Sight and Sound (2011) - Forever falling: Vertigo
- article: Forever falling: Vertigo
- author(s): Miguel Marias
- journal: Sight and Sound (01/May/2011)
- issue: volume 21, issue 5, page 44
- journal ISSN: 0037-4806
- publisher: Tower Publishing Services
- keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, Bernard Herrmann, Cary Grant, Claude Rains, Dimitri Tiomkin, Franz Waxman, François Truffaut, Gough Street, San Francisco, California, Hugo Friedhofer, Ingrid Bergman, James Stewart, Janet Leigh, Jean Douchet, Kim Novak, Leopoldine Konstantin, Marnie (1964), Maurice Jarre, Miguel Marias, Miklós Rózsa, Mission Dolores Church and Cemetery, San Francisco, California, Mission San Juan Bautista, California, Montgomery Street, San Francisco, California, Motion picture criticism, Motion picture directors & producers, Motion pictures, Movie reviews, Notorious (1946), Psycho (1960), Robin Wood, Roy Webb, San Francisco, California, Screenplays, Sean Connery, Tippi Hedren, Tom Helmore, Vertigo (1958)
Forever falling: Vertigo
For some, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) has always been one of those ‘bedside’ films (as François Truffaut put it, before such a thing could be taken literally) – which means that we store it so well in our minds, and in our hearts, that we can think about it and ‘watch’ it again whenever the mood takes us. We do this to delve a little bit deeper into the film’s inexhaustible and fascinating enigmas, to relive our first impressions and to compare Hitchcock’s film to the rest of filmmaking – if only to reassure ourselves of its status as an unsurpassed peak, making films that hold more prestige for critics and historians seem lesser works by comparison. And yet the truth is that its status as a great work has only been admitted comparatively recently.
None of Hitchcock’s films, for instance, featured in Sight & Sound’s first top ten in 1952, and Vertigo didn’t feature in the 1962 critics’ poll, compiled four years after the film’s release. In fact Vertigo didn’t appear in the poll until 1982, when it came seventh. By 1992 it was up to fourth (and sixth in the newly instigated directors’ poll); then in 2002 it came second (remaining sixth for the directors).
Why did it take so long? Unlike, say, Bicycle Thieves, which was more or less instantly acclaimed as a masterpiece (coming top in the 1952 poll, only four years after its release), films such as Vertigo and John Ford’s The Searchers (1956) initially met with a mixed reception from critics – and with indifference from the public. Which means that, beyond the mere passing of time and the perseverance of their defenders, these works must have something very special about them to have been able to finally impose themselves as great works.
But why, in the case of Vertigo, do we come back again and again, even though the art of cinema ...