Monday, May 9, 2016

Vertigo premieres 58 years ago today

By Steve Evans

Vertigo, our film du jour, premiered on this date in 1958. Not my favorite Hitchcock, though widely considered his masterpiece, Vertigo falls within a genre of my own invention, "subconscious autobiography." Here is a film in which Hitch, wittingly or not, displays all of his obsessional, sadistic and controlling habits in dealing with women who he could never obtain in his own life.
Vertigo is never about what it seems. The central mystery presented in Vertigo is its own MacGuffin -- a name given to something that sets the plot in motion but really has no significance. For example, "Rosebud" is the MacGuffin in Citizen Kane, for it kick starts the plot but has no relevance to the outcome of the story. In Vertigo, a San Francisco detective afraid of heights is tasked with following a beautiful woman who may be possessed by spirits. Halfway through the film, we learn this movie is about something else entirely. Something much more terrifying.
Beautiful performances from Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak, one of the greatest ice blondes the cinema has given us. In terms of pure craft, the picture is exquisitely wrought, with a score by Bernard Herrmann for which the word "haunting" was invented.

Voters in the 2012 Sight & Sound poll named Vertigo the greatest film of all time. That's debatable. What is unquestionable is Vertigo's place in the canon as the most unsettling, provocative and heartbreaking picture of Hitchcock's career. Most of his oeuvre can be viewed as a lark. Suspenseful, yes, and replete with macabre humor, but mostly elegant and frivolous fun. Not Vertigo. Oh, no. Just once in a career spanning 60 years did Hitchcock cut loose and reveal some of his serious psychological baggage. People still say Hitchcock's Psycho is a scary movie and they're right, it is, in a funhouse sort of way. But Vertigo is the real deal. It plumbs the black hollows of a disturbed man's heart and shows us there is nothing at the edge of this abyss but madness and longing and despair.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2016 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Cinema Uprising values comments and feedback from readers. Although we cannot reply to every message, we do read comments and take your thoughts into consideration as we continuously produce fresh content.