San Francisco Symphony performed the soundtrack to Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’ and Kim Novak spoke live on stage before the screening, drawing parallels between herself and the character in the 1958 film set in San Francisco, the redwoods and Carmel. It’s the gorgeous film about a cool Hitchcock blond beauty who entangles retired police detective Jimmy Stewart in a plot of a man who married wealthy to kill his wife and disappear. Things go awry when she not so coldly falls in love with the detective. Herrmann composed a spectacular score including the piece ‘The Dream, The Farewell and The Tower”. The dream part has some of the most fun moments musically to watch the symphony.
Warning, this blog contains a few plot spoilers. Novak’s website with her pastel paintings reveal a childlike and senstive soul with empathy, her work including a pleasant homeless man and his little white dog and a memory of how she was born during the Great Depression and saw her mother sobbing. There’s also a little rowboat with a smiling white fluffy dog at the helm, rowing merrily, merrily, merrily down the stream and life is but a dream. Her work looks like water colors and like a product of living in Big Sur.
The symphony got to play some thrilling sequences including the opening number and then as the love story develops complete with a first and dramatic kiss with crashing waves of Monterey and Carmel. The harps began earlier with a spellbinding scene at the Palace of the Legion of Honor with him as a voyeur, admiring her as she in turn stares transfixed at a painting. The Legion is where the detective follows his subject who sits staring at an historical painting of a tragic female figure whom she is doomed to follow in suicide. Novak plays the part of the decendent turning the age of the ancestor in the painting, a young beauty whom Jimmy Stewart’s character has been deluded into thinking is the delusional wife of his employer, the scheming husband of a rich womanr. Novak emphasized the honorable character of Stewart and how his wife came to the set daily. He was the kind, gentle, caring soul the world sees on screen, she said.
Still, the deluded character on screen, crazy with grief and mad with lovesickness, sounds laughably cold in his determination. Novak recalled how she really did not want to wear the iconic gray suit, e.g. the rigid, contrictive and uncomfortable gray suit, neither as Judy or as herself playing the part. Novak on opening night looked Bohemian chic and indeed like a painter who had lived in Big Sur. She wore black velvet pants, black shoes, a black velvet poncho with gold panels and bewitching sheer black opera length gloves that were fingerless with a strap between the thumb and forefinger. She wore her hair down and loose, in a blond page boy, with bangs. She mentioned how when she got hired by Columbia Pictures they were making women into the same types once the actress was put in the make-up chair, ordering a “Joan Crawford mouth” for example. The studio wanted to change her name to Kit Marlow. She seemed so grateful and respectful of Hitchcock though, who she said never messed with your mind and never told you how to think, allowing freedom. Funny that this king of suspense never messed with Novak’s mind.
Novack mentioned how she had come to California from Chicago, where she had sounded different in the way she spoke and had worked at Woolworth’s. She was a young model and worked in Los Angeles, with her father back home not approving of her becoming an actress and appearing as such on the cover of Time magazine. Novak mentioned she returned to her first love, painting, and put on display in the Davies Hall lobby the work she had done for the film. She also mentioned wanting to be loved and having an emotional disorder, being bipolar. She did appear to be ever grateful for working with Hitchcock and Stewart and glad to be alive to see the continued popularity of the film. She also mentioned working with Stewart in the charmer, ‘Bell, Book & Candle’ where she tries to bewitch him with a love spell. To this day she seems enchanting.
Tickets cost $129, $149 or $175. Davies usually has some standing room or rush tickets. ‘Vertigo’ will be screened Saturday night, February 13 at 8 pm with Novak speaking briefly at 7 pm. There is an intermission during the film. Davies Symphony Hall is an easy walk from Civic Center BART and has a bike rack for about four bikes.