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Vertigo Movie Explained: Unraveling the Twists and Turns

Vertigo Behind the Scenes Consistently ranked among the greatest films ever made, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 film Vertigo was adapted by screenwriters Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylor from the 1954 novel D’entre les morts (From Among the Dead) by Boileau-Narcejac. Playwright Maxwell Anderson wrote the first treatment of the material, and the ultimate script was a progression under Hitchcock’s guidance from Coppel to Taylor.

Production for Vertigo began in September of 1957 in and around San Francisco and concluded in December of that year on the Paramount lot in Los Angeles. The role of Madeleine, originally set for Vera Miles, went to Kim Novak after co-star Jimmy Stewart was promised in a swap to Columbia for another production, Bell, Book, and Candle. In his study of the film, Hitchcock scholar Charles Barr concluded that the film details a man’s psychological obsession with a woman, as the plot details an acrophobic retired detective’s compulsive attraction to a woman he has been hired to trail. The Technical Behind Vertigo Explained As was typical for Alfred Hitchcock, the studio filming on constructed sets followed the completion of location shooting. A primary technical feature of Vertigo was the use of the “dolly zoom”, called forever after the “Vertigo effect”. With the camera moving away as it simultaneously zooms in, the camera’s subject can retain its size while the perspective of the background changes. To accentuate Scottie’s disorientation in the tower scene, Hitchcock worked with both a life-size set and a tower model. In addition, the “special sequence” containing Scottie’s nightmare was created by artist John Ferren. Bernard Herrmann composed the score that Martin Scorcese described as “spirals and circles, fulfillment and despair”.

After some wrangling over edits, Vertigo opened in San Francisco on May 9, 1958, to mixed reviews, though it broke even following domestic release. Variety said the film was “too long and slow” and the Los Angeles Times thought the narrative “took too long to unfold”. The New York Times, on the other hand, declared the structuring of the film “so clever, even though it is devilishly far-fetched”. Only in France was the film more universally praised.

Growing Interest Interestingly, time has treated Vertigo quite well. Over the decades since its release, the fondness for the film has steadily grown. By 1982, the British Film Institute’s film magazine, Sight & Sound, found in its annual polling of film critics that the film had broken the top ten films of all time at number 7, and by 2012, it was on top. As recently as 2022, Vertigo held strong at number two in the same Sight & Sound poll.

In his 1996 appraisal of the film, although Roger Ebert acknowledges our total sympathy with Stewart’s Scottie in the film’s ending reveal, he is quick to remind us that Hitchcock was forever controlling the women he presented on film. Ebert surmises that Scottie, Hitchcock’s alter ego, “obsessively falls in love with the image of a woman….when he cannot have her, he finds another woman and tries to mold her….He cares nothing about the clay he is shaping; he will gladly sacrifice her on the altar of his dreams.”


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