Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
A retired San Francisco detective suffering from acrophobia investigates the strange activities of an old friend's wife, all the while becoming dangerously obsessed with her.
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★★★★★ review by SilentDawn on Letterboxd
A ghost story with no future, with the past lingering like green neon. Any beauty or hope is conveyed through surfaces and costumes, a look for desire and obsession fulfilled. If the crashing waves and towering trees greet our doomed lovers, then the bustling streets of modern culture - a world on the cusp of change - will reject it all until it's a mirage; haze evoked though aching memory and spectral shadows. The Greatest Film of All Time? You won't see me disagreeing.
★★★★★ review by Rida on Letterboxd
Watching a Hitchcock film is rather like going to a play: you're constantly reminded that everything is just pretend. Even if the experience is great, it never quite makes you realize that the same things can happen to you, that people like these can plausibly exist in real life. But Vertigo feels startlingly true, almost confessional, because it's clear that it's Hitchcock's most personal film, the one that came closest to revealing his inner turmoil.
Vertigo has a plot so convoluted that it's fully apparent that it's a mere set-up to get to the heart of the film: a chronicle of the protagonist Scottie's obsession. The film is also considerably sympathetic toward the two slighted women in Scottie's life: his friend Midge, and Judy, the woman he tries to mold into Madeline, the woman he has grown obsessed with.
Midge is bespectacled, bright, and funny. She's very much in love with Scottie, and has been for years, but he's indifferent to her. She reminds me inexorably of Hitchcock's own wife, Alma Reville, who often wore those large glasses and who was a highly intelligent woman, instrumental to Hitchcock's career, but who was often ignored by Hitchcock in favor of his films and blondes.
The blonde, then, is Hitchcock's dream woman: cold, indifferent, and vaguely terrifying in a schoolmarm way. It's impossible to understand what Scottie sees in Madeline, who seems like a pale, flat ghost compared to the other two women in Scottie's life, but it is this otherworldly woman that Scottie desires. Madeline is always viewed through Scottie's gaze: she is simply an object of desire, an embodiment of all his fantasies.
When Scottie loses her, he recedes into melancholia, and is only shaken out of it when he sees a woman who looks uncannily like Madeline. Judy is a lively brunette with the same features as Madeline, but with none of her coldness. Scottie does not love her for who she is, and forcibly begins to turn her into Madeline. He cannot understand that Madeline and Judy are the same woman, because he is unable to look past surfaces.
And here is where Hitchcock's relationship with cinema comes into play. Judy's transformation is eerily similar to Hitchcock's own manipulation of his actresses. Scottie picks out Judy's outfits, tells her how to do her hair and makeup, and although he knows exactly what he wants, he never once spares a thought for Judy. "It can't matter to you," he says, when she recoils upon realizing that he wants her to dye her hair blonde.
Judy is looked upon with sympathy throughout the film. She is not an object of desire, and therefore she is allowed to show emotion. She loves Scottie, and all she wants is for him to love her back. "If I change, will you love me?" she asks him, when she realizes that he will never love her for who she is. It's a heartbreaking moment, one that any girl can identify with. It's also a brilliant demonstration of the changes that women, particularly actresses, go through in order to allow others to consider them desirable.
Scottie cannot love any of these women. He only loves an untouchable image, a fantasy that even Madeline would have been unable to fulfill. Scottie isn't the victim here; he is in fact something like a villain, someone who cannot understand the pain he is inflicting upon the people around him.
Scottie is Hitchcock, and Vertigo is a piece of Hitchcock's soul put up for endless scrutiny. It was a brave move, and one that revealed him to be a slightly better human being than Scottie, because his protagonist never realized the harm he caused women, while Hitchcock was fully aware of what he was doing, as the film illustrates. Of course he continued to ignore his wife and lust after a fantasy anyway. Vertigo never tries to present solutions. It simply illustrates a situation, and asks us to care.
★★★½ review by brat pitt on Letterboxd
WHO WOULD WIN: me trying desperately to look past the sexism in studio-era movies because i know + understand that society was different then & i must view it in a different historical context VS. me still feeling wildly uncomfortable with the treatment & portrayal of women onscreen
i really really wish the former would win but unfortunately the latter keeps deckin her in the face. maybe next time!
★★★½ review by CinemaClown on Letterboxd
Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo arrives with a huge reputation to live up to because only a couple years back, it dethroned Orson Welles' Citizen Kane from the top spot in the British Film Institute's Sight & Sound critics' poll; a position Welles' magnum opus had held for 50 long years. But not only did Vertigo feel quite unworthy of its new-found position in the end but isn't even the most defining work of Hitchcock's glorious career.
The film tells the story of a police detective who is forced into retirement after his fear of height results in the death of a policeman when he was on duty. He is eventually hired by an acquaintance as a private investigator whose job is to keep an eye on his beautiful wife who has been behaving very strange of lately. The plot covers his inquiry into the matter but he ultimately becomes dangerously obsessed with her.
The entire picture is expertly directed for it not only shows how experimental Hitchcock can get but also exhibited the effortless ease with which he was able to fuse art into every aspect of this film without heavily compromising with its entertainment. The first half plays out like a psychological horror with stunning unpredictability but it's the second half where the film went downhill for me with its take on love & loss and that ending.
There are many things to like about this movie yet in the end it ends up feeling a tad too overlong & concludes on a slightly unsatisfying note. Cinematography captures its events gorgeously & is responsible for the existence of dolly zoom technique in cinema, editing could've used a few more trims in the second half, background score by Bernard Herrmann wonderfully reflects its themes and the performances by James Stewart & Kim Novak are no slouch.
On an overall scale, Vertigo is a brilliantly crafted & artistically appealing cinema that hasn't aged very well considering that countless imitation has taken away most of its mystery elements & its ending isn't very difficult to deduce either but this psychological thriller can still surprise many in certain aspects and although I don't agree with its new tag of 'the greatest film of all time', I can't deny its significant contribution to world cinema.
A second viewing some other time might change my perception of this deemed masterpiece but for now, Vertigo remains an underwhelming experience.
★★★★★ review by Peaceful Stoner on Letterboxd
I am amazed by the way how Hitchcock uses a seemingly ordinary condition like vertigo/acrophobia to so beautifully craft a noirish thriller/femme fatale romance around and present us with one of the most revered films of all time. A true testament to his genius film making talent.
This film's macguffin is one of the best I have ever seen. I never saw it coming. The tracks were so well covered and well established that Hitchcock manages to easily and intelligently deceive the audience, providing a highly engaging film which constantly keeps us guessing the direction it is going to take.
James Stewart as the obsessive detective just nestles into his role and fits the character so well like he always does in any of Hitch's films. His palpitations, his sweaty face, his blank stares and fear and guilt ridden eyes are so efficiently brought onto the screen. This and the hypnotically disturbing score combined with the "dolly zoom" technique mesmerize the audience into believing that vertigo is more than just a condition and that it can actually seriously handicap a person.
Kim Novak with her magnetic, dreamy eyes and hypnotic walk brilliantly captures the mood of the character and her disturbed soul. She is the pivot around which the film revolves and she does tremendous justice to her role which essentially consists of two parts: one before the reveal and the one after. She shines in both the roles. Even after the reveal she makes the role memorable by brilliantly bringing out the troubled conscience of her character who is torn between her past deeds and the anxiety of not losing her love again.
I loved the way in which Hitchcock turns the storyline from a highly absorbing noir-ish thriller into a deeply affecting romance, only to flip it again and give another big surprise to viewer with its bleak, unheroic, and unexpected ending in a way giving us a double macguffin.
The scene where Stewart's character climbs up a small ladder is a shining example of intelligent and time efficient method of story telling. The way he looks down through the edge of his eyes trembling with fear and the zoom up of his face accentuates the inner turmoil of the character and brings us closer to his condition. Hitchcock with that one scene takes the big step of explaining the character and making the audience grasp what he is going through so efficiently and so easily.
Masterfully crafted characters with a brilliant score which fantastically mirrors the vertigo induced paranoia of the character with its circular repetitive notations penetrate into the heart of obsession and provide us with one of the best films of all time. A true masterpiece.
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