Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Vertigo (1958 film)

I never really got into Alfred Hitchcock's movies, much to my regret. In my younger days, Hitchcock films would regularly be shown on television, but I would scarcely notice, let alone take in their merits or artistic significance. One picture which belatedly made an impression on me was Vertigo, Hitchcock's 1958 thriller, starring James Stewart and Kim Novak.

Without giving too much away, Scottie (Stewart) is a policeman who is forced to retire because of his acrophobia and vertigo. At the request of an old friend, Scottie follows the man's "wife", who has been behaving strangely. The plot which unfolds is complex and ingenious, but not really bewildering. It involves murder plots, faked suicide and much more.

The title Vertigo is very appropriate, as not only does the condition play a pivotal role at several crucial points in the film, but it is also an unsettling and disorientating work. That said, the aesthetic of the picture I find very appealing. The clothes, the cars and the settings have real style, together with the type of crispness which I somehow associate with 1950s films made in colour.

Bernard Herrmann's music is very important to the atmosphere of this movie. In some scenes there is little or no dialogue, and the music is left to accompany the imagery, which is often the backdrop of San Francisco. The scenes where Stewart follows Kim Novak early in the film are quite eerie, and one can imagine that they have been quite influential in the ensuing decades.

Both James Stewart and Kim Novak have great screen presence, the former being particularly impressive for me in the later portions of the film. A word too for the performance of Barbara Bel Geddes as Scottie's friend and ex-fiancee Midge. She appears not to have received the praise she deserved for her contribution.

No doubt the critics have dissected and analysed Vertigo endlessly, seeking to extract portentous meaning from every frame, but when I saw the film I did not grasp much in the way of profound messages. I was too preoccupied with the central plot, constantly asking myself "Have I understood what's going on here?  Have I got this straight?. Much is left unsaid, this being aggravated perhaps by the relative sparsity of the dialogue.

The story is complicated, strange even, but any concerns on that score are rendered largely immaterial by its sheer magnetism, and the partially-overlapping layers of intrigue, irony and deceit.

Vertigo is a gripping and even occasionally disturbing film, and is well worth a watch.

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