Vertigo Interviews Patricia Hitchcock, Kim Novak and Katz & Harris

Steven C. Smith
October 1996

Patricia Hitchcock O’Connel

The daughter of Alfred Hitchcock recently spoke about the restoration of Vertigo and about her father to HBO Entertainment News in New York:

O’Connel: I think the film was before its time. It’s got all sorts of fears and phobias, and this is what people want to see today. It was not successful [in 1958]. It was moderately, but not like Psycho or The Birds. And it’s interesting what especially all the younger peple are going to see in it [today]. I think they’re going to love it. I really do.

It was adapted from a French story called “From Amongst the Dead,” and I’ve heard recently that the French authors wrote it hoping my father would make it as a picture.

He made his pictures for the audience. He didn’t make them for the critics. And yes, he was upset if critics didn’t like the picture. But his main reason for making the picture was for the audience. He was making it for you.

We’re always asked the same old question – why did he say actors are cattle? He said, “I didn’t say actors are cattle, I said actors should be treated as cattle”! This thing about, is he really sadistic on the set? His sets were wonderful. Because he’d already made that movie. He knew what that movie was going to look like. He took a finished script, then drew every shot. So that when he stepped on that set, he knew exactly what that was going to look like. He never looked through a camera.

Kim Novak

The star of Vertigo also spoke to HBO Entertainment News at the New York premiere of retored film in early October:

James Stewart and Kim Novak in Vertigo
Novak: There’s a strange deja vu with Vertigo felt not just by the people in it, but the people who see it. It’s almost like you’ve been there before, and of course, I have been here before!

It was not highly successful. In fact, [when] I did it, I was under contract [to Columbia] and they loaned me out, and Harry Cohn called me into the office and said, “Well, this is a lousy script, but it’s with Alfred Hitchcock, and he’s a master, so why not? I’ll let you do this movie.” And I read the script, I loved it, because I really identified with the characters and saw so much in it.

I feel that it showed more of me than anything. I feel I was also allowed the most freedom I’ve ever had, by Alfred Hitchcock, who supposedly treats actors like cattle. It was a great experience to have someone who really knew about the technical part, and allow me the freedom to bring something to it. So I feel I was allowed to do my best work in some way.

I was a new actor, I didn’t have a lot of experience, so for me it was so great to be able to have someone give me the technical points that he wanted, so that I was free not to worry about that, all I had to do was be Madeleine and Judy, and that wasn’t complicated for me, because being more than one person feels absolutely normal to me! (laughs)

James Katz and Robert Harris

The team that restored Vertigo, James Katz and Robert Harris, spoke with me in Los Angeles.

SCS: Why was this restoration done now?
Robert Harris: The negative was extremely faded, the original soundtracks had been junked in 1967…and we had just found while we were working on My Fair Lady the original three-track and mono recordings, Bernard Herrmann’s recordings for the music score in Paramount’s vaults. They hadn’t done preservation on them, but thank God they saved them. And they were extremely rotted. We did preservation on them here, and once we heard those, we knew we had to do this film and do it now. Because those tracks, that score, is as it’s never been heard before.
James Katz: As it stands now, the Bernard Herrmann score is the third star, or fourth star, of the film. And once we realized the quality of the recordings we had, we had to digitize the dialogue tracks, we lost the foley and the effects tracks, and subsequently had to redo those, using the original tracks as a map. It was a major decision on our part, because the sound is so prominent now, but along with the 70 millimeter picture it works really well. I think it’s a great marriage between the 1958 film and modern DTS technology.
Harris: Vertigo was shot in Vistavision, a negative twice the size of 35 millimeter. It lends itself perfectly to 70 millimeter. It’s really being seen [now] in large format the way it was photographed, the size it was photographed, for the first time in 38 years. There are things you’re going to see in this film that have never been seen before. You can see details – I’ll give you one example. When Judy steps [across her apartment toward Ferguson] as Madeleine once again, you see the muscles in her cheeks twitching and her lips moving, and you could not see that in 35 millimeter.
Katz: : It’s also the first time that audiences will see a huge bruise on Kim Novak’s knee as Jimmy Stewart pulls her out of San Francisco Bay!
SCS: You had to re-record sound effects…
Harris: As we’re reworking the sound, it’s with Hitchcock’s dubbing notes, knowing exactly what he wanted on a reel by reel basis, a shot by shot basis.

We know for example that Benny Herrmann didn’t want sound effects over his music. He went crazy if you put effects over them. We did a test back in April just to see how it would sound, and we put new wave effects as they’re driving towards the bridge, and we said “Nah, he wouldn’t be happy!” Then we screened it for Marty Scorsese at the Ziegfeld [in New York] in June, and he said, “No. I worked with him on Taxi Driver, you better take down those wave effects!”

You’re probably aware that Vertigo was the 1958 musician’s guild strike picture. Bernard Herrmann didn’t conduct himself. It couldn’t be done in Hollywood, so it was taken to London with Muir Mathieson conducting, and they did about a day and a half there, then the London orchestra went out in sympathy with the Los Angeles musicians. And the entire unit had to move to Vienna. It was done in three-track stereo in London – incredible sound – and monoural in Vienna. And each of the magnetic oxide, the mag prints, rotted differently. And we lost one scene from Vienna, which is the cemetary sequence where Jimmy is following Kim through the Mission Dolores. We finally found that [music] on a Spanish language print from an optical track.

The sound department here at Universal made it sound great, and we’re able to spread it and make it sound rich and full. I don’t think you’d ever know it came off an old optical print.

We mixed the picture at the Hitchcock theater [at Universal] and ghosts abound. It’s like having these people there, and we’re not going to mess with them. We have a moral responsibility to them, to make the picture bigger and better than it was, without changing the intent of the picture.

Katz: : The picture has color that it hasn’t had in 30 years. And it still has warts. We weren’t able to do everything. But compared [with the 1984 reissue] this is night and day.
Harris: When it comes to color, we have a lot of problems…because the original prints were in dye color Technicolor, that look totally different from the Eastmancolor we use today. We can’t recreate that color in Eastmancolor, it just doesn’t work…in order to find out if we’re reaching the color at all that’s in the original negative, we find references, and this… [holds up actual green sweater and skirt Novak wore as "Judy"]…this gives us the color green that was photographed, so we know where we’re going.

[Note: the dress had been rented as a film costume for over 30 years after Vertigo, as recently as The Brady Bunch Movie!]

Katz: Audiences are going to see a film that Hitchcock never saw. They’re going to see a 70 millimeter DTS version of a 1958 classic. People who think they’ve seen the film haven’t seen the film. We hope audiences that don’t know how it ends will come and see this version. It looks as good as this picture has in 30 years.

Vertigo Interviews – Patricia Hitchcock, Kim Novak and Katz & Harris
Steven C. Smith • October 1996