Vertigo

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(1958, directed by Alfred Hitchcock)

- inducted 2013 -

“The canonization of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo as the greatest film by all time by Sight &Sound, might seem obvious at first, but there are many reasons it stands out as an odd choice in the Master of Suspense’s filmography. Vertigo plays like many of Hitchcock’s countless great works, but it also might be said to lack the perfective harmony of something like Rear Window, Shadow of a Doubt, or Psycho. How did Scottie get down from the ledge? What happened to Madeline in the hotel? Where did that nun come from? Not only that, while most of his films are playful, Vertigo is mournful, hypnotic, and often uncomfortable in a way different from the violence that percolates other Hitchcock’s.It is perhaps the most open of his films, inviting theory and interpretation to fill in the gaps raised. As any search of a scholarly film resource would show, almost every single theoretical model of film analysis (auteur, genre, psychoanalysis, feminist, semiotics, and so on) has been applied to the monster.

“I use ‘monster’ because Vertigo is a monstrous film for so many reasons. Scottie, the loveable protagonist played by the usually lovable Jimmy Stewart, slowly turns into a monster, his eyes shooting fire across the screen with burning desire. There is, of course, the “monster creature” of the film, the ghost of Carlotta Valdes that haunts Madeline (another viewing reveals how Hitchcock treats the ghost story with serious and genuine reverence). Finally, the film itself is monstrous; one that cannot be explained, simplified, or discussed without feeling reductive. For as much one can explain how the shots, the score, the acting, the camera movement, and colors, and the dialogue all contribute to making Vertigo the film I see on screen, there is something missing from any description that strikes me deep when I watch the film, an unsettling quality of both desire, longing, and even mourning.

Vertigo’s monstrous nature and canonization has much to do with the film’s relationship to filmmaking and cinephilia. As Andre Bazin describes in his iconic essay, The Ontology of the Photographic Image, film is only a continuation of the process of preserving and resurrecting the dead, which dates all the way back to the ancient Egyptians. And as Hitchcock told Francois Truffaut, “I was intrigued by the hero's attempts to re-create the image of a dead woman through another one who's alive.” Taken together, Vertigo is about our ability to save the past from extinction, to view what was as of what is. It’s a film that speaks to why and how we watch the moving image, taken all the way to the director who must create his own image of perfection. Scottie demands everything from Judy, just for that chance to see Madeline again. An exact visual representation, tinted with a ghostly presence,finally appears. It’s sealed with a kiss that brings him round and round and into the moment of his past he desires to resurrect. Then the necklace appears, and the dream, just like the film, comes crashing down, leaving the man to stare at his destructive act. Is this Hitchcock’s warning to not only himself but the cinephiles like this? If there was an answer, it wouldn’t be considered one of the greats.”

~ Peter Labuza

Principal cast: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore, Henry Jones, Raymond Bailey, Ellen Corby, Konstantin Shayne, Lee Patrick
Screenplay by: Alec Coppel & Samuel Taylor, with uncredited contributions by Maxwell Anderson
Based on the novel D'Entre les Morts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac
Produced by: Alfred Hitchcock (uncredited)
Associated producer: Herbert Coleman
Director of photography: Robert Burks
Production design by: Henry Bumstead and Hal Pereira (art directors), Sam Comer and Frank McKelvy (set decorators)
Costume design by: Edith Head
Film editing by: George Tomasini
Original music by: Bernard Herrmann
Makeup supervisor: Wally Westmore
Hair style supervisor: Nellie Manley
Sound recordist: Harold Lewis
Visual effects by: Farciot Edouart and Wallace Kelley (process photography), John P. Fulton (special photographic effects)
Titles designed by: Saul Bass
Special sequence designed by: John Ferren
Score conducted by: Muir Mathieson
 
USA
Duration: 128 minutes
Language: English
Filmed in color (Technicolor)
Sound mix: Mono (Westrex Recording System)
Cinematographic process: VistaVision: Motion Picture High-Fidelity
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Printed film format: 35mm
 
Produced by Paramount Pictures and Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions
Released in USA by Paramount Pictures
Premiered in San Francisco, CA on 9 May 1958
 
Awards and honors:
- Selected as the #1 film of all time by Sight & Sound Magazine, 2012
- The Muriel Awards, 2008: 50th Anniversary Award (winner)
- National Film Registry selection, 1989
- Selected as one of Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies,” 13 October 1996
- NYFCC Award, New York Film Critics Circle, 1996: Most Distinguished re-issue (won)
- The Skuriels, 2012: ranked #2
- Academy Awards (USA), 1958: Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (nominated)
- Academy Awards (USA), 1958: Best Sound (nominated)
- DGA Award, Directors Guild of America, 1958: Best Direction, Alfred Hitchcock (nominated)