Talkback: Is The Artist's Use of the Vertigo Theme Tantamount to Artistic 'Rape?'

This just in: Kim Novak, star of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, has a beef with Oscar front-runner The Artist and its use of Bernard Herrmann's iconic love theme from the 1958 classic. Let's just cut to the chase and let Novak's words speak for themselves: “I want to report a rape... my body of work has been violated by The Artist."

Say what, Ms. Novak? Rape? Director Michel Hazanavicius might prefer the term "homage," but potato, po-tah-to... perhaps some elaboration is in order. Novak's personal missive, for which she composed a press release and took out a full-page trade ad, continues via Deadline:

"This film took the Love Theme music from Vertigo and used the emotions it engenders as its own. Alfred Hitchcock and Jimmy Stewart can’t speak for themselves, but I can. It was our work that unconsciously or consciously evoked the memories and feelings to the audience that were used for the climax of The Artist."

“There was no reason for them to depend on Bernard Herrmann’s score from Vertigo to provide more drama. Vertigo’s music was written during the filming. Hitchcock wanted the theme woven musically in the puzzle pieces of the storyline. Even though they did given Bernard Herrmann a small credit at the end, I believe this kind of filmmaking trick to be cheating. Shame on them!"

"It is morally wrong of people in our industry to use and abuse famous pieces of work to gain attention and applause for other than what the original work was intended. It is essential that all artists safeguard our special bodies of work for posterity, with their individual identities intact and protected."

Novak has a point, to a point: Using a well-known piece from a beloved classic can, consciously or subconsciously, evoke the emotion earned by that reference film. But does that mean The Artist cheated by borrowing on the emotional associations its audience had for Vertigo? And, as personally as that citation hit Novak, is it fair to reduce the cinematic equivalent of sampling in hip-hop to such a gross violation?

And if Bing Crosby was still around, would he make the same claim for the use of "Pennies from Heaven?"

Chime in, Movieliners.

Not Everyone Loves ‘The Artist’: Kim Novak Feels Violated By Use Of ‘Vertigo’ Score [Deadline]


  • sweetbiscuit says:

    Rape, it ain't. It does seem lazy, but then again, I thought the writing for this film was lazy, too. Cute film but over-rated. (I realize I am in the minority.)

  • Remy says:

    I did think it was an odd choice of music when I first saw "The Artist", especially because the movie it first appeared in was a talkie - it may have been more appropriate to borrow something from the kinds of movies it was paying homage to. It would have been very effective to hear something that would have been played live in theaters when silent movies were screened in the '20s.

    Another reason it seemed a little out of place is that we hear original compisitions for the rest of the film. If the rest of the score was a mash-up of classic film scores, like in a Tarantino movie, it probably would have been less jarring.

    I can understand why anyone who was involved in the making of "Vertigo" would have a bigger problem enjoying those scenes, but obviously Novak is speaking hyperbolically, so her use of the word rape is too silly to even go into.

  • HV says:

    Even Kristen Stewart heard about this and said "Damn, Kim. That's not really an appropriate comparison."

  • Dyrkness says:

    I don't think it's unfair at all. No less a director than Stanley Kubrick used "Singing in the Rain" for a violent scene in A Clockwork Orange" and no one complained. In fact it wss very effective.

  • SD says:

    If Novak wrote the music and it was used without her consent then I would listen to what she has to say.

    But she didn't and it wasn't and this just comes off as a cheap attempt at a smear campaign.

    Now excuse me while I check S.T.'s Oscar Index and speculate on who is behind it all.

  • Gianna Fregosi says:

    I think Novak's 'Legend of Lylah Clare' is a far greater cinematic sin, than The Artist borrowing Herrmann's score.

  • I, too, thought the use of Herrmann's Vertigo love theme at the conclusion of The Artist was very odd - especially as I really enjoyed the original score for the film up to that point and felt it was really out of context for a lot of reasons. Ryan Murphy used a lot of other Herrmann scores as well as snippets of Kilar's score for Dracula in this season of American Horror Story and they were jarring to me as well -- though not nearly as disconcerting. The show at least used bits and pieces that helped the creep factor.

  • Scott G says:

    Did Novak have a beef with "Twelve Monkeys" as well?

    • Spakesheare says:

      Twelve Monkeys is a bit different. The love theme from Vertigo was used after a scene from Vertigo. So it was an acknowledged homage.

      I think Kim Novak has a point, but she is undercutting it by taking it to an extreme.

      Personally I found the use of the Vertigo theme a little distracting. Granted, I had just showed my girlfriend Vertigo for the first time a couple days before we saw The Artist. So it was pretty fresh in my mind.

  • Steve Belgard says:

    This is just absurd. Purists can argue this and that and blah, blah, blah. In the end, it was an homage by the director to Bernard. Whether the composer would have liked it or not is another story. No harm, no foul. Time to move on to more important issues of the day.

  • Jimmy says:

    Kim is correct and speaks for everyone
    involved with the classic Vertigo.

    Thank you, Kim.

    The use of the Vertigo theme only proves
    that The Artist is pretentious filmmaking.

    Time will heal this wound.

    Vertigo will last forever after
    The Artist is long forgotten.

  • e says:

    What a shame that the director of The Artist is so insistent regarding this Vertigo matter, because he's clearly, otherwise, some kind of film-making genius.

    I was absolutely entranced by how knowing The Artist was as an homage-centered movie. It seems to know exactly where to draw the line regarding what an homage is, and what an homage is not - until the whole-cloth use of the famous music from that amazing and iconic last hotel scene in Vertigo, which is not only from a different era other than when The Artist takes place, but is also so strongly associated in so many cinephile's minds with a key moment in the Hitchcock canon, and in film history. All of this also detracts from the great original music written for the newer film.

    And what an otherwise tremendous movie The Artist is!

    They may as well have tried to put in the terrific, famous music from the final battle scene in the original Star Wars, though, or used music from The Godfather - the Vertigo music here really is almost as jarring as that, and is below the otherwise extremely high standards the newer movie has obviously set for itself.

    Ms. Novak has a right to be offended by it and to speak up about it, and it is quite unlike Mr. Kubrick's use of "Singin' in the Rain" in A Clockwork Orange, which was clearly a bitterly satiric usage.

    However: is it not too late for this to be corrected by The Artist's several producers and the director Mr Hazanavicius, who is clearly so gifted a film-maker, and so learned a film scholar?

    Might it be changed in the DVD release? The Artist is really one of the most keenly loving valentines I've ever seen to old Hollywood, and it's brilliant for so many other reasons, too, as we go on into the 21st Century and become used to our newer forms of media and distribution of information, our changing gender roles, and so on. I really do think this movie is something special - and so, probably, did Ms. Novak, initially, or she surely would not have troubled to make her understandable complaint.

    Jean Dujardin in the title role is nothing short of brilliant in his Fairbanks/Gene Kelly/Frederick March mannerisms, look, and feel - a great performance and a studied tribute. There are several unmistakably great things about The Artist.

    The Herrmann Vertigo music, though, especially that particular sequence of the original score coming when it does at such a climatic scene in the newer film, feels like a finely-cooked tomato sauce thrown on top of an exquisitely-made angel's food cake. It doesn't work. Change it!

    Change this in newer releases, and The Artist will fast become an iconic motion picture all by itself.

  • e says:

    Incidentally: when declaring "the Vertigo music here is jarring, and below the otherwise... high standards of the newer film" what perhaps would have been a more clear statement is "the use of the great Hermann's Vertigo music here is jarring, the contextual usage and appropriation here is below the otherwise high standards of the newer film..." no disrespect intended , whatsoever, to the classic Vertigo score, of course, nor to Maestro Herrmann. Thanks for allowing the clarification.

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