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Kim Novak Protests Use of 'Vertigo' Score in 'The Artist'--Hazanavicius Explains Why He Used Herrmann Score

by Anne Thompson
January 9, 2012 12:49 PM
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Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak in Hitchcock's "Vertigo"

I have spoken to a number of people who are not thrilled with the way that Michel Hazanavicius and composer Ludovic Bource used Bernard Herrmann's signature "Vertigo" score at the climax of "The Artist." I had wondered if this reaction could lead to Bource not landing an Oscar nomination from the Academy music branch.

Trying to throw a money wrench into that nomination is "Vertigo" star Kim Novak's passionate protest via press release and trade ads. To say she is upset is an understatement. Deadline spoke to her manager Sue Cameron and runs her rather strange statement (below). The Weinstein Co. has not yet responded; much is at stake for a film that currently leads the Oscar pack. (See the latest voting from the Gurus 'O Gold.)

The question is whether Academy member Novak is permitted to protest in this way, maligning a would-be Oscar contender. Oscar ballots are due Friday.

Los Angeles: “I want to report a rape,” said Kim Novak, the legendary star of “Vertigo,” “Picnic,” and many other revered classics. “My body of work has been violated by ‘The Artist.’ 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.’”

    Novak went on to say that “The Artist” could and should have been able to stand on its own. “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!”

    This kind of “borrowing” could portend a dangerous future for all artists in film. “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.

On the other hand, composers quote classical composers all the time, as Lars von Trier does Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde" in "Melancholia." Why does this particular quotation bother people so? The movie makes many homages and references to old movies, including this one.  During my Q & A with Hazanavicius he explained why he chose this passage in the score:

AT:  The choice of music does a lot for the film,  especially at the end.

MH: I worked with the composer, Ludovic Bource—I've worked with him now for 15 years, so we are very close.  But this one was particularly difficult to do because he had to respect the spirit of all the great Hollywood classical composers.  But also he had to respect the structure of the script and the story.  And that was very difficult because he really had to follow the story.  I am in charge of the storytelling, so he had to accept that I made the decision of what the music had to be.  So it was very difficult for him.  And he did a really great job.  

AT: But you end up with "Vertigo," Bernard Hermann?

MH: Yeah, Vertigo.  Bernard, in my mind, was a genius.  He was a wonderful composer, and actually there's some tribute to Bernard Hermann in the movie in terms of the score, to "Citizen Kane." If you know the score, you recognize some parts.  It's like a musical citation.

AT: When he goes into into the room and discovers all his stuff?

MH: No, this is more Franz Waxman in "Sunset Boulevard." When he goes out of the theater after seeing the movie, there's a number in the score that is like the opening of "Citizen Kane," the aria.  But "Vertigo" is very beautiful.  And I wanted something specific for the moment at the end, something very beautiful.  And when I put the" Vertigo" love theme, it was completely perfect. So the composer tried to make something close to that, but finally I decided to keep it because it was much better.

Check out The Passionate Moviegoer's take on the issue.


  • Martin | February 27, 2012 3:16 PMReply

    Thank god this bullsh*t scandal didn't have any effect and the right person won. Sorry Kim, you're full-press dirty campaign ad didn't work.

  • tom c | February 2, 2012 6:03 PMReply

    I agree completely with Kim Novak. I was shocked when I realised they weren't merely sampling Vertigo, and the longer it went on an the more integral to the action it became the more it felt like, well, I'm not Kim Novak and wasn't part of it, but it was something LIKE rape.
    Why couldn't they come up with original music? Why can't every film come up with original music? It's not like there aren't enough musical geniuses alive in every era to provide it. It was a cheap and to me sordid copout.

  • cadavra | January 15, 2012 1:44 AMReply

    There's no grey area: the Academy rules state that 80% of the score must be original to the film. Six minutes out of 100 leaves 94%.

  • Carlye | January 11, 2012 5:06 PMReply


  • Martin | January 11, 2012 1:51 PMReply

    Sounds to me like it was attributed the way any other piece of music is attributed. They always give the name of the piece, the composer and the performer. Go look at any of Tarantino's movies that use tons of older music. Nowhere does he list what movies and TV shows the music was from, who starred in those films and whether or not the actors and actresses approved of its use. If the point is attribution, then there is no point.

  • Carlye | January 11, 2012 1:22 PMReply

    The fact that Hermann's music is used under a key scene in "The Artist" isn't the point. The point is atribution. There is no reference to "Vertigo" in the end credits, only "Love Suite" by Bernard Hermann, which is listed along with a half dozen other music contributions. Most people who don't know any better will assume that Bource composed the music under this key sequence.

  • David | January 10, 2012 2:43 PMReply

    @Movieman, apparently you don't know much about the movies. There Will Be Blood didn't just use a bit of Brahms; it used 46 minutes of pre-existing music and only a half-hour of original music. Even Greenwood's original music used excerpts from his older work. On the other hand, Ludovic Bource had to work his ass off to write wall-to-wall music for the whole feature, including the spots where the director didn't use it as explained above. THAT's how the score for The Artist would be eligible.

  • David | January 11, 2012 3:30 PM

    Good thing you didn't assume I didn't know something just because I didn't mention it since you'd be wrong. I assumed you were clueless because you didn't just mention "an example" but you singled it out as a potential breach of rules and the reason it was disqualified, when the reason was because the majority of the score was not original. I agree that Santaolalla's win for Babel was ridiculous but it did not have less original music than TWBB. Even though the soundtrack includes songs (e.g "September/The Joker") that are not part of the score, 19 of the 36 cues are still his. As for you saying "I cannot see how the score for The Artist would be eligible for an Oscar nomination as per what happened to Jonny Greenwood's score" I don't recall the Vertigo music taking up over half the film and diluting the score. Ludovic Bource wrote more original music for The Artist than all the music in TWBB combined, both original and pre-existing. It will not "go the way of Greenwood."

  • MOVIEMAN | January 10, 2012 5:03 PM

    @David, apparently you like to make assumptions. The Brahms note was just an example of some of the music. I could assume as well, since you didn't mention it, that you apparently don't know that some of that pre-existing Greenwood music was specifically from the film BodySong, but I'm not going to jump to conclusions. On that note, as I said in my previous post, in Hollywood anything seems possible. For example, Babel won the Oscar for best score and Gustavo Santaolalla had even less original music in it than Blood, not to mention he used previous pieces of his as well as that of other great composers including Ryuichi Sakamoto. Santaolalla was in, Greenwood was out. The Academy seems to have a grey area when it comes to these credentials. I loved Ludovic's score, but he could go the way of Greenwood. But then again, I don't want to assume.

  • MovieMan | January 10, 2012 1:42 PMReply

    I cannot see how the score for The Artist would be eligible for an Oscar nomination as per what happened to Jonny Greenwood's score with There Will Be Blood: The disqualification has been attributed to a designation within Rule 16 of the Academy's Special Rules for Music Awards (5d under "Eligibility"), which excludes "scores diluted by the use of tracked themes or other pre-existing music." This was when he used a piece from Brahms' in the film several times. Then again, in Hollywood, anything seems possible.

  • Craig Ranapia | January 10, 2012 5:18 AMReply

    Looking through my collections of film scores, the more I come to the conclusion that Ms. Novak shouldn't give up her day job because she really sucks as a critic of film music. While YMMV, I didn't find Wong Kar-Wai's '2046' any less fine a movie because the score included (credited) cues from other scores by Zbigniew Preisner, Georges Delerue and Peer Raben. While I was disappointed the rumours that Ennio Morricone would be creating an original score for 'Inglorious Basterds' didn't pan out, he still granted permission for cues from his scores to be used in three Tarantino films - and he says no a LOT.

  • cadavra | January 10, 2012 12:26 AMReply

    And permit me to ask a rhetorical question:

    This film has been screening in festivals since Cannes in May. It has been playing in theatres since the day before Thanksgiving. So how come nobody thought the "Vertigo" cue was worth discussing and complaining about UNTIL TODAY???

  • David | January 9, 2012 9:31 PMReply

    This is such utter nonsense. It is not her body of work, nor is it even Hitchcock's but Hermann's. His music used intelligently, especially since the film is a silent film about silent films in the style of silent films. Guess what? Silent films recycled existing tunes all the time. The film is a loving homage to film, just like HUGO. Could you imagine acquaintances of Melies or Harold Lloyd crying rape because somebody paid tribute to their work?

    Even if her offense is genuine, taking out a full-page ad is over the top. Really, this is negative campaigning at its worst. What I want to know is, who put her up to this? Someone should get to the bottom of this and stop it.

  • Craig Ranapia | January 9, 2012 2:56 PMReply

    The question is whether Academy member Novak is permitted to protest in this way, maligning a would-be Oscar contender.

    Of course she is - just as I'm allowed to say this: "Kim - love you, love your work. 'Vertigo' is a classic I re-watch regularly, and it still breaks my heart and chills my blood. But your ignorant, crass and downright offensive rape analogy does Hermann and Hitch no honour."

  • Meredith Brody | January 9, 2012 2:22 PMReply

    Hey! Charles Band replicating Pyscho in Re-Animator was a rip-off. But Hazanavicius is clearly citing Vertigo (and Kane, which is subtle enough that so far nobody is up in arms about it -- and, well, Kane's cast is dead) as an hommage. Since the entire movie is an hommage to an art form, I'd give him a pass. (As you can tell from AT's interview, he fell in love with a piece of his scratch track. I doubt many -- or maybe any -- composer could have come up with an alternative to that iconic and immediately identifiable piece of music that would have accomplished what he wanted.)

  • Jack | January 9, 2012 1:56 PMReply

    I agree for a different reason. The score was distracting. Music so iconic from Vertigo and the 50s did not belong. But then again, I was already bored by the derivative plot. Give the Oscar to Hugo, a film that also experimented with a retro gimmick (3D), but worked it into the film seamlessly.

  • DavidC | January 9, 2012 1:40 PMReply

    Come tho think of it, the scene mentioned, in "Lost in Rio," is a double Hitch homage, to both Vertigo and NxNW: Jean Dujardin's secret agent overcomes his vertigo when chasing the bad guy out the arms of the Christ the Redeemer statue.

  • DavidC | January 9, 2012 1:33 PMReply

    MH is clearly a sincere fan of Vertigo. He quoted the tower sequence, complete with the track/zoom effect, in one of his OSS 117 films -- a better use of it by far, I might add, than Mel Brooks managed in High Anxiety.

  • Kyle Wells | January 9, 2012 1:31 PMReply

    Vertigo score itself is a reference to Wagner's Tristan and Isolde so how can you draw the line there? I see Novak's point, and maybe The Artist should have gone for more, but this seems hypocritical.

  • karenp | January 9, 2012 1:31 PMReply

    I think this is summed up really succinctly: "Where's the originality?"

    Any wonder why box office numbers are dropping? There is no originality left in Hollywood anymore. Whether or not appropriating Hermann's music is ethical or not, it's a symptom of a much bigger issue: Recycling content has grown tiresome.

  • cadavra | January 9, 2012 1:19 PMReply

    With all due respect to Kim and Sue, this is nonsense. Film scores are "quoted" all the time, from Herrmann's own "Twisted Nerve" in "Kill Bill" to "Oceans' 11" and "Contempt" in "Casino" to "Koyannisqatsi" in "The Truman Show" and "Watchmen." (Not to mention all the times it's done as a gag, a la the "Jaws" theme at the beginning of "Airplane!") And of course Scorsese and Van Sant reused Herrmann's entire "Cape Fear" and "Psycho" scores for their respective remakes. Plus in the old days, studios would recycle cues over and over again in their B-pictures, serials and shorts. This is nothing new, it was done out of respect, and is in no way an insult to Herrmann or Hitchcock.

  • cadavra | January 9, 2012 7:32 PM

    And what about all my other examples? And what about the dozens and dozens of remakes that don't use the original scores? Repeat: this is a mountain out of less than a molehill. I've met Miss Novak on several occasions and adore her, but she's just plain wrong here. And her use of the word "rape" compounds it. "Theft" or simply "crime" would have been a more suitable choice of analogies.

  • Craig Ranapia | January 9, 2012 5:04 PM

    @Chad: It's not nonsense - Elmer Bsernstein was the credited composer on Scorsese's 'Cape Fear', and he extensively quoted/re-orchestrated Hermann's score from the original with credit. And before Novak trots out the offensive and trite rape analogy again, it's ironic she does so to defend a score that drew some criticism (wrong-headed in my view) for being borderline plagiarism of Wagner's 'Prelude and Leibstod'

  • Chad | January 9, 2012 3:21 PM

    Most of these examples are nonsense. cape Fear & Psycho themselves were remakes, so using the original score fits the picture. Airplane was parody, and used the score as such, as a direct reference to Jaws. None of those have anything remotely similar to this instance.

    I agree with Novak. This is a "supposedly" original film, yet can't even let it's own merits hold itself up - it has to "borrow" from various movies because the filmmaker wasn't confident enough in his own creation to let it be original. It's like using the Star Wars music at the climax of Drive. I'm sure if that were the case, all those fanboys wold be screaming murder.

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