Saturday, 4 August 2012


I am as vulnerable as the rest to reading lists of the greatest. This week when Sight and Sound listed Vertigo with Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak, directed by Hitchcock the best movie of all time, I had to watch it again and see what had captured the imaginations of 846 critics, programmers, academics and distributors. And interestingly what caused it to displace Citizen Kane. Citizen Kane was only nudged to number 2 in this list which it had held for 50 years, but a film which many have always considered a change in the way films are made, using the skills of film, sound and light to help tell a compelling story.

But Vertigo? I watched it again last evening and was struck by the colors and use of lighting to move the narration of the story. I did not think the story was any more compelling than Citizen Kane or Casablanca, one of my favorites or even another Hitchcock, Marnie. It is a murder story with the duplicitous use of a man's fractured psyche to spy, follow, trail another man's wife and set him up to cover up a murderous plot. The husband of the murdered woman takes her fortune and moves out of town, there is no satisfaction in this movie. It leaves you feeling with a sense of injustice.

Vertigo is a visually stylish movie with costumes by Edith Head. But it is the use of color and light and graphics in the anxious and angst nightmare of Jimmy Stewart when we are taken into his mind through animation starting with a bouquet of flowers that disperses into colorful petals and ends with a black silhouette of a falling man in a spiral of anxiety. Visually powerful stuff. And the visual references today to that sequence are numerous: the Dumbo dream and the pink elephants to Mad Men... and all that was done by hand.

The use of color: red, the restaurant with the deep red brocade wallpaper. The green light as Novak and Stewart stand against the window in her apartment. The green face and purple background of the dream sequence. Kim Novak's purple dress, the gray suit he so desperately wants her to wear. All scenes and more to augment the tension and anxiety in "Scotttie's" mind.

And marvelous shots of San Francisco. All these elements to the story and film making are prescient to today's world and our use of computers. Think of the filters we can now put on a photo, an image to enhance the color, fade it or highlight. Think of how we can cut out a segment of a image and layer it through photoshop and think of the way we follow, spy trail people through social media. As a whole movie, I wouldn't have listed it as the greatest film of all time, but I can certainly see how it has influenced the visual imagination of a new generation.

What is your favorite movie?

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