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Vertigo: Does it Deserve its Spot?

The films Vertigo and Citizen Kane have been battling it out for the number one spot in most cumulative lists made by prestigious film institutes all over the world ever since their respective releases in 1958 and 1941. Having seen both films, I can say with much resoluteness that these two films certainly have a spot in the top ten most influential films of all time. In my personal opinion, Citizen Kane is a much better movie in all respects than Vertigo, simply because it has that flawless combination of great story, impeccable acting, incredible cinematography, and intuitive directing. Vertigo has all of that as well, but it proves to be a bit top-heavy on the stylistic side than the story side. Rather than striving to be a complete package, this film becomes an artistic tour de force, which is certainly not a bad thing at all. Citizen Kane simply proves to be a more watchable film. I had to watch Hitchcock’s work twice before I could fully understand what had happened, which does not happen when one has watched Orson Welles’ masterpiece. I absolutely love Hitchcock, and Jimmy Stewart – one of my absolute all-time favorite actors – does not disappoint in his performance, but I feel that in the battle of two of my favorite directors, Welles comes out on top.

I believe that the film that epitomizes all of Hitchcock’s strengths and comes out as the better all-around movie in his repertoire proves to be Psycho; I had never even heard of Vertigo, but everyone has heard of the harrowing story in Bates Motel. However, Vertigo proves to have made much of a bigger impact on film itself as an art than Psycho has, though the latter has made much more of an impact on society and movie genres as a whole. I do believe that Vertigo deserves to be ranked higher than Psycho, simply because film as a medium never would have developed quite in the way it has without that particular film. I also believe that Vertigo is a much scarier film than Psycho, and indeed Hitchcock’s scariest film in all. It is not scary in the typical sense of the word, but the way that Stewart’s character completely dominates Kim Novak’s character would have left me shaking and crying in terror if I had not been surrounded by my peers. It is in this respect that this film surpasses other films – its revolutionary characters and character development. Most other films had never before addressed such topics as stripping away one’s identity for love and giving oneself wholly to another, and what happens to one when that happens, and if a relationship under such a premise could ever be healthy. Roger Ebert aptly describes this volatile relationship and characterization in his film critique, in which he describes Vertigo as “one of the two or three best films Hitchcock ever made”:

Vertigo… is the most confessional [of Hitchcock’s films], dealing directly with the themes that controlled his art. It is *about* how Hitchcock used, feared and tried to control women. He is represented by Scottie, a man with physical and mental weaknesses (back problems, fear of heights), who falls obsessively in love with the image of a woman–and not any woman, but the quintessential Hitchcock woman. When he cannot have her, he finds another woman and tries to mold her, dress her, train her, change her makeup and her hair, until she looks like the woman he desires. He cares nothing about the clay he is shaping; he will gladly sacrifice her on the altar of his dreams.”

He then goes on to expose Scottie’s hypocritical anger at Gavin and Judy, in which Scottie laments that he could not shape the woman he so desired, as the woman he loved was pure fiction. In no other film has this topic been scrutinized to the length that it was in this film, and in no other film does the treatment and complete submissiveness of the woman strike such fear into the viewer as this film. This characterization and the gleeful pleasure Hitchcock takes in playing with audience expectations and preconceptions, as well as the unnerving examination of the role of women in society and in romantic relationships, combine to help make this film into the work of art that it is.

While I do not think that this Hitchcock film is necessarily the best film ever made, it assuredly deserves to be in every top ten list of best movies ever made. Its contributions to film-making as an art is undeniable.

Also, who can resist the absolute beauty that is Kim Novak?!
(Pre-surgery, of course.)

Ebert, Robert. “Vertigo.” Ebert Digital LLC, October 6, 1996.