Plot: A San Francisco detective suffering from acrophobia investigates the strange activities of an old friend's wife, all the while becoming dangerously obsessed with her.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writers: Alec Coppel (screenplay), Samuel A. Taylor (screenplay)
Stars: James Stewart, Kim Novak and Barbara Bel Geddes
It's only a movie, Kim!
Over the last few weeks I've been reading a little bit about the history of cinema. Apparently both Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchock had a lot in common - they both weren't particularly nice for their actors, they were obsessive when it comes to movie making process - apparently the scene where Kim Novak is staring at the portrait in gallery took a week to shoot, because Hitchock was waiting for the right light - and some of their finest movies had been criticized upon their initial release, only to be hailed as masterpieces decades later. That happened to Kubrick with "The Shining" and to Hitchcock, with among others, "Vertigo". The movie was also selected as the best mystery movie ever by the American Film Institute.
53 years after it was made, the movie remains fascinating and feels extremely unique. The way the movie is filmed still amazes with technical virtuosity, although all those years ago the technology filmmakers take for granted today, wasn't even available. It's such a wonderful and ambiguous picture - for most of the time you have no idea what exactly is going on - is it a ghost story? a romance? a thriller? "Vertigo" is a mixture of genres, but it focuses a lot on its characters, who are deeply disturbed.
The hero is a detective, who goes by the nickname Scottie and who is scared of heights tot he extent that he needs to quit the force . He is not particularly likable, especially in the latter part of the movie, where he treats his girlfriend like a doll he is dressing up, changing, just so she would look like the woman he loves. The fact that he has overwhelming phobia helps to build up audience's sympathy a little, but I never particularly liked men in Hitchock's pictures.
While James Stewart does fine acting job the real star of the picture is Kim Novak, who had very hard assignment - playing two different, but also essentially the same, characters, she had to capture both the energetic Judy and melancholic Madeline. Beautiful blondes are common in Hitchock's pictures, but Novak is also a brunette at one point of the movie – thanks to the make up department and the costumes I really didn't recognize her, although the differences were truly subtle. A lot of thought was put into details like Madeline's hairstyle and costumes – Hitchock wanted her to look eerie, since Madeline appears in the more mysterious part of the movie – so she is wearing her famous grey suit that makes her look almost ghastly.
I read that when Novak was asking Hitchock about her character's motivations, being puzzled by Madeline's erratic behaviour, Hitchock would respond - "it's only a movie, Kim!". But something that meticulously planned, cannot be treated as only a movie. In the end everything comes together, with a twist of irony. First I perceived the ending to be rushed, but as it shows something completely unexpected, the way the sequence was filmed actually mirrored the events of the story.
There is a very famous twist in the movie, but in actuality entire story is riddled with unexpected turns. It's also wonderfully filmed - for the first 40 minutes there aren't many dialogues, we just observe the protagonist following Madeline. Those scenes have wonderful sense of suspense in them - we fear Madeline will catch him and later on in the movie we fear she will find out the truth. But nothing goes the way we imagined it would. Years after its premiere, “Vertigo” remains one of the most beautifully executed stories presented on screen. The amount and the simplicity of clever tricks Hitchock used is truly ingenious. There is only one thing I guessed in this movie – a necklace being the giveaway – but I suspect it is only because there are so many films that borrow from “Vertigo”. A must see.