#47: Vertigo [1958]


I always feel slightly embarrassed when forced to pass opinion on Alfred Hithcock, because the truth of the matter is, I don't like his films all that much. Vertigo was named the best film of all time by Sight & Sound magazine last year, but I'm sorry, I really don't see it (neither do the IMDb voters, apparently). The problem with Hitchcock is the critical furore which surrounds him: if you don't appreciate the work of the master then you're a filmic heathen, ignorant and misinformed. But what if I'm not a high-brow film reviewer? What if I want to watch a film that will make me fall in love with the medium all over again? Or simply watch a film that I enjoy. For me, Vertigo just isn't that film. 
James Stewart plays John "Scottie" Ferguson, a San Francisco police officer who suffers from vertigo after watching a fellow officer plunge to his death from the side of a high rise building (remember this, it's important later). Having retired, he is employed by an old classmate Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) to follow and observe his beautiful wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak), who is having some form of mental lapse, and is possibly suicidal. He watches her as she travels around the city in a seemingly somnambulant state, staring at bridges, buildings and paintings. The settings are all stunning, but the only thing that really keeps us interested is Bernard Herrmann's score, which holds our attention on the film like a vice grip.
It's hard to discuss this film without spoilers, but don't worry I won't give the plot away: one recurring praise of Hitchcock is his storytelling, so I won't usurp his throne (that is, attempt to). Instead, I think I'll return to complaining about the critical discussion around the film. You see, it wasn't all good news for Vertigo from the off. It was met with a decidedly lacklustre critical reception upon release, and barely broke even at the box office. Complaints were similar to mine, it's too long and too slow. However, it has since worked its way up the popularity polls and now stands proudly above, not only Hitchcock's other work, but every other film ever made, in critical opinion, that is. Being in a state of self-education on the medium of film, I think Vertigo is something I shall have to return to, once my critical technique and taste is up to scratch. One thing I promise though, I'll never succumb to popular opinion and praise a film that, above all else, I found immeasurably dull, even though I watched it at the BFI, the home of Sight & Sound itself.

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