Vertigo – a feeling of dizziness…a swimming of the head…figuratively a state in which all things seem to be engulfed in a whirlpool of terror. In that one definition alone it sums up the essences of Vertigo; the dizziness comes from the myriad of daunting camera angles that rotate, flip and spin you until you desperately cling to a compass like the final raft on the sinking titanic. The swimming of the head comes from the hypnotising array of special affects, which makes you feel as if you were trapped in psychedelic storm, leaving you looking at a Rorschach test and seeing only your worst nightmares. And engulfing you in a whirlpool of terror is what the master of suspense does best. Any film that has the pleasure of gracing the name Alfred Hitchcock next to ‘directed by’; promises to weave a spellbinding web of mystery, tension and of course suspense. That slowly intertwines in between your every nerve, paralysing you and leaving you at Hitchcock’s mercy, so he can play with your deepest fears and paranoia with precision of a conductor conducting an orchestra. Vertigo is truly the finest symphony of suspense ever crafted by Alfred Hitchcock and demands with complete conviction repeated viewings, with the promise that each watching merely dissects only one layer of the thousands that are sure to lie beneath.
One of cinemas most chilling, emotionally jarring and wickedly captivating romantic endeavours is ignited for the very first time, when a detective portrayed emphatically by James Stewart initially forced to retire due to the nasty business of almost falling to a gruesome death from the top of a large building . However despite being ravished with acrophobia (fear of heights) from an unsightly waltz with death, Scottie (Stewart) is brought back into the call of duty via a favour for an old acquaintance with concerns over the strange doings and goings of his wife, played hypnotically by Kim Novak. It is at this point Scottie makes two gravely bad decisions, first he allows himself to be swept up into a maze of deceit, debauchery and murder. But second and worst of all, he falls in love with the wife.
But Vertigo is a Rubix Cube of a film and takes awhile to solve, because it’s not just the overall finished product that makes Vertigo so haunting; it’s also the intricate little details of Edith Head’s costume designs and the way the grey suit worn by Novak never quite fitted with her blonde hair, and like the wolf in grandmother clothing, served as foreshadowing to that fact all was not right with what you saw. Bernard Herrmann’s music score acted like a paradox, acting both as a subliminal muted screams constantly warning Scottie that he was descending down a path that only had misery promised at the end of it; whilst at the same time the music seduced the audiences with its operatic decadences like Herrmann was the Pied Piper. Then finally Robert Burks’s cinematography mercilessly toyed with the audiences, like we were Hansel and Gretel and it was the evil witch. One moment he would mesmerise us beautiful shots of San Francisco Bay; then the next moment he would grab us and dump us into the belly of the film, filled with camera angles that like snakes wrap and contort themselves around every scene so they can eventually inject suspenseful venom into the audience to paralyse them.
Quentin Taratino and Pulp Fiction, James Cameron and Terminator and David Fincher and Fight Club, while it so easy to pick the crowning achievement from most directors’ CV. In terms of Hitchcock the endeavour takes a far more difficult turn because he’s filmography is jam packed with the very apex of the thriller, murder mystery and suspense world. Audiences only simply have to look at the likes of Psycho, The Birds, North by Northwest and Strangers on a Train to understand quite rightly why they call Hitchcock the master, all his films are simply incredible. But for me Vertigo stamps its foot triumphantly on Hitchcock mantle piece; it’s cool, calculating and like a methodical metronome slowly plying away the fingers you use to attach yourself to the edge of reality; until your feel yourself being dangled over the jaws of Vertigo with the inevitability of the knowledge that at anytime they will snap around you.