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May 02, 2010

Vertigo - Classic Film Pick

Vertigo2 "Vertigo" is Alfred Hitchcock's beautifully stylized psychological thriller about a man in love with a fetishized romantic fantasy invented by another man. Following "Rope" (1948), "Rear Window" (1954), and "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1956), "Vertigo" is the last of four films James Stewart made with Hitchcock. Here Stewart's quintessential depiction of mid-20th century amiable masculinity plays Scottie Ferguson.

Scottie is a retired-cop-turned-private-investigator who suffers from a debilitating case of vertigo. Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), an old college buddy who knows about Scottie's condition, hires him to follow his potentially suicidal wife Madeleine (Kim Novak) around San Francisco during melancholy days of brooding self-reflection. Madeleine routinely goes to the Legion of Honor Museum in order to gaze upon a haunting painting of her grandmother Carlotta Valdes, whose grave she also visits daily. A despondent leap into the cold waters beneath the Golden Gate Bridge affords the film one of cinema's most iconic images and gives Scottie permission to rescue Madeleine and win her tragically wounded heart. Noir elements of deception and material artifice are a constant throughout this mystery. Madeleine's staged suicide from a Mission bell tower turns Scottie into an inconsolable man filled with lust for the deceased wife of his former client. When Scottie spots a woman named Judy Barton who is the spitting image of Madeleine (also played by Kim Novak), he pursues her with a twisted romantic motivation that borders on insanity.

Hitchcock's brilliant use of Bernard Herrmann's lush music, camera movement, dream sequences, a strict color palate, and precise framing, draws the audience into the mystery with a scintillating blend of cinematic structure. Gravity is its primary image system, bringing Scottie and Judy to equally unsure footing in a relationship that cannot by definition exist. To see the restored version of "Vertigo" (1958) on the big screen is to enter into the prolific mind of one of cinema's most accomplished masters. Sublime.


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