on September 15, 2000
Vertigo is a true classic from the Master, Alfred Hitchcock. Upon its release, Vertigo was not well received by the public or the critics. Since that time it has rightfully started to garner the attention and respect it deserves.
The story is good, incorporating drama, suspense, and romance. Vertigo has one of the finest, most gripping, finales I have come across in any motion picture. Even after repeated viewings, the ending still manages to send shivers up my spine.
The acting is good all the way around. Jimmy Stewart delivers an absolutely wonderful performance as the slightly disturbed John 'Scottie' Ferguson, a man with a strong fear of heights and an obsession with the mysterious Mrs. Madeleine Elster. Madeleine is played to a cool, smooth perfection by the talented Kim Novak.
Robert Burks brings a lot of atmosphere to Vertigo through his cinematography. The colors are vibrant and glowing, giving the film a haunting aura.
Bernard Herrmann is at his best, delivering an absolutely riveting and disorienting musical score. The effects for the opening title sequence combined with Herrmann's score really set the tone of the film.
Hitchcock's direction is fantastic as always. For this film, he created the infamous "dizzy effect" shot by simultaneously zooming forward and reverse tracking with the camera. This shot has been imitated by many but rarely has it been as effective as it is here.
on October 18, 2008
The merits of the movie itself are debated enough in other posts. I will limit myself to pointing out that as attractive as the October 2008 reissue is, there is one singular flaw, namely in the audio tracks.
True, the new extra features and the marginally better quality image as compared to the previous anamorphic version in the Hitchcock Masterpiece box set are probably enough for a die hard fan of this masterpiece to shell out for still another version of the DVD. Even the Friedkin commentary is quite enjoyable and offers some useful insights, contrary to his somewhat spotty reputation as to his commentary talents.
However, the two audio tracks are replicas of the attempt at modernizing it in the 90s by making a stereo version. The absence of the original sound effects track led to some tinkering and yielded certain strange results, most notably the double gunshots during the initial rooftop chase and a generally less-detailed aural picture. Strange that the edition in the boxset did include the original mono mix, but Universal dropped it in 2008. For those who insist on purchasing only the most perfect edition, this is not quite it then. It was not enough to stop me, but I do notice that the sound experience is slightly less interesting with this edition.
As for the improvement in image quality, it may not be visible on all systems. I did the comparison on two other systems and in one case the improvement was also noticeable, the image being sharper and the colors more vivid, while on the other one my friend and I saw no difference.
In conclusion, perhaps a Blu-Ray edition will one day bring it all together, correcting the audio deficiencies and adding HD quality, should it appear one day.
**MINOR SPOILERS WITHIN**
If you ask movie fans to name their favorite Hitchcock titles, you'll get a lot of different answers. Some would mention Psycho or Rear Window, while others might mention Dial M for Murder, The Birds, Notorious or The 39 Steps. There are probably at least 20 strong candidates. My own favorite is Vertigo because the mystery element appeals to me and James Stewart is involved.
Mulholland Dr. is my favorite film and David Lynch has mentioned how much he likes Vertigo and Rear Window because of the mood each creates. I can see why. Vertigo's mood never reaches the darker depths that Lynch's work inhabits, but there are similarities.
Vertigo begins with a rooftop chase in which Scottie Ferguson is left clinging to the guttering. When a cop tries to save him, Ferguson sees him slip and fall to his death. The traumatic experience leaves Ferguson mentally scarred and he quits his job as a detective. He's hired as a private detective by Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), who claims that his wife, Madeleine (Novak), wanders off at random and doesn't remember where she's been. He thinks she might be possessed.
While that sounds unlikely, Hitchcock gives us reason to think that Madeleine really might be possessed as her husband suggests. Ferguson follows her all day. She takes flowers to a gravestone and stares at it as if she is somewhere else. The name on the grave is Carlotta Valdes. Madeleine also spends time in an art gallery staring at a picture, Portrait of Carlotta. The woman in the painting wears the same necklace and has the same hairstyle as Madeleine.
The following day, Ferguson follows Madeleine again. This time she drives to the Golden Gate Bridge and jumps into the bay. Ferguson manages to save her and ask her about her behavior. She doesn't even remember jumping into the bay. We find out that she's the same age Carlotta was when the woman committed suicide. Is the spirit of Carlotta making Madeleine do these things? Is it safe to leave her on her own?
That's the setup and I hope that I've managed to describe the unsettling atmosphere that Hitchcock creates. The plot is more complex than most of his films. Some of the twists are so surprising that I can't bring myself to reveal them here. If you haven't seen Vertigo, you deserve to discover those things for yourself.
The film uses a lot of red and green filters and you'll see the color green featured throughout. Whether it's Madeleine's dress, her car, or a neon sign, you won't be permitted to forget that color. There's an impressive effect created every time Ferguson looks down from a great height. It was achieved by zooming in and moving the camera away from the image at the same time.
Vertigo is sometimes criticized for being boring. I understand why some people might think that, but it's not a view I share. Ferguson spends a lot of time following Madeleine and most of those scenes require us to watch the events unfolding without the use of dialogue. Yes, this is a film that allows you to form your own opinion about what you are seeing. That said, the resolution reveals all of the mysteries. You won't be left to figure out what just happened. The beauty of the film is the way in which the revelations make sense of all the events which preceded them.
I'm always impressed when I look at the list of actors that Hitchcock worked with. James Stewart teamed up with Hitchcock in Rope, Rear Window and The Man Who Knew Too Much and all of those are worth your time. Stewart was very effective as Ferguson, particularly in the final 30 minutes of the film when he confronted his fear and obsession. Kim Novak also did a good job in a demanding role.
I've mentioned David Lynch, Madeleine and Ferguson in this review. I finally understand why Lynch named a character Maddy Ferguson in Twin Peaks.
The film was restored in 1996. I have seen the recent Blu-ray release and the film looks so much better than it ever has. Some titles in the Masterpiece Collection have not been restored well, but Vertigo looks good throughout. The most problematic part is the dream sequence, but it doesn't look too bad. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is another important addition, and everything sounds great. I would definitely look to upgrade when the titles are released on Blu-ray individually, unless you already own the full collection.
Arguably Alfred Hitchcock's greatest film, though my personal favourite is still North by Northwest, Vertigo is a surreal film of genius that was way ahead of its time. Nothing like it had ever been done before in such surreal splendor, and rarely since. This film is one of the finest examples of cinema as high art.
There are many aspects of this film that make it uniquely special. Obviously, the direction and vision of Hitchcock is pure genius. The way the camera works in this film is magical, the lighting setting a surreal mood of wonder and awe, highlighted by its creation of the haunting beauty of Kim Novak. No woman has ever looked more beautiful than Kim Novak in this film.
The film score by Bernard Herrmann is the greatest of his career, and probably one of the greatest in film history. Along with the great animation in the opening credits, it augers well to warn the viewer that they are about to witness something very special in cinema.
The work of James Stewart and Kim Novak are exceptional, but this film really is all about the genius of Alfred Hitchcock, and his collaboration with Bernard Herrmann.
What more can be said? It is unquestionably one of the greatest films ever made.
on July 18, 2004
I watched Vertigo for the first time when I was about 12 years old - I remember I couldn't sleep well afterwards. I guess I was a little too young at the time to fully appreciate its scope. Watched it now again in its restored form on DVD.
In my opinion the best moment in the movie is the very first shot of the woman's mouth and face and her eyes - the look in her eyes - all in black and white - and then the introduction of colour - the spirals etc., and the ingeneous score. The score is incredible. Very efficient. It really gives the whole thing a dreamlike quality.
Generally, I don't like dark haunting movies too much. And Vertigo is haunting.
Most of the other Hitchcock movies have a kind of upbeat humour - an optimistic atmosphere. Take Psycho, for example. Yes, people get killed - but in a strange, almost perverse way the movie is almost funny. And, of course, there is a satisfying conclusion, a happy end. Not so in Vertigo.
Note that Hitchcock returned in subsequent movies - North by Northwest, Frenzy, Family Plot ...to his characteristic dark humour. That's why I think that Vertigo - while it deals with themes also present in his other movies - is something of an exception : there is no happy end and there is no relief for the audience.
Most of Hitchcock's movies deal with horrible things - like murder, the innocent being wrongfully accused and hunted by society, malice and intrigue,.. - but he always balances this with this typical British dark humour which in a way protects the audience and helps it to digest the on-screen violence. So this dark humour, this distancing of the audience, fulfills a very important function. For instance, after the shower scene in Psycho, we witness Norman Bates clean up the bathroom.
The same kind of dark humour - not quite as dark - can be found in some of the James Bond movies. Its always about helping the audience to accept what has just happened.
In Vertigo, this dark humour is missing and this accounts for its dark haunting quality.
Again, I am not much of a fan of obssesive love and all that - and probably neither
are most other people - and certainly Vertigo is not as much fun to watch as, say North by Northwest, but the score and the use of colours in it alone are worthy of our attention.
on July 18, 2004
"Vertigo" is a disturbing tour de force. You would probably have to roll forward to David Lynch's "Blue Velvet" and "Mulholland Drive" is find comparable weirdness. Is it Hitchcock's best? That's a tough question. Personally, I think "Notorious" is a better film, because the story fits easier into expectations of what a story should be, while at the same time being very edgey in matters of men and women, sex and love, and intrigue that blurs the lines. Everything about "Notorious" is balanced. But "Vertigo" takes chances few directors are willing to attempt, and that has to be recognized - especially when it involves a director with the abilities and genius of a Hitchcock. With that in mind, "Vertigo" is the important film, necessary if you want to fully understand Hitchcock.
"Vertigo" is about obsession. Ex-detective John Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart) is following the wife of an old friend, who fears his wife is losing her mind. It's a deadly scam, but you know that. The real story is Ferguson's descent. Stewart is excellent and increasingly strange as the movie progresses. Novak also works, but in a way she strikes the viewer as a deliberately coarser version of the Hitchcock "blondes." I don't pretend to be a Hitchcock specialist, but I've been spending this summer going through the major Hitchcock films, and I've noticed a few things that have me wondering over Hitchcock's creative arc in general. Blondes, yep. But look at the role of mothers. "Strangers on a Train" has psycho killer Walker's mother as a babying influence, and "Vertigo" has former Stewart girlfriend, played by Barbara Bel Geddes, visiting Stewart/Ferguson, and telling him "mother" is there for him. And check out the Nazi mother to mama's boy Claude Rains in "Notorious." The capper is of course the "mother" of Norman Bates in that movie explosion called "Psycho." What was it with Hitchcock and mothers? Also note that the swirl imagery of "Vertigo" reappears in the swirling drain of "Psycho."
"Vertigo" is a much more free-floating effort, and deserves all the praise. Narrative structure is allowed to slacken, and interior pathologies allowed to take priority, all amazing terrain for a director to explore - and to be allowed to explore by the dollar driven studios. The logic of the "story" is in fact is so suspended, that the fact that there is a murder and a murderer become secondary - they are merely triggers. Oh, Stewart/Ferguson eventually remembers he's a cop, but the difference in "Vertigo," which sets it apart from even "Psycho," is that it doesn't matter and darkness falls. And with it a final madness?
on July 6, 2004
Vertigo is one of the most visually arresting pieces of cinema ever made. Hitchcock's use of color and perspective was groundbreaking at the time, and, strangely enough, hasn't been copied all that much, except for the foreshortening trick when Scottie (James Stewart) has his 'episodes'. While there are too many excellent parts of this film to mention, there are two that really stand out in my mind. The scenes between Scottie and Midge in her apartment are visual smorgasbords. The detail and variety of the scenes is stunning, and so real that you can imagine just moving in and living there. Another standout sequence is Scottie's tracking of Madeleine. The music is haunting, and the inclusion of such a long sequence with no dialogue is daring. No director today would have the intelligence or sensibility to do something like this. They would have Scottie talking on a cellphone or muttering curse words under his breath.
I could go on ad nauseum about this film, but it wouldn't do it justice. "Vertigo" is like stepping into another world, albeit one with landmarks we recognize, that doesn't exist anymore. The story, color, music (especially the music), and the acting all combine to make one of the most entertaining and suspenseful movies ever made. It needs 6 stars.
on June 23, 2004
Do you know how long I've wanted to see Vertigo? For years! Simply because of all the fuss over it. I recently got hold of the restored print DVD and looked forward to seeing the film that is known as Hitchcock's masterpiece.
Sitting through the first hour I was confused at what exactly all the fuss was about. The first hour dragged, and nothing significant seemed to happen (other reviewers have also mentioned the slowness of the film). Ten minutes into the second hour, the movie started to pick up. However, I kept waiting for the fantastic storyline to unfold that I had been promised, but it didn't really eventuate. It's not the complex film I was expecting.
The problem with Vertigo, as I see it, is that the storyline is quite basic and not overly interesting. The film didn't do well at the box office on its initial release either which is a significant point - moviegoers hated it back then for its slowness. For it to become the classic it has become can only be for the following reasons: Hitchcock loved it over all his other films, Hitchcock is no longer with us, and Kim Novak was in it. it was her only major film. I've never seen the appeal with Jimmy Stewart, and wonder why Hitchcock used him so often.
All these things said, Vertigo is one of those films that you will want to see at least once ... to see what all the fuss is about. Sadly, you will still be left wondering "what is all the fuss about?"
on June 16, 2004
This one is my Number One movie of all time. Many film-ranking services also have moved Vertigo to #1 last year. I've seen it on the big screen where it's unbelievable, Freudian theme, magnificent color, and the filmed record of San Francisco of 1959 are as eerie as the script of murder and obsessive love. I'm very fond of Kim Novak and I realize big 1950's blondes aren't everyone's turn on, but in this film, with all her wide skirts and painted eyebrows, she does it for me. Hitchcock did scores of interesting shots that added mood to this film. Stewart and Novak realize they are in love and kiss passionately at a rocky California beach. The ocean crashes on a big boulder and sprays behind their heads. Perfect timing or fifty takes, I don't know. After careful thought, the script seems implausible. A man in love knows what the woman of his dreams looks like and certainly would know that the shop girl, though in different hair color and clothes is his love. The story line portrays a straight murder mystery, but after a number of viewing I realize how complicated and layered the individual motivations and neurosis that Stewart and Novak suggest with brilliant subtle underscore. The murder itself makes no sense either. How did the husband and Novak hide and get away from the horrified onlookers and police? The truth is, the fantasy is so compelling, nobody cares. Great art is a suspension of disbelief. Vertigo is great, great art.
on June 12, 2004
With "Vertigo," Alfred Hitchcock reached a zenith of his art he achieved only with "The 39 Steps," "Notorious," and "Rear Window," and this film is a lot more thoughtful, more complex and DARKER than any of those. Unlike the other three, "Vertigo"
has no happy ending, only a sense of loss and the bitterness of the cold, hard truth.
What sets the film apart is not so much Hitchcock's astonishing
visuals, his dream-like pacing, or his sure-handed, elliptical
story-telling, but his themes. If "Rear Window" is really about voyeurism, than "Vertigo" is really about obsession and possession. In this context, the artist in Hitch clearly concludes: "That which we love, we destroy."
James Stewart, in one of his best, most complex performances,
plays Scotty Fergusson, a police detective forced into reassignment by the vertigo caused by a fear of heights and guilt feelings following the death of a fellow cop who tried to save him during a rooftop chase. Our plot gets going when a former
college classmate of Scotty's, Gavin Elster hires him to follow
his wife Madolyn, whom he suspects is possessed by the ghost of her great-grandmother. While following Madolyn, Scotty saves her life when she attempts suicide by falling into San Francisco
Bay. Naturally, Scotty and Madolyn (Kim Novak) fall in love.
Ultimately, Madolyn does fall to her death from the bell tower of a mission church, when Scotty is unable to save her because of his vertigo. Scotty then falls into a catatonic depression.
At this point things start to get interesting.
Scotty spends his days haunting the places he associates with Madolyn and finds only frustration and heartbreak, but one day
he meets Judy (also played by Kim Novak), who bears a striking resemblence to Madolyn. They date, and Scotty begins to make Judy over in the image of Madolyn. In pursuing his obsession, he
discovers something about his love interest which no man should have to confront.
At this point the plot repeats itself, but with darker, more macabre twists. Guilty secrets are confessed, but it is too late. Scotty pursues the truth until it destroys all his dreams and hopes, and the same tragedy recurs. In the end, he is left with the truth, but not the kind of truth which liberates or consoles, and he may not have even discovered the truth about himself and his psychological complexes.
This is a brilliant film! There is a depth and foreboding to everything that is unmatched anywhere else in the master's work.
Both Stewart and Novak give the performances of their careers.
Then there is that glorious, beautiful score by Bernard Herrmann!
It grabs you from the opening titles and never lets go. The music in this picture doesn't accompany what's going on onscreen
so much as it intensifes it and deepens every emotion.
If you don't own a copy of "Vertigo," you don't really love movies!