Extract from Jacobean Visions, Chapter 5. Jacobean VisionsjjaChapt
Vertigo (1958) – Into the 1980s
“Let’s see what you are made of.”
"As a measure of Vertigo’s (1958) growing relevance for the 1980s film audience, another English film director in 1982 was also making a calculated affront on mainstream visual practice and genre boundaries. Ridley Scott featured another established Hollywood star – Harrison Ford – hanging helplessly and precariously for his life from another urban rooftop; indeed, in an earlier scene Harrison, as ‘blade runner’ Decker with a license to kill replicants, would also consider photographs purporting to confirm the childhood past of the unknown Rachel. Blade Runner (1982/1992) became the first techno-noir, where the more we see, the more,
“…our uncertainty grows. Its world features a profusion of simulations, synthetic animals, giant view screens, replicants, memory implants and faked photos are only some of them. Vision is no guarantee of truth, and the film’s complexity encourages us to rethink our assumptions about perception by reminding us that, like memory, vision is more than a given ‘natural’ process. There is no nature in Blade Runner…Replicants, forged memories with sumptuous surfaces make Blade Runner a film deeply concerned with the making and unmaking of selves, and with worlds that are no longer given.” (Bukatman, 1982, p. 11)
Amongst several narrative and thematic allusions that can be usefully drawn between Blade Runner (1982) and Vertigo (1958), for example, is that pivotal scene in the former where Rachel/Sean Young and Decker/Ford come to personal terms with her own evolving awareness that she is an advanced replicant. As he lies exhausted from a recent attack, she attends to his piano and proceeds to play, reading off the music sheet that lies amidst sepia photographs of his (assumed) family past. These are musical notes which he failed to re-produce in an earlier scene; so he is drawn from his slumber – hearing the notes as if they were in a dream – to sit beside her and, in their first tight close-up, quietly marvel at her growing keyboard dexterity. As the notes are played and a melody emerges she admits that this is an innate skill of ‘hers’ or simply the outcome of an implant, an imported memory.
For Decker, however, the essential truth is that she plays well. What now makes the delicate exchange between human and replicant so powerful and ironic is that their mutual recognition of her growing consciousness builds into a consensual awareness – a shared human experience with its own memories – that then triggers a gentle then accelerated vertigo of attraction that leads to a kiss, then a forced embrace and the beginnings of a sexual (human?) relationship.
The fact that the scene generates from an accusatory question from Rachel – “Did you ever take the test yourself, Decker?” – begins a lingering uncertainty that undermines Decker’s own human status that extends, in the director’s version of 1991, to the end of the film where it is tellingly implicated that his ‘private’ dreams and known by his police associates. On reflection and second viewing, however, the hints are already there as he is questioned throughout the film, “Are you for real?”, and “Let’s see what you are made of” (see Doll and Faller, 1986).
The scene so described, that implicates Decker into the self-conscious awareness of Rachel as a human, is not so far removed from that which draws Fergusson/Stewart and Judy/Novak together in their own consensual pact of recognition in Vertigo’s (1958) last act denouement and wherein they recreate the lost Madeleine and so forge (sic) their own joint, if frail and tragic, reality.
From the above descriptive account, the re-issue of Vertigo (1958) during the same year that Blade Runner (1983) made its debut is of some uncanny significance, suggestive, as it was, that Hitchcock’s own neon-noir was about to enter its own green-lit critical and commercial comeuppance.'
From Jacobean Visions: Webster, Hitchcock and Google Culture. Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2007. 201 pp., num. graphs, ISBN 978-3-631-56227-7 pb http://about.me/jacobeanvisions
- Bukatman, Scott, Blade Runner, BFI Modern Classics, 1998
- Doll, Susan and Greg Faller, Blade Runner, Genre Film Noir and Science Fiction, in ‘Literature Film Quarterly, Vol 14, No.2, 1986’, pp 89-100.