Vertigo

Vertigo ★★★★

Included In Lists:
Sight and Sound Top 250 - #1
Ladies and Gentlemen: The Essentials -#81

Review In A Nutshell:

In my first and second viewings of Vertigo, I was a bit torn with it; as it begins keeping your eyes locked onto the screen, watching James Stewart and Kim Novak slip deeply into their roles and demonstrate amazing chemistry together, and slowly watching the intriguing plot unfold. It was in Hitchcock's execution that left me cold with it; featuring takes that are self-indulgent in style with very few for me to chew on. Two years have passed since my last viewing of this film, and I can safely say that my reaction towards it has improved. It helped immensely to see the progression of the director by viewing his earlier and lesser known materials.

Vertigo is without a doubt, Hitchcock's experimental film; a film that does not follow the trademark formula in his storytelling, favouring instead for deep character development, and atmospheric mood and setting. There is a mystical or supernatural quality in the way he captures the story; emphasised through his lighting and special effect choices. A sense of realism in the way he depicts the world and its characters are stripped away in order to force his audience into his character's mindset; to empathise with them, and through this approach can the audience truly find something of value. Hitchcock's usage of imagery is also emphasised greatly here, allowing metaphors and symbolism to add weight and detail to its characters; he even surpasses the experimental sequence that he provided for Spellbound with James Stewart's character dreaming about falling to an obsessive madness. Also, the film's title sequence by Saul Bass needs to be mentioned because it is unlike anything that has ever been seen from a Hitchcock film (at the time of its release), and most definitely has made an impact on the films that succeeded it. It is in these spectacular images and sequences that make Hitchcock's films so unforgettable; I may not adore films like Saboteur and North By Northwest but their images are so iconic and so daring that it actually makes them seem more than the plain thrillers than they actually are.

Vertigo's memorable and spectacular images were paired with an atmospheric and grim score by Bernard Herrmann; it is nothing I have ever heard from the composer before. In his previous collaborations with Hitchcock, his score tended to be used to emphasise the plot rather than the characters; while here it is the other way around. The score builds on the emotions of its characters, acting as a glue of their construction. Even though I much prefer his contributions for Hitchcock's Psycho; his work for Vertigo is not far behind.

As great as Hitchcock's images might be; in Vertigo, it is the story that stays firmly in people's minds. It is the idea of a detective, named Scottie (James Stewart), initially driven by intrigue and curiosity, to fall so deeply into it that it has completely consumed him; impairing his ability to function of sound mind, evidently hurting the people that are most dear to him. Hitchcock handles the story as a character study, placing all of its driving plot elements like the truth behind it all, as minor sub-plots. I was also impressed in the way Hitchcock directs his cast, with James Stewart and Kim Novak (as Madeleine Elster) displaying outstanding chemistry. Both cast members grounded their characters to a level that would make it easier for the audience to identify with; I was with James Stewart when he first sees Novak's radiant face, feeling a sense of attraction and curiosity that is difficult to pull away from. Novak's character may possess a supernatural aura to her, but it never fully consumed her, still radiating a hint of humanity in the way she speaks and moves. Both Novak and Stewart were given an opportunity to make their huge emotional mark during the film; for Stewart it would be his obsessive attitude towards shaping another woman to be Madeleine, while Novak's would be the finale; where her character's sense of guilt begins to pierce her heart, a sense of fear consuming her entire body, unsure of anything but her love for Scottie.

I was both pleased and disappointed with Hitchcock's handling of the story as there are many scenes that worked, but there are also scenes during the middle passages that felt too stretched for its own good; it seems that he was trying too hard to balance atmosphere and story, and because of this the pacing of the film suffered. Vertigo would have been a perfect film if it was edited tighter, allowing passages to feel smooth and find ease in its transitions. I also felt it would have been effective if the big reveal of the film didn't come too early and too forced; it was because of this that the final scene felt more cushioned than it should. The critical information at the end would have had a sharper impact on the audience if Hitchcock instead decided to be more patient.

Vertigo does have its issues, and yes they were problems that were present in my previous viewings, but coming back to the film repeatedly has allowed me to gain a better grip on its strengths. It shows the director at his most ambitious in regards to storytelling, a change in formula that makes for a unique entry in his trademark filmography.

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