It's PG because there was no PG-13. It's certainly not R. Well, I should probably not be so flippant about that because this movie involves murder, suicide, ghosts, adultery, multiple people falling to their deaths, and generally upsetting concepts. The thing is, I might watch this in front of my kids. But that's more along the lines that I'm a bad person who needs to determine his priorities.
DIRECTOR: Alfred Hitchcock
I never want to write about my favorite movies. (I especially don't want to write about them again after I accidentally closed the page and lost all of my information.) It's really intimidating. I don't want to be gushing about a movie because that just makes for boring reading. Also, Vertigo is a super intimidating movie to write about. It's a great favorite movie. It's got just the right amount of hipster cred to it. Lots of people love The Godfather and The Shawshank Redemption. Lots more people probably love The Dark Knight. Those movies are great, but I do love me some Vertigo. It's just that there's something that is really weird about Vertigo possibly being my favorite movie. The weird thing is...
...it's not perfect.
I'm going to start dunking on my favorite film. It's a weird choice, but it also feels a little more objective. If I'm going to analyze the movie, I guess I should look at it warts and all. There are some really perfect movies out there. They aren't my favorite. Vertigo has a couple of really problematic things about it and realize I'm saying this out of love. I'm going to call a spade a spade. A good chunk of the first half is pretty boring. I'm not talking about the police chase. That is awesome and the perfect, out-of-the-gate opening. I even love the Midge stuff. The movie does a great job of balancing showing and infodump. But I keep hearing from movies that stakeouts are super boring and Vertigo lets me actually believe how boring they are. A lot of this movie is just stakeouts. It's necessary because we get Scottie's frustration. Hitchcock had to know what he was doing. He keeps showing Scottie and how annoyed he is by this tedium. It's a really weird choice. But now I'm going to be an apologist for this stuff. Hitchcock is doing it right by showing what is going on instead of having someone tell us. We see these small moments of information. We get the misleads the same way that Scottie does. It also makes the revelations somewhat earned. This is a weird observation, but Vertigo might be similar to what makes video games work when video game. (Don't worry, I hate me too.) Video game movies don't work because they don't mirror the structure of a game. When major plot points are revealed, they are unearned. Vertigo makes us kind of work for the information and it pays off. It's not my favorite. I have to stress that. But it is necessary to the story. I also really don't like the Jimmy Stewart / Kim Novak combination. I talked about the age difference in my Bell, Book, and Candle review. I keep going over this in my head and I have a really hard time defending their age difference. There's no way that Kim Novak is that into Jimmy Stewart. As part of that, Vertigo might be the most ambiguous genre I've ever seen. It could be any or all of the following genres: murder mystery, psychological thriller, ghost story, romance, etc. But romance is the thread that ties a lot of this story together. Having the age difference is often distracting. This especially comes into play when Scottie is being a monster to Judy. The idea that she's that enamored with him that she's willing to risk it all of Scottie the monster. But this is all arbitrary. Because the movie is amazing and now I'm going to enjoy myself a little bit.
I've seen most of Hitchcock's films. I crushed that IMDB list. I haven't watched some of the ones that have garbage prints, but I really love what Hitchcock does. Not as a human being. Like most great artists, apparently he is a trash person. But he knows how to make a movie. I have a handful of truly amazing movies from Hitch on my list, but Vertigo somehow feels special. Vertigo thrives because it might be his most complex movie coupled with the fact that Hitchcock uses color in ways that I don't really see in his other films. Since this is one of my favorites, I want to feel free to use SPOILERS from here on. I think I've watched Vertigo four times. It's not a fun watch all of the time. I just talked about how slow it is. But I know the story pretty well. Somehow, Vertigo has the ability to catch me off guard every time. Structurally, Hitchcock breaks a lot of rules. It is a fairly long movie, but he uses the time in a way that I haven't seen happen in other movies. It kind of feels like you are watching three separate movies. The beginning is the investigation. It is a ghost story. Honestly, each time I watch this, I keep thinking that Carlotta Valdes is central to the plot. It's one of the coolest misleads because Hitchcock crafts this paranoid feeling. Scottie following Judy / Madeline / Carlotta (that's going to get annoying) into the hotel and she's not there? It's pretty creepy. She throws herself into the bay. The romance forms and Scottie is being manipulated. I know the end of the movie and it never feels like Scottie is being manipulated. Then there's the really trippy psychological break. This is where the structure goes to eleven and I'm not even sure how this works. The big revelation is given at 60% of the movie. He Gone Girl'ed us. There's this very cryptic mystery and we're given very little info. Then we just get the answer and we get to watch crazy Scottie go to town. It's really dark. The kind hearted protagonist is torturing Judy against his will. His psychosis is carried to this dark place that I'm not used to see protagonists experience. Honestly, most movies end with a tease that "Scottie never recovered." But Hitchcock makes it central concept. We deal with mental illness unchecked. Scottie is broken in the first two minutes of the film and it seems like that trauma is superficial. But it really becomes an issue towards the end. We get this really cool nightmare sequence that some of my classes laughed at and this class loved. But then it becomes this awesome revenge plot, still completely painted with psychosis. It's so good. Guys. That end is just what I want out of every movie.
We know that there's no happy ending to this story. I don't see how that could work. But to do that, we have to villify Scottie. Scottie is in the right for his actions, kind of. The right thing to do would be to forgive and seek counseling. He should report this to the authorities because he's been wronged. But what fun is that? Instead, there's this house of cards. Everything is just telegraphed and it's wonderful. Yeah, there's a surprise at the end that's pretty simple, yet fantastic. But Hitchcock lets you know how this is going to play out fifteen minutes before it happens. It doesn't really make it any less impactful. That end is the most cathartic dark ending I've ever seen. I actually think this movie stresses that I'm a bad person. Yet, I think everyone loves it. It hits that dark part of our psyche to point out that we want to see Judy die a horrible death. We know that Scottie can't throw her off the tower. That's just too much. But having Judy fall from the tower as a moment of poetic justice is great. Also, Hitchcock gives us time to start hating Scottie. Look at the scene between Scottie and Midge at the beginning of the film. He's honestly amazing. He's a fantastic human being. But Hitchcock manages to have Scottie grow darker and darker throughout the story. Scottie continues to experience tragedy after tragedy throughout this story. He grows into Walter White throughout this story. It's wildly tragic how the story ends, but like a Shakespeare play, we feel like the end is just for the protagonist. This could have been avoided, but the best ending has Scottie throwing away his entire moral code. He is never in control, unlike the well-crafted frame job. Scottie tries playing by the villain's rules and he never really realizes the cost. I'm realizing this right now, but Vertigo might be the perfect narrative of the hero becoming the villain. Yes, he's justified, but that transition is really organic. Every choice makes perfect sense.
Vertigo is also a really pretty movie. I'm showing my film club It Happened One Night and there were groans when they heard it was going to be black-and-white. But Vertigo actually uses color fabulously. San Francisco is a beautiful backdrop. It's not like Hitchcock invented San Francisco. That was Hikaru Sulu, but I digress. The color palate that accompanies San Francisco is absolutely beautiful. I love the idea of a beautiful blue sky contrasting the darkness of the tale. This might be one of the only "ghost stories" that I have ever seen mostly told in the brightness of day. The juxtaposition of Kim Novak against the Golden Gate Bridge is striking. I know that Hitchcock loves the inclusion of neon as part of his aesthetics as a thing, but it works so much better in this. I'm thinking of his use of it in Rope and that doesn't really hold a candle to Novak's revelation in the Hotel Empire. The green is intense. I mean, the same can be said for a lot of locations. I think the name of the restaurant is Elmer's or something, but the red of that wallpaper is, like, wow.
The movie just works. It's so good. Sure, I'm going to rewatch The Seven Samurai some day and I'm going to question my entire list again. I just watched One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest not long ago and I'm still questioning if Vertigo has been dethroned. All I know is that this movie absolutely and positively crushes. The odd thing is that I want to watch Psycho sometime soon as well. Regardless, it's an excellent movie and I'm super happy to have watched it again.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.