his desire for her by returning to the dream woman, "Madeleine." Vertigo contains a very subtle analysis of the ordeal and the self-obliteration in acting, and it works all the better because Novak was so direct, unschooled, and slavelike. There are actresses whose intelligence always shows--like Katharine Hepburn, Louise Brooks in Pandora's Box, or Dietrich in the Sternberg films. Then there are actresses who seem stripped of any chance of control. They are simply there, caught in the lights by the camera and the movie--like Brooks in Pandora's Box, Karina in Pierrot le Fou, and Novak in Vertigo."

David Thomson
A Biographical Dictionary of Film, 3rd Edition (1994), p. 551
(revised from 2nd edition and maybe 1st; reprinted in 4th edition).