Have you seen… The Green Fog (2017)?

Welcome to ‘Have You Seen….’ a regular column exploring an interesting film that is worthy of greater attention – for good or for ill. The focus is on the underseen, the undersung or the underrated – or just those films you just need to write about. The focus is analysis more than evaluation so, expect spoilers!

In 1998, Gus Van Sant released a shot for shot remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho. It was an interesting academic exercise, and somewhat only interesting because it was so terrible. The idea that you can copy something almost exactly (bar some silly additions – and the realities of modern casting (oh, and colour)), yet still not capture its soul, its essence or its form, is a tantalising fact that reveals the true nature of cinema.

Filmmaking is more than a science, it is an art. There is something alchemical about cinema.

However, in 2017, the combined genius of Maddin, Johnson and Johnson did something far more interesting – something that’s almost the antithesis of what Van Sant did. This film, or this project, is a remake of Hitchcock’s Vertigo made out of footage from other films and television shows. It is fascinating.

The film was financed as a celebration of San Francisco. Using archive footage of the city was the only brief for these eccentric filmmakers. This opens up the door to boundless creativity though, and led them to Hitchcock’s celebrated classic. Therefore, to explore the city, Vertigo, being one of the city’s most famous depictions, becomes a backbone. 

In remaking Vertigo we explore some astonishing ideas. The wealth of footage, from only SF based films, gives us an idea of how so many films trade in the same material. We see the codes and conventions of genre echo in front of us as we experience cinema as a shared language. The frames of films become letters, malleable to any grammatical construction, and their combinations become words and sentences, which shows the flexibility of cinema as well as its rigidity. Why do we come back to the same ideas and moments time and time again? Why can disparate scenes feel so cleanly and logically linked? 

The politics of cinema are also laid bare. The echoing situations and conflicts show how cinema likes to deal with detain situations. Some of this is how we so often deal with verticality and peril – with visceral thrills. Rooftop chases are made of so many sequences, whereas more prosaic or emotional sequences often hang on specific films longer – or feel more jarring when they cut. This isn’t an issue, this is actually fascinating. We realise that cinema echoes itself in some areas but doesn’t when it is perhaps more human. Is this good or bad? Well, it’s certainly worth considering.

The really interesting political element is how it factors in the male gaze. Vertigo is famous for some for confronting the male gaze, and infamous for others for just conforming to it. Even Maddin, when talking about this project, spoke about how any subversion in Vertigo was done through conformance. Here, he doesn’t so much take Vertigo to task but puts film on trial. The ending sequence is a vertiginous spiral of quick cutting scenes of male dominance and echoing gender dynamics. We cut from film to film and see the same hierarchies, the same expressions, the same gendered roles. It is a shocking culmination and a smart revelation of how regressive elements in films are small threads in a much more troubling tapestry. And how this makes it worse.

But then, this film is also fun. Really fun. It is a playful and eclectic exploration of cinema and TV where you can play spot the film (you get a full list at the end – it’s a wide range) and giggle with delight at the creativity. This is such an intelligent work but it is also roguish and charming. Its academic nature is rigid but is in concert with an accessible and surface level fun that makes it even more special.

This is a brilliant experiment, a clever thesis and a real open ended exploration. It shows how cinema plays on the same scale yet produces so may results. Yes you can make Vertigo out of other films. But you also can’t make Vertigo out of other films. And these joint statements being equally true is the brilliance here. And it even carries into the music: a new score that flirts with the original, evoking it, yet is completely novel at the same time. Because that’s cinema. It is shared logic. It is repetition. It is the same combinations in the same way again and again and again.

But filmmaking is more than a science, it is an art. There is something alchemical about cinema.

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