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article imageKim Novak praises Canadians, defends Hitchcock at Toronto fest Special

By Jeff Cottrill     Sep 21, 2015 in Entertainment
Toronto - The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is known as a launching pad for future Oscar-winning films, but on its final day yesterday, the festival hosted a special free screening of a past masterpiece: Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”.
Believed by many critics and cinéastes to be one of the greatest movies ever made, Hitchcock’s 1958 film is a complex story about an acrophobic ex-detective (James Stewart) who becomes obsessed with the woman whom he has been asked to tail (Kim Novak). Although Vertigo was panned by some critics and mostly ignored by audiences when first released, time has issued a different verdict. In 2012, the film dethroned Citizen Kane at the number-one spot of the worldwide critics’ poll that Sight & Sound magazine holds every ten years.
But this event wasn’t just any revival of an established classic: it was accompanied by a live performance of the film’s passionate Bernard Herrmann score by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) – and included a special appearance by the film’s surviving star herself. Novak, now 82, appeared in a live Q&A session with TIFF director Piers Handling following the film, which received an ovation.
“It is so good to be here in Toronto with all of you,” the feisty Novak told the full house at Roy Thomson Hall yesterday. “You Canadians are wonderful people... I love what you stand for.”
Somewhat reminiscent of the late Lauren Bacall with her deep, husky voice, Novak called her dual role of Madeleine Elster and Judy Barton in Vertigo “the best role I ever played.” But she also discussed how uncomfortable the job was. “The discomfort of them both was difficult,” she said, referring to the dilemmas of the two different personas.
Upon giving her the Vertigo script, Novak recalled, producer Harry Cohn told her: “‘This is not a good script, and if it wasn’t for [the involvement of] Alfred Hitchcock, I wouldn’t let you do it.’”
Referring to the later scenes in which Scottie Ferguson (Stewart) obsessively tries to make Judy over in the clothes, hair and makeup of Madeleine, Novak compared the part to “the life that I was leading at that time. It was who I was becoming, being made over into this Hollywood image.” She also compared the change in voices between the two onscreen personas to the difference between her personalities in Chicago and after she moved to Hollywood.
While Novak praised her co-star for being supportive – “Having the chance to work with Jimmy Stewart, it was like a dream come true... He was the ultimate person” – she also fiercely defended Hitchcock’s character. In recent years, the media have sometimes depicted the Master of Suspense as a deviant creep who was chronically obsessed with the “Hitchcock Blondes” whom he cast in his films – especially Tippi Hedren, who has publicly accused the director of sexually harassing and propositioning her during work on The Birds and Marnie. Although Novak didn’t refer to these accusations specifically, they appeared to be the gist of her words.
“There’s one actress that has said a lot of things. I’m not her, so I can’t say anything from her perspective,” she said. “But I do know that when I worked with him, I found him to be a very honest, decent man, and I never saw any side of him that looked at all like that Alfred Hitchcock that I’ve heard about.
“He was an upright man who was very much in love with his sweet, plump little wife,” she added, referring to Hitchcock’s wife and frequent behind-the-scenes collaborator and advisor, Alma Reville. “He really seemed to adore her.
“I’ve got to stand up for a man who’s not alive today to – I’ve got to stand up for somebody who can’t defend himself,” she said. “I really respect that man. I respect him a lot. He was an artist.”
Hitchcock’s artistry held the audience’s attention tightly throughout the screening and never let go – as did Herrmann’s, via the TSO’s performance, conducted by Constantine Kitsopoulos. There were moments when the music drowned out the dialogue, and other times when the soundtrack on the film print sounded scratchy, but the movie and music still retained their power throughout. Audience members audibly gasped during one character’s death, while witty or ironic lines in other scenes received laughter – all evidence of the timelessness of Hitchcock’s best work.
“I’m blessed. I’ve really been blessed in my life,” said Novak.
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