#68: Vertigo (1958)

When and how did I watch this?

December 13th, 2016, on DVD.

Had I seen this film already?

Yes. We own this one, but I’ve only seen it a couple of times.

What did I know about the movie before watching it?

This is one of Hitchcock’s best, and one of the more iconic films ever made.  Hitchcock is indeed the master of suspense, but this film is curiously low on the tension beyond some mysterious situations. It’s not my favorite, but it has enough punch to be interesting to me.

What do I know about it now?

Upon repeat viewings, it becomes clear that the effects and cinematography are what carry the film — the stretching acrophobia moments, the near-psychedelic color surges, the use of zooms and unsettling camera angles, and most importantly, the steady shots from behind, adding intrigue to otherwise “normal” scenes. We’re also subject to a makeup job where even the viewer second-guesses someone’s identity. The film is, at the core, a mind trip, both visually and regarding screenplay. Novak reeks of melodrama, yet we accept this because we’re dealing with two head cases here. Stewart plays the typical role as an everyman, but he’s the beloved Tom Hanks of the past, and what we see is flesh, a real person with a real phobia, thrust into a situation that’s hard to believe would happen to him, but again, we accept this. He’s a fool, playing into an elaborate plot. Romance floods several scenes; we hope Scottie figures it all out and forgives her, and we hope Judy drops the facade and becomes the woman he desires for good. It’s a thick film with several devices, and perhaps seen as a masterpiece for its vivid images, the very human elements and the grasping at the air.  There are holes in the plot, but our lives are equally messy and mysterious and incomplete.

What are some themes in the film?

The themes are more complicated than usual, difficult to sum up in a word or label: the pursuit of the truth, delusions of what could be, false romance, phobias and their effect on one’s worldview

Did this affect me personally?

The opener is jarring. Also, the hotel room scene where Novak/Judy/Madeline appears as the blonde version — a breathtaking revelation and a feast of color.

Why is this ranked #68?

Hitchcock films will automatically be thrust high into the rankings, rightfully. This one is iconic, features the lovable Jimmy Stewart, and some of the more haunting images in cinema history.

Did my wife watch/like it?

It’s a mutual favorite, which is why we own it.

Would I watch it again?

Of course.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

There’s a handful of Hitchcock films that are must-see and iconic in our culture.  This is one of them.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

Hitchcock attempts at high art, romance, terror, and mystery in the same film.  Was he successful? The viewer is forced to decide. It ends with disaster, a figurative car wreck. The film doesn’t doesn’t tidy up, and several questions are left unanswered; pieces are strewn about the canvas, left for time and fate to sort out and our characters to pick up whatever’s left. Can we figure everything out and still get everything we want? Our experiences tell us, and even what the Bible teaches us, that we must play what we’re dealt. Scottie takes it too far, flirting with a total mental breakdown. What makes this film great is how easily we can relate to this dilemma, yet how intrigued we are with Scottie and Madeline’s stumbling about nonetheless.

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