It’s this simple: If you don’t like “Vertigo,” you don’t like the movies. But don’t take my word for it: as of August 2014, Hitch’s mesmeric, fantastical 1958 mystery still sits proudly atop Sight and Sound’s Greatest 50 Films of All Time poll, dethroning the long-reigning “Citizen Kane” yet again.
4K restorations are all the rage these days so in spirit, Film Forum is screening the dazzling new transfer of “Vertigo” from October 24-30 in New York. The presentation played Cannes in 2013, alongside an appearance by the film’s still-beautiful star Kim Novak (who, as the object of Scottie’s fetishizing, uncannily inhabits two roles in the film).
Though considered a commercial and critical misfire at the time, “Vertigo” — which Paramount wanted named, of all things, “Without a Trace,” “Checkmate,” “Afraid to Love,” “The Night Is Ours,” “Two Kinds of Women” and a bevy of other melodramatic titles — is now considered one of the master’s great films. Have a look back at some of the great writings about the film (and watch clips below):
Bosley Crowther, The New York Times: “You might say that Alfred Hitchcock’s latest mystery melodrama, ‘Vertigo,’ is all about how a dizzy fellow chases after a dizzy dame, the fellow being an ex-detective and the dame being—well, you guess. That is as fair a thumbnail digest as we can hastily contrive to give you a gist of this picture without giving the secret away. And, believe us, that secret is so clever, even though it is devilishly far-fetched, that we wouldn’t want to risk at all disturbing your inevitable enjoyment of the film.”
Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies” review: “‘Vertigo’ (1958), which is one of the two or three best films Hitchcock ever made, is the most confessional, dealing directly with the themes that controlled his art. It is *about* how Hitchcock used, feared and tried to control women. He is represented by Scottie (James Stewart), a man with physical and mental weaknesses (back problems, fear of heights), who falls obsessively in love with the image of a woman–and not any woman, but the quintessential Hitchcock woman. When he cannot have her, he finds another woman and tries to mold her, dress her, train her, change her makeup and her hair, until she looks like the woman he desires. He cares nothing about the clay he is shaping; he will gladly sacrifice her on the altar of his dreams.”
David Ansen: “Why is this movie Hitchcock’s masterpiece? Because no movie plunges us more deeply into the dizzying heart of erotic obsession. Because in Jimmy Stewart’s fetishtic pursuit of mystery woman Kim Novak–whom he transforms into the image of the dead w oman he loved–Hitchcock created the cinema’s most indelible metaphor for the objectification of desire. Because Stewart, playing a man free-falling into love, responds with a performance so harrowing in its ferocity it must have surprised even himself. Because Novak, that great slinky cat, imbues her double role with a mesmerizing poignance. Because the impeccable, dreamlike images of this ghostly Liebestod are so eerily beautiful they stay in your head forever. And because the older you get, and the m ore times you see it, the more strange, chillingly romantic thriller pierces your heart.”
Dave Kehr: “The film’s dynamics of chase, capture, and escape parallel the artist’s struggle with his work; the enraptured gaze of the Stewart character before the phantom he has created parallels the spectator’s position in front of the movie screen. The famous motif of the fall is presented in horizontal rather than vertical space, so that it becomes not a satanic fall from grace, but a modernist fall into the image, into the artwork—a total absorption of the creator by his creation, which in the end is shown as synonymous with death. But a thematic analysis can only scratch the surface of this extraordinarily dense and commanding film, perhaps the most intensely personal movie to emerge from the Hollywood cinema.”
Turner Classic has lots more reading here.