Vertigo review – still spinning its dizzying magic

Hitchcock’s masterpiece, rereleased after 60 years, combines his flair for psychological shocks with a genius for dapper stylishness The unbearably sad, exquisitely macabre love story that is Vertigo now reaches its 60th birthday, and this week sees its rerelease, not much liked on first appearing in 1958 but now hugely canonical and prestigious, recently unseating Citizen Kane at the top of the Sight and Sound critics’ poll, due very much to unending critical interest in “the male gaze”, pioneered by theorists such as Michel Foucault and Laura Mulvey. This is that act of seeing that, so far from being transparent and neutral, is an imposition of power, and therefore extremely applicable to this drama of obsession and voyeurism, although I never tire of pointing out that there are very few members of the hetero-patriarchy who have the confidence or fanatical connoisseurship to pick out a woman’s clothes or exactly specify her hairstyle. Vertigo also combines in an almost unique balance Hitchcock’s brash flair for psychological shocks with his elegant genius for dapper stylishness. Like Psycho, it ends in an “o”, or maybe “oh!” The ancient house adjoining the Bates motel in Psycho certainly has an unearthly similarity to San Francisco’s creepy old McKitterick Hotel in Vertigo. James Stewart plays ex-cop Scottie, invalided out of the police due to vertigo brought on by a traumatic and shaming calamity during a rooftop chase. He is hired by old schoolfriend Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) for a strange job: to shadow his beautiful and enigmatic wife Madeline (Kim Novak) whose behaviour is worrying him. This bizarre situation unlocks lonely Scottie’s gallantry and romanticism and he falls passionately in love with this mysterious, troubled woman with her quiet, wondering voice and the manner of a sleepwalker. And later, when his vertigo prevents him from stopping another disaster, Scottie is to fall in love with another woman, Kansas-born Judy Barton, who has an eerie similarity to Madeline. With fanatical dedication, Scottie forces Judy to dress and sound like his lost love. Continue reading...

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