Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958, USA)


               Arriving after on a hot streak of cinematic success, Vertigo was perceived at the time of its release to be a rather odd and perplexing film in Hitchcock’s filmography. Dreamlike and laden with Freudian symbolism, Vertigo is still a fascinating and interesting watch. While it is not my favorite in Hitchcock’s filmography, its iconographic status can’t be denied. The film, which was originally hard for audiences to access, has received a critical reappraisal in recent decades. It has become one of the most popular movies with film critics, regularly topping lists of the greatest films of all time, including Sight and Sound.

               While at the level of plot there are many absurdities and loose ends in Vertigo, at the level of a mood piece the film succeeds. It succeeds so much that directors Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, and Galen Johnson were even able to loosely reshoot the film without dialogue in 2017’s The Green Fog. Vertigo is a sensory feast, from Bernard Herrmann’s excellent score (“Scene D’Amour” is certainly one of the greatest themes he ever wrote) to the cinematography of Robert Berks. Hitchcock plays greatly with color, from the intense reds of Scottie’s first encounter with Madeline Elster/Judy Barton, to the green backlight in her apartment near the end of the film.

               Vertigo is perhaps one of the best films about male obsession, its visual motifs of spirals and mirrors hammering this theme home. Scottie’s creepy possessiveness about Madeline/Judy is probably more disturbing now even than it was in 1958, although this is perhaps the point. Couple this with Hitchcock’s own possessive behavior towards his actresses, and you have a film which straddles the boundary between the biographical and fictional. Viewed at its surface level Vertigo is not as successful as when viewed at its symbolic level. The symbolic nature of the film merits repeated viewings.



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