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VERTIGO
1958 - Alfred Hitchcock
United States
29
Opening Shot

After a typically dazzling title sequence from the great Saul Bass, Vertigo begins with a thrilling rooftop chase sequence which includes a series of long shots and (after a famous zoom-in/out shot that occurs several times in the film) concludes with a police officer falling from the rooftop.

The Film

Tough choice between Notorious, Vertigo or Rear Window as my favorite Alfred Hitchcock film. Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo is a brilliant, thrilling, masterpiece that misleads you every step of the way. It's a film that gets better with every viewing, as you can get a new perspective each time. I think Vertigo is Hitchcock's most artistic and ultimately best film. Sure Hitchcock has made some brilliant films, but I think none have the depth that Vertigo does. Vertigo is an examination of desire and it's about how what we often think of romantic love can truly be selfish emotion. I'm most fascinated with the films study of Scottie's (played to perfection by James Stewart) relationships to Madeleine and Midge, who is the opposite of Madeleine. Midge is real, Madeleine is not. Scottie is obsessed with Madeleine; her mysteries, her beauty, who wouldn't want her? While Midge is available, loving, honest, but plain and unexciting. She's the kind of women you don't look twice at. It's really interesting psychology about the male psyche. If nothing else, master composer Bernard Hermann and the film's final image are sure to move you. The visual aspects of the film are astonishing (the use of profile shots, the passionate green lighting effects glaring through the window, the Golden Gate Bridge, the final shot, etc, etc). Vertigo is an amazing masterpiece that's one of the most important films in American cinema history, by one of the most influential filmmakers.

The Filmmaker
In terms of importance and certainly influence, few filmmakers belong higher then Hitchcock, who's legendary status rates him as one of the most celebrated filmmakers of all-time. Though Hitchcock became one of the definitive masters of the Hollywood studio system, his roots, style, and influence were far from American. Obviously being born in Britain and beginning his career there is evident, but Hitchcock's similarities with German cinema would remain most prominent throughout his career (even and maybe especially within the Hollywood studios). Early in his career Hitchcock received advice on staging and lighting from German master F.W. Murnau and the influence is reflective of Hitchcock's mastery. The German influence is that of Hitchcock's "artificial realism" in which he can fully control every detail of the Mise-en-scene. The only way to fully control lighting, decoration, architectural shapes, and connections of colors was to film in a completely controlled environment. This is "artificial realism", which was originally incorporated during the German silent era (with films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) and ultimately mastered by Hitchcock (most notably in his definitive masterwork Rear Window, where he perfectly controlled every single detail). Hitchcock's films are so well known, celebrated, a studied that there is so much to remember about him (including his famous cameo appearances). His trademark suspense and ability to play with the audience has dubbed him "the master of suspense" and his influence in film is monumental. The term "Hitchcockian" is well regarded among the many Hitchcock influences of contemporary cinema as his basic themes, style, techniques, and films have been remade, homaged, or imitated in some form or another. Some of the aspects of Hitchcock's films I remember most (besides his overall mastery of the Mise-en-scene) are the objects within his films (which sometime represent his trademark plot use as the "macguffin"). Whether it's the key or wine bottles in Notorious, the ring in Rear Window, the lighter and glasses in Strangers on a Train, the necklace in Vertigo, the scissors in Dial M for Murder, the newspaper in Psycho, or the glass of milk in Suspicion (just to name a few examples), each are little objects that control enormous emotion and suspense. Few filmmakers make objects such a prominent role and he uses them to emphasize the emotional response while also revealing his overall reliance on technique and storyboarding. Hitchcock's dependence of his films is usually in the pre-production stage of storyboard and scripting where he plans the shot exactly the way he wants (it is said that he has never even looked into a camera during the actual shooting production). Of course it is the reliance of post-production that make Hitchcock the true "master of suspense", as his films display the perfection and command of his skillful editing. Another memorable aspect of Hitchcock's film that get remembered are the women, most notably the blondes. Hitchcock had an obsession with blondes almost as much as his obsession with the theme of obsession. Sleek, cold blondes (like Ingrid Bergman, Eva Marie Saint, Vera Miles, Janet Leigh, and of course his favorite Grace Kelly!) play a role in most of his films opposite the suave, sly males (Cary Grant, James Stewart, Ray Milland, Joseph Cotten). Of course, Hitchcock's reliance and use of Hollywood stars was very evident and some of his later films may have suffered a bit from the lack of "star-power". Hitchcock's films are a complex blend of mood, style, story, and deceptive technique. He mixes terror with humor, suspense with irony, or mystery with dreams. The films are always moving forward at a gripping pace while never losing focus of the simplistic or ironic details. At the core of his structure is generally a chase, with the suspense heightened by his essential themes of strange psychological states. Of course his most trademark psychological examinations include obsession, voyeurism, desire, trust, and violence. Though he never won an Academy Award (outside a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1968), Hitchcock's acclaim and popularity stands as one of the most successful and long-lasting in the history of film. His career spans six decades and I think you can say he's made great films through them all. Beginning during the silent era, Hitchcock also made some great early sound films that rate among the best of early British cinema (notably The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes). In 1940 Hitchcock moved to Hollywood and directed Rebecca for producer David O Selznick. Though I believe the film to be among his more dated, it stands as the only Hitchcock film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Hitchcock continued making many classics during the 1940s (notably his three films with Ingrid Bergman- Notorious, Spellbound, and the overlooked Under Capricorn). It is the 1950s (Hitchcock's richest period) that extended him into the class of the greatest filmmakers. During this decade he made eleven films, all of which are great and especially two of which rate among the greatest of all-time: 1954's Rear Window and 1958's Vertigo. Also made in the 50s is his most underrated masterpiece, 1956's The Wrong Man. With these three films (as well as his other masterwork- 1946s Notorious), Hitchcock is at the peak of his mastery and I believe them to be his best films. However, it is 1960 that marked the greatest impact to Hitchcock's place in American film with the release of Psycho, a film that changed the face of filmmaking forever and stands as his most beloved classic. Though I prefer other Hitchcock films, the brilliance and importance of Psycho is undeniable and still impacting today (it also captures Hitchcock masterful manipulation with his audience, as well as key contributions from Hitchcock collaborators Bernard Herrmann and Sal Bass- both geniuses in their own right). Hitchcock was shocked at the success of the film and it altered the way he made films thereafter. As a result his final six features after Psycho are not as masterful (with the possible exception 1964's Marnie which recalls his themes of Vertigo). Hitchcock's final film (1976's Family Plot) is atypical in the fact that it's more a straight comedy and much of it is improvised against script (and despite the films poor reviews, I actually think it's pretty good and has a rather interesting final shot of his career). In all, Hitchcock directed 54 feature films, many of which stand today as memorable as ever. He truly was one of the greatest masters and his films and influence live on.
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