Vertigo

(USA 1958)

I’m probably in the minority when I say that I found Vertigo stupid. The story, complicated and intricate as it is, takes a long time to get going; once it does, it’s so fanciful that it’s not believable. The movie is longer than it needs to be. Plus, the ending—I can only assume it’s supposed to be dramatic and impactful—comes off as silly; in fact, Aaron and I turned to each other at the same time and rolled our eyes.

All of this said, it doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the film. I did, actually—very much. There’s a lot to like here.

James Stewart is Scottie Ferguson, a cop forced to sit on the sidelines after a bout with vertigo while chasing a criminal across a bunch of rooftops nearly kills him. A wealthy former classmate, Galvin Elster (Tom Helmore), seeks him out and convinces him to act as a personal investigator; it seems Galvin’s wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak), is possessed by her dead Mexican grandmother. She’s hot (even if she’s not one bit Mexican), and Scottie falls for her. Hard. It’s not long before he’s personally involved, wandering through northern California in her car with her. She opens up to him, he takes the bait, and he loses her. Or so it appears.

Vertigo is certainly a beautiful looking film. The interior sets are gorgeous. The exterior shots of late 1950s San Francisco are stunning, and considering how the city would change a decade later makes them all the more precious. The wardrobe choices are classic yet snappy. The restored version I saw was crisp and vivd. An ominous yet mesmerizing score by Bernard Herrmann takes Vertigo to an even higher place—no pun intended.

Being an Alfred Hitchcock film, there’s more to Vertigo than meets the eye. Symbolism is all over: tunnels, flowers, birds, towers, stairs, heights, the color green. It’s not hard to find articles, scholarly and not, that analyze the many themes here: desire, death, reality, appearances, power, the past, the damsel in distress. All this aside, I can sum up the message I got out of Vertigo in five words: “don’t think with your dick.” The interactions between Scotty and both Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes) and Madeleine are sexually charged and tinged with danger. Vertigo is hypnotic, mysterious, psychological, and suspenseful even if it’s not exactly what I would call a thriller.

It takes some work to get through, but Vertigo ultimately proves to be a treat despite its flaws. After almost 60 years, it’s still breathtaking and weird. It’s easy to see why at least one so-called authority named it “the greatest film of all time” (http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-19078948). Hitchcock influenced many, but Vertigo immediately called to my mind David Lynch; I see traces of it throughout his work, and its influence on him specifically is undeniable.

In 1989, the United States Library of Congress deemed Vertigo “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (https://www.loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/complete-national-film-registry-listing/).

(Music Box) A-

Music Box Theatre 70mm Festival

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