Vertigo (1958)


Recently, the movie magazine Sight & Sound made headlines in all the movie/entertainment sections for changing the #1 best movie ever made from Orson Welles’ Citizen Cane (1941) to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). They only update this list every ten years, so this appears to be a very big deal, at the very least to the people that work at Sight & Sound. Not to mention the parents of the people who work there. I’m sure they were very excited.

I have always felt Citizen Cane was overrated, and therefore was glad to see it humbled, and while Vertigo is a better movie, neither one is the best movie ever made.

I’m not sure which movie would be worthy of that title, but it would be either; The Train (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), King Kong (2005), Star Trek (2009), Castaway (2000), or Casablanca (1942). Yes, Casablanca may be just as good as Star Trek!

I know countless numbers of you are nodding your heads in agreement, and for that I say, you’re welcome.

However, Vertigo is definitely one of the BMEM.

Have you ever been with someone who feels uncomfortable if no conversing is occurring? They bring up mundane things to take up time, sometimes managing to deplete the immediate area of oxygen. You can tell I’m with a person like that when I crack the window in the car or room while they talk, just to be safe.

The beautiful thing about director Alfred Hitchcock is that he felt comfortable having long stretches of scenes with no dialogue. Vertigo us full of these sequences, and with his fluid camera work and haunting Bernard Herrmann score, it’s a pleasure to behold.

Vertigo tells the story of an acrophobic detective John Ferguson (James Stewart) asked by a friend to follow his wife, Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak) as he fears her mysterious behavior has made her a danger to herself.

Ferguson becomes obsessed with Madeline, even after her death (SPOILER ALERT! Sorry, must work on my timing).

Hitchcock himself reveals the key to one of the movie’s mysteries long before he had to. Letting the audience in on the secret allows us to focus on how the situation will resolve itself, instead of being in a constant state of confusion as to what is really happening. Smart man. Disturbed, but smart.

One of my favorite effects in films, called the dolly counter zoom, is also known as the “Vertigo effect”, or “Hitchcock zoom” because it was developed by Irmin Roberts, who worked as second-unit cameraman here. Basically, the camera zooms in or out, while at the same time the camera on a track physically moves in or out. It creates a terrific effect of distorting the background and foreground. In this movie, to give a sense of vertigo felt by Ferguson, or as in Jaws (1975) when Chief Brody sees Alex Kinter attacked by the shark, showing us the emotional turmoil he feels at that moment.

According to IMDB, when Kim Novak questioned Hitchcock about her motivation for a particular scene, he is reported to have said, “Kim, it’s only a movie.”

Not the best movie ever made, but definitely one of them.


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