Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Kim Novak: Bell Book Vertigo Stewart 1958 and above all the clothes...

What can one say about this weird sometimes amazing actress Kim Novak? She delivers four amazing performances in two movies made in 1958. She exudes a weird melancholy and could be a genius; her embodiment of Gillian the Witch in BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE is one of my favorite femme fatale performances, even when her character is a self-righteous sanctimonious bitch to rival Merle or browbeating cronies and longing to be normal and go to goddamned church. VERTIGO recently crested the AFI 100 ahead of KANE, and she's no small measure of its success, even if her love interest is Jimmy Stewart.

She didn't even need magic, all she needed was great clothes.

More than nearly any other actress, she knew how to let great clothes mold her performance--each dress conjures a whole new being. Contrast her assured beatnik grace as she slides around her boho apartment in the beginning with her frump-shouldered white dress shyness at the end in BELL, how we want to do what Scottie did to her in VERTIGO, get her out of the white and dress her back up in the oversize black sweater, bare feet, and tight slacks; or her elegant mannequin black dress against the red velvet restaurant in the beginning VERTIGO with that awful lime green thing she has on in her second incarnation, her brown-red hair pulled back to accentuate her weird nose like her whole head is pulled back from that nose, and the dress a size too big like its a reproachful mother. She was confident enough in her beauty to let it slide when it suited the moment, the clothes, the hair. No wonder she had a breakdown when Jimmy kept forcing her to dress like Madeline again, who would she have to be now that her past role was being exhumed, forcing her in a way to be jealous of herself or to have to live a character for an entire relationship. Beware the hot vain girl for when her mask finally comes off there's a naive person who's never been seen underneath, afraid and abashed by her absence of model pose armament, her magic.

Hence the above collage, positing her as a goddess in the flames of acolyte devotion, the Buddhist demon mask the middle persona between her beauty and the fear-inducing guardians of the gates as you pass beyond time and space. As all good goddesses and their flocks must go, clutching their memories of the hot first incarnation of her witch in BELL to see them through.

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