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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Vertigo (1958)

Imagine not being able to stand on a tall step-ladder because of the fear of heights - called as acrophobia. This fear forms the basis for the movie, now known as one of Alfred Hitchcock's greatest movies, and part of any list of the top 10 movies of all times. The movie however did not always have that reputation. When it released in 1958, it did not create much of a stir, and got a total of 2 Academy nominations (nominations in technical categories - Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White or Color and Best Sound). It did not win a single Oscar, and was essentially not acclaimed for some time.
And then came the re-evaluation. In the 1960's, the movie started catching the attention of critics and reviewers, and got much more attention when it was re-released commercially in October 1983 and then on home video in October 1984. In the next few years, Vertigo was recognized as being among the best films ever made. Alfred Hitchcock rated it as his favorite movie.

Vertigo Alfred Hitchcock
The movie was an unusual movie in the sense that it combines the familiar Hitchcock trait, obsession, with some great sets, a story that is very gripping. Adding a touch of the paranormal to this story also enriches the whole movie; when coupled with a great double role by Kim Novak and the obsessed role played by Jimmy Stewart make this movie worth watching in a repeat mode. For those who have not seen the movie, it is worth watching.
The movie is shot in some great locations in San Francisco, and a great many of the fans of this movie make it a point to visit them. Some of the locations features in the film include such locations as Fort Point at the Golden Gate Bridge, Palace of the Legion of Honor, Muir Woods, Mission San Juan Bautista, Mission Dolores, Palace of Fine Arts, and a few others.
The movie is all about the obsessions of a former police detective John 'Scottie' Ferguson. He has always suffered from acrophobia (fear of heights) to some degree, but this develops into a full blown acute fear when he watches his police partner plummet to death during a chase on rooftops (Scottie himself is clutching onto dear life on his fingertips). It is now of the level that he cannot continue in the police force and resigns.
And this fear forms the backdrop of the movie. At such a time, he gets a case from an old wealthy friend, Gavin Elster, to have his wife Madeleine followed. Elster believes that Madeleine may be possessed by the spirit of a woman called Carlotta Valdes who killed herself a 100 years back. And Madeleine plays the part, visiting the grave and moving around in a trance. At one point, Scotties saves her when she throws herself into the San Francisco Bay. They are traveling together when she wants to visit the Mission San Juan Bautista, and then runs up the bell tower. Scottie is unable to follow because of his acrophobia, and can only watch in horror as she throws herself off the tower to her death.
Scottie suffers from depression over this whole incident, and starts to go back to the places that he visited along with Madeleine. And then he meets Judy Barton who looks a lot like Madeleine. She does not tell him the truth about being hired to act as Madeleine while Elster uses Scottie as a pawn to actually throw his real wife off the tower (she writes a letter to Scottie about this, but destroys it soon enough). However, Scottie's obsession with Madeleine starts to show, making Judy dress up like Madeleine (including even the hair style).
Eventually Scottie forces her to go up to the top of the bell tower, and she confesses the truth to him, making him rage at her. However, Scottie has made it to the top of the bell tower, and this emotional turmoil causes him to lose his fear of vertigo. They reconcile, and then Judy pays a terrible price for his escape from acrophobia. She gets scared of a shadow (a nun) and falls down; Scottie is able to look down at her, thus showing that he has lost his fear of heights, but at a massive price.

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