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PostPosted: Mon Apr 03, 2017 6:31 am 
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DISCUSSION ENDS MONDAY, April 17th

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 03, 2017 6:35 am 
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This is a special edition of the film club, where we're discussing the winner of the our recent All Time List Project.

Domino and swo17 were kind enough to come up with questions to help prompt discussion:

swo17 wrote:
- The big reveal that happens midway through the film--do you think it works? Would it work better at a different position in the film?

- What about this film keeps it turning up at or near the top of so many film polls, both within Hitchcock's oeuvre and more generally?


domino harvey wrote:
- Vertigo is one of five* Hitchcock films removed from circulation by the director's lawyers for over ten years, from 1973-1983. What effect if any do you think the long absence and subsequent rerelease of the film had on its reputation?

*the other four being the Man Who Knew Too Much, Rear Window, Rope, and the Trouble With Harry

- Zizek draws heavily on the necrotic nature of sexual obsession in his reading of the film. In what ways does Hitchcock push the norms of sexuality in his depiction of Scottie's relationship with Judy?

- What function does Barbara Bel Geddes' Midge character play within Hitchcock's larger themes? How does the film treat her in comparison to Madeleine/Judy?


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 03, 2017 9:38 am 
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The reveal that swo mentions was a subject of controversy during the production of the film, with Hitchcock deleting and then reinserting the operative sequence. It's still debated even now; I've talked to more than one person new to the film who felt it wrecked the effectiveness of the final act, but I think this is a large part of why the audience doesn't entirely lose their sympathy for Scottie during his rather brutal, manic manipulation of Judy's appearance. Hitchcock talked constantly of this as an example of the old surprise versus suspense conundrum, and it seems to me he's correct in this case. I believe that a sudden flow of new information at the finale would weaken the end of the film considerably. I also suspect that the primary reason he considered changing it was that it does take us slightly out of Scottie's shoes for a while, as we wait for him to discover what we already know.

I have no idea if the removal of the 360-degree shot of Judy writing the letter would moot this or not but there is an emotional rawness to the final scene in Vertigo that I've never quite seen in any other film, certainly in any other thriller. To me it's as if you can feel the fabric of Scottie's world falling apart, and it's telling that his response is to replicate the violence in his past, even if unconsciously, like George O'Brien in Sunrise starting to strangle the woman in the marshes as a perverse recompense for doing the same thing to his wife earlier in the film. To me the effectiveness of this ending -- especially the way the final seconds are designed to leave the viewer bewildered and reeling -- is a direct outgrowth of how perfect the film's premise is for Hitchcock.

Hitchcock spent a lot of his career finding ways to tell stories of the supernatural without actually including anything supernatural (except, I suppose, in The Pleasure Garden and maybe a couple of the TV shows), and Vertigo and Rebecca are both incredibly vivid ghost stories in which there are no actual ghosts. This scene has been analyzed to death but I think a great illustration of this back-and-forth between the beguiling and the rational is in the bookshop scene, when the store owner tells the story of Carlotta Valdez while it mystically and rapidly grows darker and darker in the room, mirroring Scottie's enchantment... then as soon as he and Midge walk out, the bookseller unceremoniously snaps the overhead light on in the background.

I love this movie, to put it mildly, though I think one reason some people don't see what others do in it is that to be fully effective it requires absolute concentration. If you waver even slightly from the detective scenes early on they seem dull and protracted rather than completely absorbing and enigmatic.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 03, 2017 10:49 am 
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I read the novel within the last week, and the difference between the two is astounding. The focus in the novel is entirely on Flavieres, who's a bit of a mess at the best of times. We get a lot of privileged access into his thoughts and feelings, and his panicked neurotic back and forth in the second half of the book, as he tries to make sense (any sense, please a little bit of sense) of this woman who looks so much like the woman whose broken bloodied dead body he saw -- how can this be happening? It's all in stark contrast to the catatonic Scottie Ferguson in the film, who is beyond the audience's reach.

And there's even an ugly little hint that the novel's Judy is starting to pull the same kind of gaslight act on Flavieres a second time, in order to get rid of him.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 03, 2017 11:59 pm 
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This wasn't one I got around to rewatching prior to the submission of the All-Time List, and I'm glad I took the time to do so as a result of its final position and Film Club selection. I've noticed that - unlike Rear Window and Psycho, my two other favorite Hitchock films - my opinion of the film falters a bit the longer it's been since I've seen it, as if it's hard for me in the years between viewings to fully connect with the raw emotions and sexual psychology that are so overwhelming during and immediately after watching it.

Similarly, the brilliant use of color in the film has been covered ad nauseum, but it's just so striking every single viewing, even if (or maybe especially when) you're anticipating it. This was my first viewing of the Universal Bluray (on my newish 4K OLED LG 55" TV), and the closeup of Judy in the hotel with her skin reflecting the overwhelming green of the neon sign nearly knocked me off my couch.

Anyway, two of the questions above are addressed by Hitchcock in the portion of his conversations with Truffaut on Vertigo included as a feature on the Bluray:

He offers his reasoning for the decision to reveal the murder plot as early as he does in the same way dustybooks describes above, as a desire to generate suspense as the audience anticipates and dreads how Scottie will react to what they now know about this trauma he's suffered. However, it's hard to avoid feeling that more urgent was the need to hedge against the vast majority of the audience abandoning Scottie and maybe the film itself completely during the final act. It's a false reassurance, of course, as what we know Judy has done doesn't make Scottie's motivations any less disturbing. As much as I love this film, it's easy to imagine an even more queasily unsettling final half-hour in which Scottie's cruel remaking of Judy was allowed to stand for examination without the cover provided by the empty excuse of what we know about who Judy is/has been and what she's done. That said, revealing the truth to the audience through Scottie's viscerally unhinged last visit to the mission might have felt like a different kind of sop to the audience - an attempt to retroactively excuse his behavior just before the credits roll - so who am I to second guess the master?

Hitchcock also pointedly refers to Scottie's designs on Judy as "necrophilia", and even a term that extreme seems inadequate to describe what he does to what he thinks is just a random woman with a familiar face. At least someone violating a corpse is arguably only really defiling themselves; Scottie is forcing a living human being with feelings for him to take on the role of a corpse to satisfy his need to "cure" himself of Madeleine (foreshadowed by his description of how he might cure himself of his acrophobia in his first scene with Midge). The stunning irony of Judy's fate - that she in a sense is inhabited and killed by a dead woman she never knew in the same way Scottie is led to believe Madeleine was - overshadows the irony that Scottie found more solace in recreating a dead lover in the flesh of another woman than in realizing that the object of his obsession wasn't dead after all.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 04, 2017 1:00 am 
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I was lucky enough to see this in 70mm, and it confirmed me in why I think this one stands out so much for me- it's just a physically involving movie, particularly in the long, hypnotic sequence of Scottie following Madeline, with no dialogue, nothing but Herrmann's looping, maddening score- it hangs in the memory, and helps to get you into a state of mind where Scottie's own obsession seems comprehensible. Everything that follows, his obsessive love, his mental breakdown, his burning need for vindication, all of it follows from this sequence, and it feels like as good an example of the Hitchcockian ideal of 'pure cinema' I can imagine.

Regarding the question about Midge- I think she serves a number of purposes, obviously, in that she is both yet another mirror of Scottie's desire- she, too, is reflected in Carlotta, though Scottie rejects the identification- and another image of obsessively chasing after something one once had but has now lost, as we are told that she once rejected Scottie, in college. More than that, though, she is her own character, one who can exist far enough from the locked together universe of Scottie and Madeline/Judy to comment on it, and one whose heartbreak is purer than the others; she's maybe the most heartbreaking character in Hitchcock's cinema, someone who is so self effacing that she doesn't even make a scene when the man she tried to nurse back to help casts her aside without even thinking about it.

This movie lives in my mind so clearly I don't feel much of a need to rewatch it- I mean I do, but not so I can remember plot detail- but I would like to rewatch La Jetée, to get back its interpretation of this as a disguised time travel movie. It's a compelling take, but I can't remember it well enough to address it right now.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 04, 2017 10:47 pm 
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matrixschmatrix wrote:
I was lucky enough to see this in 70mm, and it confirmed me in why I think this one stands out so much for me- it's just a physically involving movie, particularly in the long, hypnotic sequence of Scottie following Madeline, with no dialogue, nothing but Herrmann's looping, maddening score- it hangs in the memory, and helps to get you into a state of mind where Scottie's own obsession seems comprehensible. Everything that follows, his obsessive love, his mental breakdown, his burning need for vindication, all of it follows from this sequence, and it feels like as good an example of the Hitchcockian ideal of 'pure cinema' I can imagine.
dustybooks wrote:
there is an emotional rawness to the final scene in Vertigo that I've never quite seen in any other film, certainly in any other thriller. To me it's as if you can feel the fabric of Scottie's world falling apart, and it's telling that his response is to replicate the violence in his past, even if unconsciously
Seconded. All three times I've seen this in a theater the ending has made me feel physically sick.

I think the reveal is essential because, for the rest of the film that follows, it encourages the audience to identify with both characters, not just Scottie. With the reveal, Judy's conflicted longing, desperation, and disgust becomes another painful dimension to the second half of the film. Without it, much of the second half would play as Scottie torturing some poor stranger the first time around and on repeat viewings Judy still wouldn't get a chance to explain herself as privately and honestly as she does with the letter scene—alone with the audience and in her own words.


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 14, 2017 11:28 am 
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This film disturbed me yet enchanted me (in a sickly sense) for a very long time, led me on, gave me a need to understand it, but mostly a wish to avoid it, beyond me...sometimes I'd feel I got close, kind of got everything said about it...yet on viewing that would kind of fall apart in the final scenes...and Freudian or any interpretations I was making, following Scottie in his labyrinth, trying to understand, slipping like soap, like something I could never catch before my eyes...and so even more wholly effective, even more horrifying....or else I'd have stepped outside of it before that, or come in on the film late, and looked at the horror before me and wondered at it but from the outside as other.

Last year I read The Sandman by E. T. A Hoffman, which must surely have influenced this film. Looking back at some notes I see it was shortly after seeing the film again and also reading a poem by Whitman called Eidolons. It felt like something clicked for me as to the need for regaining perspective, no matter the search, to reassess context and assumptions and see clearly again, not get sucked into Scottie's shoes, understand what had happened in a new way (for me) empathic but aware of boundaries...somehow I saw my two reactions more clearly and linked them, understood. My drift between the two vertiginous, useful to see, no antidote, but warning and a step taken by being clearer, if I can remember it.

I've not seen it since - and not for this comment, bad, my defence is that I'm seeing a screening in the next few months, hope this view stands up to it.


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 15, 2017 4:08 am 
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I saw James Gray in Q&A a couple of weeks ago after a screening of The Lost City of Z, the protagonist of which is largely driven by class aspirations. He stated that many great films he admires have class conflicts at their center, and included Vertigo, pointing out that Scottie's fantasy of transformation effectively looks to change a working-class woman into the high-class woman he initially took her to be. I hadn't thought of that angle before, but I think it's valid.


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 15, 2017 7:36 am 
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Yes, Madeleine is above him, on a pedestal, like the portrait of Carlotta; she might as well be Carlotta. Midge is on his level, and by painting herself into the Carlotta portrait she's trying to bring him back down to earth (where he won't suffer from vertigo): why fall in love with an ideal when you have something real standing right next to you? But he's already too wrapped up in that aspirational dream, hence his conviction that he can transform the utterly un-Carlotta-like Judy (who, in class terms, is 'beneath' him) into Madeleine/Carlotta. He can't save Madeleine because he can't climb that high. Looking at the film in these terms, it's obviously significant that Judy is killed by being chased off a high tower by (what at first appears to be) the looming ghost of Carlotta Valdes. You get a similar cross-section of classes, and some of the same class tensions, in Rear Window.

I first saw Vertigo in the cinema when I was 13, and it got me interested in old films. Like others in this thread, I remember having a really visceral reaction to it. I found the ending (especially that shadow rising up in absolute silence) profoundly scary. And yes, those scenes where Scottie is tailing Madeleine, accompanied by Herrmann's score, often replay in my head. No matter how many times I watch them, I still can't quite figure out why they're so haunting.


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 15, 2017 12:24 pm 
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Of course, Carlotta herself was not really of the upper classes- she was the tool on which a man of power exercised his will, but she had none of her own. I think, being charitable to Scottie, his drive is not vulgar social climbing- which I don't think we see a lot of signs of anywhere else- but a sort of a drive to save someone from a tall place, the princess from the tower. Carlotta was thrown down and smashed, and so was Madeline- Scottie has to recreate her to give himself another chance not to fail. Which, of course, he does anyway.


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 15, 2017 3:12 pm 
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Thanks, it's been a while since I watched it and I always forget the specifics of the Carlotta story. I agree that it's not the story of a social climber as such - the previous post just made me think that was an interesting lens through which to look at it.


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 15, 2017 4:50 pm 
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I think it's still an interesting insight, and certainly the largest difference between Madeline and Judy is a matter of class distinction- I just think that for Scottie, the recognition of those markers is sublimated into a sense of romance, with the class based unapproachability of Madeline being part of her appeal- Judy is too easy, too normal, and already in love with Scottie when they meet, and therefore has no sense of the challenge that Madeline brought (and poor Midge even moreso.) Carlotta may not have been of the upper classes, but in terms of a sense of romance to capture the imagination and unapproachable distance, she's the ideal.


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 15, 2017 8:17 pm 
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I like that idea of saving her -- of course he does at one point, apparently. Obviously he's very driven, that tailing he does literally when driving mostly. He seems to have this for several reasons, maybe a drive towards a woman and seeking perfection, an image, one end of the tailing is the heavenly vision in the flower shop...he may have this drive anyway and it may be reason, or part of, for rooftop vertigo...but then having had that experience on the rooftop very driven to prove himself, also perhaps after his brush with death an urgent need to connect to what he feels he needs in life. I think if he's saving her then implicit in that is that he's also saving himself.

I think, for me now, in thinking about vertigo, I'm seeing it as connected to the difference between product or result and process. I think Scottie is very fixed on getting the answers he wants and becomes more and more blind to process in himself. If up high, from my own experience of vertigo, then dazzled by the poles of possibilty, up here or down there, life / death....and sliding between the two is exactly reflected in the camera work as understand it, that uncanniness of picturing one the the other...and so my hope is that engagement not with results, or possible result, but with what I'm doing (process) may help, both if up high some time and also when watching Vertigo again, and awareness of what he's doing and not what he says he is doing. Scottie needs certain results, the more he chases them the worse it gets, I think.

To some extent the girl (edit - correction, woman) is a maguffin, I wonder -- but the most intriguing maguffin ever, both created for him and self created...whilst on one hand he pictures her as bliss, she i snemesis...it's a while since I saw it so will think on this when i do. If it hadn't been her then maybe another girl (woman)...less perfectly perhaps...and how true is that?


Last edited by Kat on Sun Apr 16, 2017 7:29 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 15, 2017 9:57 pm 
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I've never done one of these before, but I have to make an exception because it's such an incredible film. Just talking from experience, I can probably hit some of the suggested topics in the second post.

I didn't see a single Hitchcock film until the '90s and it was years before I even knew about Vertigo. I'm pretty sure the first time I read about it was through Roger Ebert's coverage of Sight & Sound's poll, and I recall him printing past polls to show how it made its first appearance in 1982 before creeping up in every poll thereafter. This is significant because the film was unavailable until after Hitchcock's death. I never knew how hard it was to see them until I read Donald Spoto's critical survey of Hitchcock's films - in the chapters on Rear Window, Vertigo, etc. he kept mentioning how his descriptions would be hampered by how difficult it was to get these films and view them again. Just as Sunrise and L'Atalante would later land in the top ten after getting a major restoration and/or reissue, Vertigo's reputation would grow exponentially under its newfound availability.

When I first saw it, I was in high school, and it didn't leave a deep impression. Rear Window and especially Psycho were favorites, but I didn't get Vertigo. I thought I did, but when I revisited the film more and more over the years, I realized that this was a very adult film, and an immature kid who had never been in anything close to a serious relationship was going to have a very limited understanding of what this film was about.

I see a lot of press that usually dwells on the parallels between Scottie and Hitchcock's own controlling demeanor as a director, usually as a study of Hitchcock himself rather than any universal idea about the relationships we all have with one another, and while there is a parallel there, it's not a good reflection of what the film's about. More than any of his other films, Vertigo really explores the idea of voyeurism as a form of control and what that entails from both sides of the story. It feels like his most personal work, and when I say personal, I don't mean it's more reflective of Hitchcock's own life - I mean it's the type of work that gives one the sense that this filmmaker/artist really understands some very private and painful things that many people go through.

The big reveal felt awkward the first time I saw it (again as a teenager who didn't get the film), but that's no longer the case, far from it. For starters, it's become a cheap, vacuous stunt to put big twists at the end of a story - they're so common now, and they're usually there for shock value. They're rarely edifying or substantial in any way, and it's fine for something like a disposable television show that people don't think about long after it's over. With Vertigo, it changes the dynamic so that you're now empathizing with Judy to a much greater degree. A lot of people bring up the suspense angle (i.e. Hitchcock is interested in the suspense of what Judy's going through, not the surprise of Judy's true identity), but again, this feels like a pretty inadequate description of what the film's about. This film gets under my skin because of what Judy is doing to herself - more precisely what she lets Scottie do to her.

There's a lot of ways to look at this. Everything Scottie does to Judy is what Gavin did to her to make her into Madeleine. What he does to Judy is similar to what Hitchcock (or any filmmaker) does to an actor for a role. (More on that point in a bit.) But the film really hits a raw nerve when you shift your attention to Judy's POV. Besides hating the fact that it's recreating step-by-step her complicity in a murder, she realizes that the man she loves is not in love with her but something else she tries to be (and doesn't want to be). The process of resisting, compromising, and then going along with it feels like a psychological assault on Judy, starting literally on the surface (the clothes, then the hair) and then working its way deep down into how she thinks of herself, and that's just really terrible and fucked up. That's not an unusual experience - how many people shape their own image, or even their own personality, to match what they believe to be someone else's ideal? And to go so far as to change everything about oneself to win that person's love, there's no way that experience can be anything but horrendously painful.

It resonates even more to see this in a film because it solidifies a link between filmmaking, cinephilia and what a lot of people go through in their closest relationships. Controlling someone else through voyeurism (projecting expectations or ideals on someone), shaping oneself to another's ideal (or to a spectator's own wishes and dreams), those elements can be found in the process of making a film, of starring in one, of going to the movies, and it can be found within the dynamics of any close relationship (be it romantic, familial, etc.)

In short, this is a film about cinema, to a very uncomfortable and profound degree. It's a big reason why I think it's the richest and most complex of Hitchcock's films, so much that it always has something to reveal when you return to it over and over again as you get older and wiser. And because it's about cinema, it feels so fitting that it would be considered "the greatest film ever made."

(Citizen Kane also felt perfect because virtually all of modern cinema can be traced back to it, just as Kane seems like a summation of all cinema before it. If the world were to burn and you could save only one film that wasn't a history textbook in documentary form, hoping that someday you could retrace all of film history from its contents, Citizen Kane would probably be your best bet.)


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PostPosted: Sun Apr 16, 2017 6:57 am 
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Yes, I'm wrong if I seem to do some unrecognition of Judy myself -- but meant from Scottie's point of view. Yes, she is made into an image on one hand and then again desired as such on another and where is she in all that.

To think of some of the questions - I think the film heightens a way in which love/attraction/desire can go wrong. I also think, building on my argument about product over process, is something more apparent in modern mass market consumer society and this would be why it is s fascinating...it may always have had a point, but i wonder if that point is more well known to consumers, resonates more easily.

As to Midge she is normality, homely, in process (though her job is interesting, doesn't she illustrate adverts...selling products, so she also understands what's up with him), sane - and utterly not what he is looking for in his image of what he needs, dismissing that as irrelevant, just as he takes for granted those aspects of himself but wants his vision.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 17, 2017 11:17 am 
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I've always been a little shy about saying so but the "Vertigo as Hitchcock autobiography" line of thinking has slowly come to feel mostly like received wisdom to me, however insightful it may initially have been, even though I'm sure there's truth in it. Certain modern readings seem to hinge on a viewer finding pleasure in Scottie's deconstruction of Judy's identity, as if our horror at it today is a new development; but however much AH may have had now-antiquated ideas about women, I don't believe the director of the brilliant, chillingly believable post-rape scene in Blackmail would have ever anticipated anything but ample empathy for Judy from the audience in those scenes.


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 22, 2017 9:35 pm 
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This was the first Hitchcock film I ever watched, and I don't know why I liked it but I did. Which is bizarre because now, revisiting it for a third time, because it's so clear to me how psychological this film was. Rear Window initially disappointed me, as I felt the ending wasn't that surprising. Upon revisiting it in a theatrical viewing, I realized the deep, psychological effect the movie had, and though it's not among my favorites of his, I could appreciate the film better. These two films seem similar within his body of work. I haven't seen Psycho or The Birds in ages, and loved them both, and feel they fall within this category as well. But Vertigo so perfectly combines suspense and psychological effect. As I "got into" Hitchcock, I was frequently frustrated that the films weren't all that "surprising" and couldn't grasp the suspense. Eventually, I began to appreciate and enjoy his films more. I understood that they weren't building to a climax. I understood why the climaxes felt abrupt. I realized the importance of the journey his characters were on.

But even with a newfound appreciation and understanding of Hitchcock, Vertigo stands out. And it stands out in a way that truly is visceral, as others here have pointed out. Is it fair to compare this to The Birds? Unlike Psycho and Rear Window which are psychological against a backdrop of a clear and obvious mystery we are constantly getting to the bottom of, the other two don't necessarily have endings they are clearly working towards, and I think that makes them more powerful. Vertigo has so many moments which are absolutely brutal, such as the scene where Scottie is picking out clothes, or right before Madeline's first death, as she tries to run away from him. The editing and use of flashback is particularly effective, and so unlike anything I've seen in any other Hitchcock film. I'm thinking of Scottie's first trip to the restaurant, where the camera pulls away from him, almost like he's frozen in time, as it goes to explore Madeline. A similar effect is used when he brings her to his apartment, after she has jumped in the water. They are truly masterful shots that just ooze mystery, without doing anything else. They set the tone for the film beautifully.

There are some other things I noticed on this viewing. Scottie's forcefulness towards Madeline doesn't begin in the last part of the film, but he's quite forceful towards her early on. As he's playing the role of private eye, he's still forcing her in directions and towards confrontations she'd rather avoid. There's really no part of the film where he leaves her alone just as she is. He's constantly trying to change her in some meaningful way. With that said, Madeline, too, is manipulating Scottie in a way I never noticed before (though I suppose it should have been obvious). She is planting ideas in his head. In both parts of the film, she is in a way a willing participant to her own downfall, and I did feel that she allows Scottie to bring her towards her doom if that makes sense.

The film truly is riveting. Like the best of all cinema, there are a number of great moments which hit you emotionally, before you analyze them. I don't know how else to put it, other than that you really feel the film.

A few other quick notes: the first is that I was pretty unimpressed with the blu ray transfer. I saw this in an IB Tech print two years ago in Brooklyn, and while the colors of the blu-ray aren't too far off from what I noticed, there is a certain depth and fullness to the image that I feel is lacking. I won't pretend to perfectly remember what that screening was like, but I do recall that during Scottie first following Madeline around, the scene where he first opens the door to the flower room popped spectacularly. I feel the BD failed to deliver there. It was a great example of the film's power and use of editing.

Lastly, a quick note. While I watched this film for the first time I used some of the dialogue for a song, which my band recorded a year later. I don't believe I've ever self-promoted on the forum, so here is that song.


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