Vertigo's Musical Gaze: Neo-Riemannian Symmetries and Spirals

Smith, KM ORCID: 0000-0001-7414-9180
(2018) Vertigo's Musical Gaze: Neo-Riemannian Symmetries and Spirals. Music Analysis, 37 (1). pp. 68-102.

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Laura Mulvey coined the term ‘male gaze’ (1975), using Lacanian theory as a ‘political weapon’ against the standard mode of viewing in which the viewing subject turns onscreen women into fantasy objects. While politically laudable, her article misconstrues Lacan's concept of ‘the gaze’, the power of which emanates from the object itself. We might better serve Lacanian theory by inverting Mulvey's reading of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo to suggest that Scottie (James Stewart) is himself objectified by the mystique of the ‘object’ he watches and follows: Madeleine (Kim Novak). The screen's gaze reduces spectators to objects too. From this perspective, rather than watching the film, the film can be said to be watching us. This extends to Bernard Herrmann's soundtrack, famously influenced by the yearning of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde . Developing David Schwarz's (2006) musical gaze (in which repeated pedal points of Schubert songs gaze at us), I analyse Vertigo ’s frequent emphasis on the pitch class D. A pedal D is often repeated in alluring yet sinister bare octaves as Scottie follows Madeleine. But at key moments in the film, the pitch becomes a sophisticated tool that captivates us in unique ways. Around this central pitch third‐relationships circle. These resonate with neo‐Riemannian theory, particularly in their hexatonic ‘poles’, which Cohn shows to be agents of the Freudian ‘uncanny’ (2004) and which here also serve as an alternative gaze to the reiterated D. Other pitch constellations, in symmetries or spirals, form similar obsessional musical ‘gazes’ that, using Lacanian theory, prompt the question about whether we are listening to the music or the music is listening to us.

Item Type: Article
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 24 May 2017 06:20
Last Modified: 19 Jan 2023 07:03
DOI: 10.1111/musa.12109
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