ABSTRACT

There are two museums in Alfred Hitchcock’s film Vertigo, both actual museums – the art gallery at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, and the Mission San Juan Bautista, a museum 90 miles south of the city. Museums and monuments are often disarming places in Hitchcock; as Steven Jacobs notes, it is always dangerous to hang around monuments in Hitchcock’s films.1 Jacobs also suggests that in Hitchcock films, monuments and museums ‘are not mere passive subjects of the gaze, they also organise their own perception’.2 I like this observation of museum autotelicity, and suggest in this chapter that dangerous museums and artefacts in Vertigo are inseparable from the film’s invention of what Deleuze calls the mental-image. This acknowledges that museum objects in Vertigo and the identity of its central characters are inextricably linked in the film. However, the artefacts prove to not be what they appear to be, they are false clues; the historical meaning placed upon them turns out to be a deceit. In their deceit, a painted portrait in the art gallery and the colonial exhibits at the mission exert an agency in Vertigo that, as often in Hitchcock thrillers, does not bode well for the continuity of the stable subject.