The Sight & Sound poll of the greatest films of all time, which they’ve been publishing once per decade since 1952, provides an interesting study in how critical opinion has shifted over the years. In the initial poll, Vittorio De Sica’s Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves) topped the list, but for the next five polls, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane was chosen number one. It figures, right? If you’ve taken a film class, you’ve probably studied Citizen Kane. However, you probably haven’t studied the surprise 2012 winner, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, but you should—or at least watch it with attentiveness, which you can do on the big screen this weekend at Webster University.
Jimmy Stewart plays a police detective, Scottie Ferguson, who retires after a rooftop chase leaves him with an apparently permanent case of vertigo. A former school friend, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) hires him to tail his wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak), who has formed an unhealthy obsession with a woman who died more than 100 years prior. Scottie’s friend Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes) is still carrying a torch for him, but she also sincerely tries to help him with his vertigo, and later with the obsession he forms over Madeleine.
There’s a mystery, or several, at the heart of Vertigo, but the more interesting aspect of this film (and probably the reason it’s finally getting the critical recognition it deserves) is its terrifying portrayal of one man’s sexual obsession (something Hitchcock knew a thing or two about, as we now know). Audiences and critics in 1958 were not prepared to deal with the kind of twisted darkness Vertigo presents so clearly on the big screen (The Oscar for Best Picture that year with to the musical Gigi, while Vertigo received only two nominations, for Best Sound and Best Art Direction) but hopefully we’re all grown up now and able to deal with it.
Vertigo is based on the novel Celle qui n’était plus (She Who Was No More) by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac; they also wrote the source novel for Henri-Georges Cluozot’s 1955 film Diabolique, so you can be sure they knew a thing or two about the dark side of human beings. I suspect men and women will have a different take on Vertigo, as will older versus younger people, so it’s bound to spark some interesting post-viewing discussions.
One word of warning—if you’re used to the latest in CGI, you’ll have to remind yourself that this film is more than 60 years old thus not let yourself be distracted by some visual effects that are frankly dated. On the plus side, Vertigo incorporates a lot of location shooting, showing off San Francisco as few films have before or since (there are many websites dedicated to pinpoint the real locations featured). | Sarah Boslaugh
Vertigo will be screened at Winifred Moore Auditorium on the Webster University Campus on Friday, May 3, at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $7 for the general public, $6 for seniors, Webster alumni and students from other schools, $5 for Webster staff and faculty, and free for Webster students with proper ID.