A film such as ‘Vertigo’ (1958) doesn’t push ‘Citizen Kane’ (1941) out of the number one spot in the most recent poll of ‘sight and sounds, 50 greatest films ever made’ for no reason. In fact 846 critics agreed with naming Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Whirlpool of terror and mystery’ masterpiece this.
My reason for loving this classic film is purely the adventure the story takes you on. Our main screen protagonist ‘Scottie’ played by ‘James Stewart’ (A firm favourite of Hitchcock) is manipulated by his fear of vertigo, and his old friend ‘Elster’ to subconsciously commit a crime. Without giving away the massive plot twist that in my view sends the film into ‘sight and sounds’ list, Hitchcock has clearly implied that this thriller is made to question everything you think about it.
Our other main character ‘Judy and Madeline’ played by ‘Kim Novak’ is the human enigma of the film, she is a far cry from Scotties old life friend and ‘mother like figure’ ‘Midge’. The relationship between Scottie and Midge is established as good old friends that were once engaged. However this quickly becomes weird and strange further into the film when Midge quotes “you’re a big boy now” and “mother’s here”. It has been suggested that Hitchcock’s own relations with his mother are factors towards many female leads in his films. As well as the ‘obsession’ that he has with the female body. The opening credits for Vertigo, feature an extreme close up of a woman’s face, which perhaps adds to this theory, along with Scotties obsession with forcibly changing Judy into Madeline, and ‘shaping’ her into his perfect vision.
Alfred Hitchcock was well known to be a demanding and controlling director, typically a famous case is with his ‘birds’ (1963) actress, ‘Tippi Hedren’. She later quoted that Hitchcock put her in ‘mental prison’. Evidently it could be said that Scottie is a direct resemblance to how Hitchcock saw himself. This in my view makes the film rather cold and creepy, the only place the film falls down. However, where the film stands strong, is the beautiful cinematography that was glamorously shot on wide screen. ‘Robert Burks’ was the man behind the famous car ride shots over the car ride out of San Francisco, that have since been repeated in many films such as, ‘Basic Instinct’ (1992), exampled with the opening overhead car shots of the detectives car.
A huge factor that allows Vertigo to be so highly reviewed, is the colours and the lighting that is not only used for Mise En Scene, to create a setting, but to establish key character details and information that perhaps Hitchcock can only brilliant show through his production values. A key example of this process is towards the end of the film, when Scottie is with Judy in her apartment. The lighting that is used here is three point, and it is applied with a green filter, which is made to suggest that Judy is (as the audience know) not telling Scottie of her involvement with Elster. Jump a few more scenes later in the film, Judy appears out of the bathroom, after being made to ‘transform’ in to Madeline by Scottie. When she enters from the bathroom, the green lighting is prominent here, and a haze is applied all around her as if she is a ghost.
A reason that makes Vertigo a great film is the score by ‘Bernard Herrmann’ most typically famous for his music in ‘Psycho’ (1960). It is pounced upon you from the very start of the opening credits, and with strong high strings, contrast with low beat brass, it’s chillingly distinctive of a Hitchcock film. A score is in my view, exceedingly important for a film to in most cases enhance what is being put across on the screen. It is one of the main focuses on Vertigo that allows the films crazy plot to seem vulnerable and effective.
In 1954 ‘François Truffaut’ suggested that “there are no good and bad movies, only good and bad directors”. This complies with the Auteur theory, which is suggested that a movie is purely a directors own work. Certainly this can apply to Alfred Hitchcock, for he was controlling and dangerously particular about how he wanted his films to look. He is hailed the “master of suspense and cinema” but looking deep into the production of his films he was a violent and destructive director towards the women of his films. Vertigo is a first-hand example of this with the ending scenes between Scottie and Judy, where Scottie drags Judy up flights of stairs. In an interview in 2012 with the BFI, Kim Novak (Judy) quoted “I felt extremely vulnerable, he knew exactly what he wanted”. Moreover a shot is hardly ever still in Vertigo. The use of an ‘unchained’ camera is portrayed throughout with endless panning shots. This makes the film feel as if it never concludes, that the information is never stopping the film from forming any resolutions. I like this fast paced element of the editing, it’s exciting and gripping on where the film will take you next.
Overall For a film made at the height of narrative cinema, it is in my opinion essential to watch any Hitchcock film in order to understand cinema and film as we know it today. Vertigo has inspired a great deal of films, from the score, the shots to the scenes. It’s a prime example of classic cinema that we don’t always see today.