Cast: James Stewart, Kim Novak
Synopsis: An ex-detective with severe acrophobia (the fancy name for vertigo) is hired to follow and investigate a man’s wife who has begun to act very strangely….that’s when shit gets cray.
Vertigo, along with Psycho, is considered by many to be Alfred Hitchcock’s crowning glory. I had never seen it myself, much to the chagrin of some of my Bay Area friends. Last night I decided to take the plunge after getting in the mood for a challenging cerebral thriller. I can now safely say that I know why so many people revere it so highly: Vertigo is a brilliantly drawn out tale that grabs you, mesmerizes you, and disorientates you with shocking use of color and lighting, creating illusions of depth. This movie is made for people who smoke weed.
There are lots of visually stunning moments in Vertigo, from the sinister use of spirograph in the opening to the trippy dream sequence, but it’s the dramatic use of San Francisco that really stands out. The city is absolutely stunning and Hitchcock clearly took care to present the city in all its glory: the architecture, the sweeping skylines and views of the bay, the rolling hills, and the innate beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge. Although the San Francisco presented in the movie is a world apart from the San Francisco I came to know and love, it still resonates with me and it was a pleasure to see familiar sights and scenery. What made me laugh, though, was the demonizing of the incoming wave of liberalness by the high society figures featured in the movie. Of course, this was filmed just before the hippy movement and it made me wonder what the characters think if they saw San Francisco now during the Folsom Street Fair for instance. Would their heads explode if they saw all the leather daddies in ass-less chaps or a porn star getting pissed on and railed by a group of guys in the doorway of a local bar? Yes, that did actually happen. One can only guess their response but I thought that the movie presented an interesting temporal snapshot of a city I love very dearly; just like Chinatown did for Los Angeles.
The visuals are not the only engaging feature of this movie. The plot is well crafted and takes you on many twists and turns. I will say this: the major twist is pretty fucked up. In fact, all the characters (including Jimmy Stewart) are pretty fucked up. Maybe not in an Oldboy fucked up kind of way but still fucked up nonetheless. I just used the words ‘fucked up’ quite a lot but I thought it was necessary considering that those two words are scrawled over my notes repeatedly. Although many might find the story to be quite tame by today’s standards, I thought that the movie had a brilliant simplicity to it. It wasn’t difficult to follow but it gave me enough to think about. In that regard, Hitchcock truly was a master of suspense. He was able to give the audience just enough to keep them guessing but didn’t confuse them too much. Then, all of sudden, the twist hits you and it all falls in to place. It’s story telling at its most spectacular.
Of course, the film is not perfect. At times I felt that there was a tendency for the actors to become a little too melodramatic and sometimes the movie played out more like a stage play than an actual movie. However, these criticisms are minor and do not detract from the fact that this is an amazing piece of cinema that everybody should watch.
- The scene where we are introduced to Kim Novak’s character is one of the best things I have ever seen in a movie. The music, the color, the camera work is just beautiful. I ended up watching it about 4 times.
- The film’s use of light and shadow to disorientate the viewer by creating misleading levels of depth was inspired.
- Gorgeous scenery and an intriguing story.
- Kim Novak’s eyebrows. Actually, at times I wanted to punch her catlike face. It’s a shame because it was distracting me from the good job she was doing with the acting.
- The kissing scene was horrible, but that’s more to do with censorship at the time the film was made than anything done by the actors or director.
Vertigo should be mandatory viewing for film students and film enthusiasts in general. It’s not perfect but it is damn close. The movie itself is quite long so I’d recommend seeing this by yourself as you might get fidgety and restless if you’re with a group. With respect to strains, you will need one that is heavy on sativa. That way you are fully susceptible to Hitchcock’s manipulation, thus ensuring a wonderful cinematic experience.