A few weeks ago, I went to an outdoor screening of Vertigo, in preparation for Mystery Build. It’s not my all-time favorite movie, but I remember the time my family all piled into the car and drove to Greensboro to see it on the big screen, because it had the one movie theater on our side of the state that showed art films and classics. It was my first Hitchcock. I was probably in middle school at the time. The score is great, there’s a pretty good twist, and the descent into madness is pretty vivid, what with all the falling and swirling vortices and all. The cinematography is stunning. I saw it again years later, but had forgotten all the details by this go-round. I picked it for my Mystery Build sculpture because I wanted to do something that spins, and thought the classic poster would be a good place to start.
I’d forgotten most of the details of the movie, and maybe you have too. Without giving too much away, it goes something like this:
- Man meets crazy woman.
- Man is irresistibly drawn to crazy woman.
- Crazy woman makes man crazy.
- Crazy man ditches female friend he’s been stringing along since college.
- Female friend becomes crazy. Crazy man gets crazier.
- Crazy man meets new woman, and transforms her into crazy woman.
- New woman is crazy enough to let him.
- Everyone comes to a bad end.
It was all much creepier than I remembered. That’s a whole lot of crazy, for one movie. I have a whole series of questions. Why, why do men love high-maintenance crazy women? How does Kim Novak get her hair into that twisted updo without looking in a mirror, and with only three or four pins? Why didn’t she wake up when he fished her out of the San Francisco Bay, stripped her naked to dry her clothes, and towel-dried her hair? For that matter, why didn’t he take her to a hospital, or at least back to her husband? How does he get from catatonic, to stalking new women on street corners? Of course, he gets away with all the crazy, because he is Jimmy Stewart. Who doesn’t love Jimmy Stewart, even when he’s playing a crazy?
The least believable part of the movie is when he takes new girl to the salon and insists that she dye her hair from brunette to platinum blonde. She balks at the idea. “It can’t possibly matter to you!” he tells her forcefully.
Well. I am here to tell you on behalf of all brunette-with-a-hint-of-redheads, it matters. Changing from brunette to blonde would be like changing your passport to a different nationality. It would be such a strange world all of a sudden. Maybe better, maybe worse, but certainly foreign. “It can’t possibly matter to you…” I wanted to kick him in the shins for that line. But he’s Jimmy Stewart, so I still kind of loved him anyway.
I digress. The point is, I finished my sculpture, and wow, this one was harder than I thought. I had no less than three vortices collapse before it was done, and I passed three semesters of structures. I just didn’t have enough of any one thing in my kit to pull off what I was trying to do; not enough wire, not enough plaster, not enough wood, not enough air-dry clay. There was a little tiny bit of everything you could imagine, and not enough of anything at all.
Which is all part of the fun. There is a quote we heard all the time in grad school, something like: “Art lives from constraints, and dies in freedom.” Unlimited options are totally overwhelming; you need a fair amount of constraint in order to get anything at all done. In the end, I finished by salvaging the wire I was using from a collapsed vortex wrapped in plaster, and making another smaller vortex out of plaster cloth, and cutting the little falling figures out of air-dry clay and attaching them to a dowel. I made gears out of the wooden circles in the kit, which mostly work but are a little balky, so the inner vortex spins. I’d need three more kits to make it work the way I wanted it to, or at least three more rounds of sculpting it. That’s design; everything is a prototype, and you keep getting closer and closer to what you’re trying to make, but you’re never done.
Until there’s a deadline, which is this weekend, and you have to hand in whatever you’ve got. A few days ago, with my sculpture almost done, I had a blinding flash of realization that I should have done Field of Dreams, I love Field of Dreams, I could have done an amazing sculpture on Field of Dreams.
Oh well. There’s always next year. Good luck, all! And happy sculpting.