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Kim Novak Upset About Use Of 'Vertigo' Score In 'The Artist,' Dramatically Calling It "Rape"

by Drew Taylor
January 9, 2012 4:18 PM
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The Artist Kim Novak

Well, we guess not everyone is going to love "The Artist," the black-and-white Oscar contender that has been rapturously received, but this is a little ridiculous. There is a sequence when "The Artist" borrows some of Bernard Herrmann's immortal "Vertigo" score. Back when we saw it at the New York Film Festival, it made us smile, but one of the stars of the Alfred Hitchcock film, Kim Novak, is incensed. "I want to report a rape," Novak dramatically said in a press release. "My body of work has been violated by 'The Artist.'" While we really can't get behind her use of the word "rape," what makes this whole thing funnier is that "American Horror Story," FX's outre genre show from this fall, also appropriated some "Vertigo" cues but in much, much trashier scenarios. Stand back from Novak on the day she finds that out.

Deadline spoke with Sue Cameron, Novak's longtime manager, who said that the star was appalled when watching her "The Artist" Oscar screener. "She was sitting in her living room, she put the DVD in, and then went into an absolute state of shock and devastation," Cameron told Deadline. "When you sit in a theater and familiar music comes on that engenders ready-made emotions, it's quite hurtful... She is very, very upset."

While it certainly must have come as a surprise to Novak, we can't quite figure out what all the ire is about. Yes, it is sort of cheap, linking "The Artist" to a brilliant work of the past, but the whole movie is a put-on, a pastiche, an homage. Evoking "Vertigo" is sort of the point. And we're not sure how using a cue from "Vertigo" is all that different from, say, using a well-known pop song. They both serve as emotional shortcuts, both playing on well known elements from popular culture to create a connection with the viewer.

Novak thinks differently. "There was no reason for them to depend on Bernard Herrmann's score from 'Vertigo' to provide more drama," Novak said in the press release. "Even though they did given [sp] Bernard Herrmann a small credit at the end, I believe this kind of filmmaking trick to be cheating. Shame on them!" We're pretty sure Novak just outed herself as never having seen a single Brian De Palma movie.

She gets even more histrionic towards the end of the press release, stating, "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. Novak went on: "It is essential that all artists safeguard our special bodies of work for posterity, with their individual identities intact and protected."

Right, Kim. This kind of musical sampling has been going on for decades, most recently (and memorably) with Quentin Tarantino borrowing from a number of influential scores for his movies. Just because he borrowed a bit of Pino Donaggio's score from De Palma's "Blow Out" for his own "Death Proof" (or the number of Morricone cues for "Kill Bill" and "Inglourious Basterds"), doesn't desecrate the original film. If anything it makes it live longer and more fully, prompting unsuspecting film fans to go out and find the original source of the music.

Update: Michel Hazanavicius has responded, by taking the high road. Here's his statement: "The Artist was made as a love letter to cinema, and grew out of my (and all of my cast and crew’s) admiration and respect for movies throughout history.  It was inspired by the work of Hitchcock, Lang, Ford, Lubitsch, Murnau and Wilder. I love Bernard Hermann and his music has been used in many different films and I’m very pleased to have it in mine. I respect Kim Novak greatly and I’m sorry to hear she disagrees."

We suppose the "Artist" backlash has begun in earnest (and quite loudly), although we find the timing of this suspicious - just as the film is poised to be a Best Picture Oscar frontrunner (and on the day director Michel Hazanavicius received his first DGA nomination). We'll sit quietly and wait for this to blow over, and while we do, could someone play Novak some scenes from "American Horror Story," where the music is used to frame tales of school shootings, a pieced-together baby monster called The Infantata, the Black Dahlia murder, and a masked sex killer called the Rubber Man? Yes, that shit crazy.

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  • jimbo | January 14, 2012 2:39 PMReply

    Vertigo's my favourite film and I think Herrmann's score is the best film score ever written too. To me it even transcends its source. No one minds if classical music ends up in movies; indeed, it does all the time. That's a fantastic testament to classical music's power. The use of Herrmann here is testament to his power too. Viva Herrmann. I think it works beautifully and doesn't diminish the original film - indeed probably only makes it stronger. I trust that Hazanavicius utterly respects Herrmann and his score: he simply wouldn't have used it otherwise. It's used with love. The whole thing is one big love letter to Hollywood's yesteryear. Kim, consider it a valentine. Its use says baby, you still got it.

  • aquarius1271 | January 23, 2012 1:55 PM

    I completely agree. Ever since I saw Vertigo for the first time nearly two decades ago, both the film itself and Herrmann's amazing score have been my number one favorites in their respective categories. I really cannot find enough praise for them. The Special Edition DVD was the first one I bought back when the DVD revolution first began. The score in 5.1 DTS is a mesmerising experience and can be enjoyed separately from the film any given time, itself further proof for its immortality. It is a masterpiece and I am so sad that Kim Novak who herself gave an immortal performance in that piece of art could not even begin to understand what a homage means.

  • Eric Johnson | January 11, 2012 11:15 AMReply

    I guess it's probably a good thing Ms. Novak didn't watch any of "American Horror Story." They abused a number of Herrmann's pieces over the course of their season (though "Vertigo" may have escaped that one, I don't recall offhand).

  • Ken | January 10, 2012 4:31 PMReply

    I wonder how she feels about the use of "Singin in the Rain" in A Clockwork Orange

  • PETE | January 10, 2012 3:53 PMReply

    I would like to report a rape. I bought a combo at Subway, and they forgot to include my cup of soup! My body, more specifically, my gastrointestinal tract, has been violated by Subway.

  • Jonatha | January 10, 2012 11:13 AMReply

    Lady Gaga also used a portion of it for her horrifying "Born This Way" video.

  • Eric | January 9, 2012 10:06 PMReply

    Johnathan Rosenbaum didn't like its use of Hermann's score either: "...I haven’t been able to forgive The Artist for pilfering and then brandishing a sizable chunk of Bernard Herrmann’s Vertigo score near its closing stretches to impart a sense of tragedy..."

  • Angelica Jade | January 9, 2012 6:46 PMReply

    I thought "The Artist" sampled in a very respectful way. The film is obviously tapping inspiration from a lot of films. Furthermore, I think there are far worst examples of sampling/homage. Also...I am very sick of seeing the word rape to describe things that aren't rape.

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