Friday, 15 November 2013

Vertigo (1958)

Hitchcock’s greatest work provides a dizzying spectacle of cinematic perfection.

Alfred Hitchcock is one of those directors whose name seems to dominate each and every film. Like Spielberg and Scorsese, Hitchcock is an instantly recognisable name and physique. As such, it is impossible to think or discuss any one of his films without picturing the large frame of the man himself (even if for some that frame now accompanies the head of Anthony Hopkins in Oscar winning prosthetics).

Watching Vertigo now seems somewhat too trendy. Hitchcock over the past few years has consistently gathered ‘sub-culture’ thumbs-up from the continual appraisal of various magazines, institutions and cinemas that applaud and proliferate the great directors work to the point where watching a Hitchcock no longer feels indie or retro. Instead Hitchcock has posthumously weaved his way in with the ‘in’ crowds and sits on the mantle with other globally recognised directors of yesteryear. So to rent and watch Vertigo now seems a display of quotidian conformity, and as Vertigo’s reputation more than proceeds itself - often cropping up in his or her top 10 whatevers - it’s difficult to be overwhelmed by the Hitchcock spectacle.

Yet in this sense it may well be argued that Vertigo achieves its greatest triumph: to live up to unprecedented expectations. Rarely does hype ever truly become realised yet Vertigo’s phenomena is such that no expectation can be too great, too outrageously inconceivable, too impossibly unattainable. Vertigo will triumph over all.

James Stewart plays John Ferguson, a retired policeman who after witnessing the death of a fellow officer - partly due to Stewart’s acrophobia (fear of heights) - takes responsibility and subsequently retires. Ferguson’s retirement is interrupted by the phone call of old friend Gavin Elster, an affluent shipping tycoon who proceeds to explain the unique disposition of his wife Madeleine (Kim Novak). Madeleine’s condition is such that Gavin hires the surveillance skills of Ferguson in an endeavour to prevent any real peril from consuming Madeleine. After half-hearted attempts of incredulity at the thought of resurrecting Ferguson’s old career, he inevitable submits and begins pursuing the elusive Madeleine.

Like most of Hitchcock’s films each frame is constructed with the meticulous precision of a brush-wielding Renaissance master. Each scene in turn offers more than its instantaneous image, it revels in endless enigma and self-perpetuating obscurity as Hitchcock symbiotically hints and nudges the audience as to later events with an un-paralleled subtlety. Un-like some of Hitchcock’s other great movies (Psycho, Rear Window) there is a tangible romance between the two leading characters, personified through the riveting score courtesy of Bernard Herrman. This relationship, like the affliction of vertigo, offers the audience a dizzying complexity that encourages you to engage with it time and time again.

It is the truly indescrible moments of tragic despondency between Stewart and Novak’s uncompromising positions that generates some of the most brilliant sequences in any of Hitchcock’s films. These moments are often transient and ethereal, offering only brief moments of visual splendour but are completely unforgettable. In these moments we feel the wonderful orchestration of Hitchcock as visual motifs, emotional semblances and note-perfect concerto’s resonate in a visual cacophony of cinematic perfection that truly leaves you wanting more. The ending, so abrupt and so final, is a last affirmation of Hitchcock’s ability to enrapt an audience and confirm that his appraisal since is rightly deserved.   

By Josh Pomorski 

1 comment:

  1. Ooh...Golden gate bridge, Kim Novak, that nun!

    The key question is... Should it be watched in colour or black and white?