Vertigo (1958) – Best film ever?

Is Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo the greatest film of all time? The 2012 Sight & Sound critics poll thinks so. And even if this is not true (some don’t even think it’s the best of the director’s thrillers), how well do people know this iconic film? Is it possible that this story of murder and obsessive love, a box-office also-ran in its day despite starring James Stewart and Kim Novak, and unavailable for the best part of two decades, is in fact an overlooked work, albeit by one of the most written-about directors in the history of cinema? To many it may actually be better known as the source for dozens of assorted media homages and references rather than as a movie in its own right, famous for being famous but rather little-seen …

The following review is offered for Todd Mason’s Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme over at his Sweet Freedom blog, where you will find many other gems.

“Here I was born, and there I died. It was only a moment for you; you took no notice”

Vertigo recently became the source of a rather peculiar controversy when Kim Novak, its sole surviving star, took out a full-page ad in trade journal Variety to complain about the use of a cue from Bernard Herrmann’s music score in the Oscar-winning film The Artist. She claimed to feel artistically abused by its re-use, even though the music had been quite properly licensed and was listed in the closing credits – it even appears in the soundtrack album in fact.

Kim Novak in VERTIGO (Universal)

Here is her full statement:

“I want to report a rape. My body of work has been violated by The Artist. This film took the Love Theme music from Vertigo and used the emotions it engenders as its own. Alfred Hitchcock and Jimmy Stewart can’t speak for themselves, but I can. It was our work that unconsciously or consciously evoked the memories and feelings to the audience that were used for the climax of The Artist. There was no reason for them to depend on Bernard Herrmann’s score from Vertigo to provide more drama. Vertigo‘s music was written during the filming. Hitchcock wanted the theme woven musically in the puzzle pieces of the storyline. Even though they did give Bernard Herrmann a small credit at the end, I believe this kind of filmmaking trick to be cheating. Shame on them!”

James Stewart and Kim Novak in VERTIGO (Universal)

I thoroughly enjoyed The Artist but if truth be told, I was also a bit unconvinced by the use of the Herrmann score within the context of the film, in the sense that I didn’t think the two gelled particularly well. It was in fact a late decision, the music originally only used as a place-holder during the editing and then left in when the director couldn’t bear to be parted from it even though new music was written (and can be heard on the CD). On the other hand, Novak definitely exaggerated in characterising this use of the score in such violent terms, not just because it is done quite referentially in context, but because the score and the film have been sampled and quoted dozens of times over the years. Certainly, one suspects that some of the film’s themes and effects will be more familiar to many as filtered through popular works as different as Spielberg’s Jaws (especially the reverse-zoom, forward tracking shot); Terry Gilliam’s forlorn time travel extravaganza Twelve Monkeys (the cinema sequence); Neil Jordan’s gender-bending The Crying Game; Lucio Fulci’s Perversion Story (aka One on Top of the Other); and that lubricious and sleazy offering from the trashy team of Paul Verhoeven and Joe Eszterhaus, Basic Instict (from the San Francisco locations to Sharon Stone’s haircut); Gilles Mimouni’s L’Appartement (remade in the US with Josh Hartnett as Wicker Park); even music videos by Lady GaGa.

Kim Novak in VERTIGO (Universal)

Novak’s over-the-top reaction does point to how unified and homogeneous a work Vertigo truly is however, which is also to say that it can be somewhat unpicked if taken only one element at a time. So what does make the film so outstanding? The oneiric atmosphere is certainly very special, as is its unusual emphasis on music (there are long stretches of several minutes with no dialogue at all in fact). And while some claim that it is misanthropic and potentially even necrophiliac in its implications, this is really a deeply Romantic movie and thus often an irrational and incoherent work. The storyline starts out nice and simple at least …

“Do you believe that someone out of the past – someone dead – can enter and take possession of a living being?”

Scottie Ferguson (Stewart) is a cop who has an accident while chasing a criminal across a rooftop and discovers that he suffers from crippling vertigo. He is invalided out of the force and is contacted by an old school friend to undertake some private detective work and follow his wife. This is where it gets intriguing because the woman is apparently obsessed with a relative, Carlotta, to the extent that she sometimes believes she really is her. Her husband then says that the really weird part is that his wife doesn’t even know about the long-dead relative. The cop follows the woman (Novak), saves her from a drowning attempt and ultimately falls in love with her while becoming ever more concerned about her mental health as she really does seem obsessed with Carlotta. Ultimately she throws herself off the bell tower of a church and he is unable to stop her due to his phobia of high places. He is emotionally shattered and is hospitalised. Much later he meets a woman who reminds him of the woman he loved and for whose death he blames himself. And slowly but surely he tries to mould her into the shape of the dead woman …

“You shouldn’t keep souvenirs of a killing. You shouldn’t have been that sentimental”

If the story ultimately becomes fairly implausible at a purely narrative level, this may perhaps even be the true indicator of the film’s greatness. The plot is convoluted to an unusual degree and quite tricksy towards the end, as you’d expect from the authors of the original novel, Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, French masters of the surprise ending. Along with Psycho (1960), it is truly one of the few Hitchcock movies that springs a big surprise in the final part of its story, and as in the case of that film, it is not in any way an impediment to one’s enjoyment during subsequent viewings as it is in fact quite neatly sabotaged. In Psycho it is the long and tedious ‘explanation’ from the psychiatrist, here the big revelation is brought forward so as to radically alter our point of view.

“One final thing I have to do… and then I’ll be free of the past”

Along with its Wagnerian music score, the dreamlike rendering of San Francisco, the tragic open-ended finale and the darkly romantic, even morbid feel, all of which make it standout from standard big budget star-driven Hollywood movies of the day, this is a film that glories in its inconsistencies and imperfections, such as the ability of the woman Scottie is tracking to vanish from a building without any explanation despite being under surveillance. By being ambiguous it makes subsequent viewings a great pleasure, while one can also appreciate the subtlety of the design the second and third time after getting past the plot shenanigans. In Hamlet cognoscenti know that it’s the delivery of the “words, words, words” speech that may best reveal the tenor of the whole production rather than how “to be or not to be” is staged. For the discerning lovers of Vertigo, I would argue that perhaps the most important scene  is the bookstore sequence in which Konstantin Shayne tells the tale of the ‘sad’ Carlotta.

Barbara Bel Geddes, James Stewart and Konstantin Shayne in VERTIGO (Universal)

As the story is told, across two minutes, the ambient light slowly but surely reduces as the events described darken, so that by the end the bookseller has to turn the lights on as Scottie and his friend Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes) leaves – this is incredibly unusual for a Hollywood movie, and lest one imagines this was a lucky byproduct of shooting on location, it was all done back at the studio and very, very carefully designed. It’s wonderfully evocative, and helps establish the film’s slightly spooky atmosphere. This is just as true in the better known moment in which the film evokes Scottish’s yearning for the dead woman when he awaits for his new girlfriend to emerge with her new blonde hairdo while sitting in her apartment. Anyone who has seen or read JM Barrie’s Mary Rose, a supernatural play that Hitchcock loved, will immediately recognise how he replicates the staging, adding greatly to the films often supernatural feel. And then there is that moment when the film breaks the fourth wall and has a confession that should by rights come at the end and take the viewer’s breath away and instead is ‘spoiled’ much earlier, but which instead adds yet another layer to the already rich and dense text. The film is full of such great and powerful moments, and they have nothing to do with figuring out the plot, though this can also be a pleasure if taken in the right spirit (one could argue that Brian De Palma tried too hard in his own hommages to the film, Obsession (1976) and Body Double (1984), to resolve the parts of the plot that don’t work, though I say this as fan of both these movies too).

” … the external real world of San Francisco past and present is delineated with great precision in a mode that is at the opposite extreme from documentary” – Charles Barr

The late Robin Wood wrote extensively and persuasively on Hitchcock though for my money the best extended piece of writing on the film remains Charles Barr’s 100-page book in the BFI Classics series, which has now been re-released in a new edition to coincide with the Sight & Sound list with a new cover designed by Nick Morley – see here for his blog). It is now available in the UK and goes on sale in the US in September (from Barnes & Noble, etc). I should at this point, in the interest of full disclosure, admit that not only do I know Barr personally but I also get an acknowledgement in the book for a small contribution I made to his research. Also, I am a regular contributor to Sight & Sound magazine too, so there are a few vested interests here though I hope no conflicts. For a fascinating and very cine-literate essay on the film, visit the The Film Spectrum site to read Jason Faley’s illustrated post. There is also Dan Aulier’s highly entertaining production history, Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic, which is lavishly illustrated too, published in 1998 on its 40th anniversary. And if you want to get a sense of the dozens (and dozens) of references to the film, some more overt and plausible than others, just check out this list at IMDb.

Sight & Sound Top 50 Films Poll: There is much food for thought in the new top 50 list, which has seen Vertigo topple Citizen Kane from the top spot after sixty years. Personally, I think there is one Godard too many at least and the same goes for Tarkovski – the absence of Bertolucci’s The Conformist perhaps grieves me most, along with the omission of Menschen am Sonntag and even just one example of Film Noir. But if you haven’t seen some of the titles, well, there are a lot of people out there who think you might want to change that. To see the complete list of Sight & Sound‘s best films of all time, visit: www.bfi.org.uk/news/50-greatest-films-all-time

DVD Availability: I have owned this film on VHS, the mightily impressive LaserDisc (most of the home video extras found on new releases are ported over from this edition) and on DVD where it has come out about 3 times in different editions. These have not been free from controversy – in the 90s the team of James Katz and Robert Harris sought to preserve the film and made a new negative and created 70mm prints from the VistaVision negative. To bring the audio up-to-date (it was re-released in DTS) they had to create many new sound effects – I saw a screening of the 70mm DTS version on its original engagements in the UK and was dismayed by what I found, right from the original gunshot heard in the opening sequence which struck the entire audience as being wrong. Harris, clearly a talented and supremely knowledgeable archivist and restorer, insists that the sound effects do match the original audio but to me it just doesn’t sound right. frustratingly, recent home video editions have refused to include the original mono version as an alternative, rather merely including a two-channel mix down of the new version. One large and expensive box set did include the mono, but none of the single edition releases have unfortunately. The film is due out in a month on Blu-ray in a massive Hitchcock set that will include around a dozen of the great director’s films (contents vary according to territory, but all include the core titles now owned by Universal including Vertigo, Rear Window, Psycho and The Birds - details of the US set can be found here, the UK one here and the German one here). I am greatly looking forward to this new release – and I really hope they include the mono too.

***** (5 fedora tips out of 5)

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37 Responses to Vertigo (1958) – Best film ever?

  1. Sergio – Thank you for such a thoughtful and detailed discussion of this film. Now, I must confess to a bias here, as I am quite a HItchcock fan. Despite its flaws – and the film does suffer from the improbability factor you bring – it’s a brilliant film And Hitchcock use subtle details all the way through it in such a skillful way I think. But then as I say, I’m biased…

    • I’m with you Margot, thanks very much for the comments. I dare say my own predilection for the director’s work comes through loud and clear but I was surprised that it supplanted Citizen Kane in the poll. I just might have still voted for the Welles masterpiece as number one but at this level it doesn’t make much of a difference.

  2. michael says:

    I continue to wonder why so many film critics value image over story. The great film goes beyond breathtaking and creative images, it is a story with words, music, plot, people, and images that tell a story that touches us, enlighten us, and entertain us.

    “Vertigo” may belong among the greatest directed, but its other flaws drop in down on my best film list.

    I admit I must not have been paying attention and found “Vertigo” rise to number one a sudden surprise (during my film school days other Hitchcock’s films got more attention). Thanks for giving me a sense of what the critics are seeing when they selected it as top film.

    • Cheers Michal – I would argue that the magnificent music score by Bernard Herrmann, the exceptional performance by Novak (and the equally good one by Stewart, albeit less surprisingly so) and the great camerawork by Robert Burks all contribute to make this a great film. Yes, there are plot holes, but there is a lot of inter-textual meat to the screenplay by Samuel Taylor too (Barr’s book is particularly good in analysing who contributed what to the final screenplay). On the other hand, the Sight & Sound poll is undeniably ‘auteurist’, no question about it and I think you do flag a big issue there.

  3. Mike says:

    Brilliant piece Sergio – I have to confess I’ve long thought Vertigo to be the best film I’ve seen, albeit having watched around 30 titles from the overall top 50, so to see it hit the top is really something special. I didn’t think Citizen Kane would ever lose the top spot, such is its undimmed greatness that, well, how could it, but I’m delighted that Vertigo’s the film that’s achieved the impossible. For the record, I think both films are so close to being perfect pieces of work that picking one over the other comes down to something as capricious as personal preference, which is brilliant because that’s all this list ever comes down to really, isn’t it?

    I really like your breakdown of the bookshop scene, which I admit I thought had been used for expositional purposes more than anything, your use of the publicity still featuring Stewart and the two Novaks and reproduction of the latter’s quotes. It’s tempting to see Ms Novak’s advert as self-serving moaning, an opportunity, however ill-judged, to swing a bit more publicity on Vertigo. But I think not. Anyone who’s seen and studied the film knows how carefully it was created as a homogeneous entity, just how controlled its production was. I think back to the scene where Scottie spots Judy by the flower shop, the fact that Hitchcock not only co-ordinated the flower arrangements to get the colour blend he wanted, but also the colours worn by the passers-by and even the colour of the cars, let alone what the two main actors were wearing! An incredible attention to detail that spread through the production and takes in Herrman’s magnificent and melancholic score.

    Whilst taking a bit of a week off from my site, I do have a similar piece to yours that is half-written and in draft form. I’m a bit scared of finishing it because it is already over 1,000 words long and risks alienating any reader who tries to tackle such a gushing ramble, but I’ll have to get it online. In the meantime, again my congratulations on a fantastic article, not to mention your links with Sight and Sound and Mr Barr. The latter’s set of featurettes on ‘The British Years’ Hitchcock set was a real treat, as uncomfortable as he appeared when staring into the camera’s eye!

    • Thanks very much Mike, very kind. I think you and I are in complete sync on this and the Welles film (which remains my personal all time favourite). Charles does look uncomfortable in the Network set, doesn’t he? His book on Hitchcock’s English films is superb by the way and deserves a place on anyone’s shelves. As for the length of your post, when I sailed past the 2,000 word mark, I did wonder if anyone would ever read it all the way to the bottom – thanks for doing that chum!English Hitchcock by Charles Barr

  4. katelaity says:

    Creepiest ‘love story’ ever. Terrific film. I don’t believe in ‘best of’ lists in general (and of all film?! Insane!) but a terrific film in so many ways.

    • Thanks Kate – I love lists and list-making (I’ve posted enough of them here after all), but if you take it seriously that has to be a bad sign, I quite agree!

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  6. Sergio, VERTIGO has been one of my favourite movies though I’d rate it on par, more or less, with many of Hitchcock’s other notable films that I have enjoyed watching more than once over the years. Of these, REAR WINDOW occupies a special place. I recently saw NORTH BY NORTHWEST again and I was surprised that it didn’t hold as well as it did earlier (do I hear the knives coming out?); perhaps, I missed the acute suspense of THE 39 STEPS, PSYCHO, REBECCA, DIAL M FOR MURDER and, of course, VERTIGO and REAR WINDOW. Incidentally, in BFI’s new list of 50 greatest films, CITIZEN KANE appears to have lost its top rank by 34 votes. But lists are subjective and the debate over these two classic films will probably continue well into the next century.

    • Hi Prashant, it would be great to think think in 10 years time we could all be here to debate which will come first for the 2022 poll! VERIGO is an anomalous work, which helps it to both stand out but also alienate a lot of viewers. I think the same of my favourite screwball comedy, BRINGING UP BABY for instance, which is so harsh and strident that it can alienate a lot of viewers but I really, really love it.

  7. Colin says:

    An exceptionally fine article Sergio. I’m another unashamed lover of this superior film, even acknowledging the narrative flaws. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it now over the years yet it always seems to have something fresh to impart with successive viewings. Apart from all the other positives that you and others have noted above, this is the quality that cements its status as one of the greats for me. It’s an amazingly rich concoction, touching on and drawing attention to so many themes and scenarios that it genuinely needs multiple viewings to take it all in.

    • Cheers Colin, that’s very generous of you. I first saw it when it was re-released in th early 80s with four other Hitchcock movies (Rope, Rear Window, The Trouble with Harry and the remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much) that had long been unavailable for different reaons and I was incredibly excited about it. Right away I knew Rear Window to be a classic and I’m still on the fence about Harry while Rope has really grown on me). Vertigo was the one I wanted to see the most and which I found quite disconcerting – but even as a teen I knew it was special and like you I have found somethign new with every screening (even made a point of seeing it whn I visited it in San Francisco in a fairly seedy cinema which really added to my lov of the film – just thought I’d show off and mention that).

      • Colin says:

        I reckon that’s well worth a mention :)
        I would have seen the film for the first time under the same circumstances as yourself and I knew right away that it was a complex piece; not a comfortable movie to watch but a fascinating and intriguing one.
        BTW, I like The Trouble with Harry a lot better than Rope.

        • Here’s the trailer for the five films, narrated by the great James Stewart. I used to just think of Rope as little more than a technical exercise but I find more and more to it each time I watch it as I think less of the technical hurdles that it set up and largely overcame …

          • Colin says:

            The fact that Rope relies so much on its technical experimentation, and is built around the long take really, mars the experience for me. Also, I feel the casting isn’t quite satisfactory and the whole thing just feels a bit flat and cold to me. I far prefer Fleischer’s take on the same material in Compulsion.

          • I do like the Fleischer movie too (very good DVD in ‘Scope even without extras incidentally), though I should fess up and admit that I am a big fan of long takes and sequence shots in particular (hence part of my adoration for Touch of Evil). The last couple of times I watched Rope I found myself much more persuaded by the way that the real-time element is used to generate suspense and in fact, the way that the passing of the 80 or so minutes, from late afternoon to early evening is beautifully done. When compared with Under Capricorn it feels like a much more successful use of the technique. I am not sure if Granger is particularly well cast (I really like him on Strangers on a Train and They Live By Night but am not really a fan though he seems to have been a fascinating and principled individual in real life) and Cary Grant might have been better than Stewart in his role too, but I like it a lot. Whereas Harry, while beautifully shot and scored, never made me laugh …

          • Colin says:

            Granger always reminds me that I’m watching an actor at work in Rope and it spoils the movie a lot for me.
            I don’t think I’ve ever laughed during a viewing of The Trouble with Harry either. Then again, I don’t think it was ever envisioned as that kind of film. It’s a piece of black whimsy that charms rather than going for out and out laughs. I think Edmund Gwenn and Mildred Natwick are marvellous in it.

          • Did either Edmund Gwenn or Mildred Natwick ever give a duff performance? They are wonderful in it as in everything, spot on there, quite agree. Looking forward to watching all of these again on the new Blu-ray – I dare say I’ll end up getting the version with all the bells and whistles though I have no idea how it will fit in the shelf …
            The Hitchcock Collection Blu-ray

  8. John says:

    The use of the “Vertigo Love Theme” in THE ARTIST is just plain strange. I was stunned when I heard those familiar plaintive strings. At first I thought it was being quoted by the score’s composer, then as I listened to it closely I realized it was the exact theme taken from VERTIGO. It’s inexplicable to me. That music is so tied to the Hitchcock movie for me that it ruined that entire sequence and made me think things I didn’t’ want to think of. (BTW, I found THE ARTIST rather tiresome overall. Too familiar, too cute with a ending any hard core movie fan saw coming a mile away. Though I did enjoy watching the two leads who were truly wonderful.)

    As for VERTIGO: Flat out one of my all time favorites in the Hitchcock canon. So many crime films have a similar subversive necrophiliac taint to them – LAURA with its police detective falling in love with a corpse via her portrait, Jacqueline’s suicidal mania in THE SEVENTH VICTIM, and Scottie’s obsession with Madeline takes this “death love” to its most disturbing level. I don’t care if the movie is implausible. It’s the main reason I prefer watching outlandish plots on screen. I much prefer unreal cinema to docudrama style realism. I used to say “If I want reality I could stay at home, make microwave popcorn, and sit on my front balcony and watch the street life.” Isn’t the main reason people love and respect Hitchcock because his stories are so implausible and over-the-top? Why is the crop dusting plane sequence so loved in NORTH BY NORTHWEST? Why is the plot of PSYCHO so impressive it has been duplicated to death? Want to talk about artificiality and improbability on film? Let’s have an essay on MARNIE next. ;^) Kim Newman once said about that Hitchcock movie’s overt cinematic qualities: “I would go so far as to say if you don’t love MARNIE, you don’t love cinema.”

    • Cheers John, I’m completely with you on this, though I liked The Artist a bit more than you I suspect (and I now think all movies should end with a dance number, well at least two days out of every week).

      I’ll disagree with you on one minor thing though John, with regard to that great quote about Marnie as I’m pretty sure it was Robin Wood that made it and not the indefatigable Mr Newman – he says it on the latest Marnie DVD and also said it at a lecture on the film I was privileged to attend in 1999 for the Hitchcock centenary at the National Film Theatre in London (showing off again, but Wood was a fascinating writer).

      • John says:

        My mistake. I was in fact referring to that special commentary on the DVD of Marnie. I had a picture in my mind of who was saying those words and somehow thought it was Newman. I just did a Google image search and the two men look nothing alike. My apologies to the memory of Robin Wood!

        • Newman is so prolific that let’s face it, 9 times out of 10 you would have been right! Of course the bonus was that I got the chance to show off about having gone to one of Robin Wood’s lectures, so thank you chum! he is certainly greatly mised – his Hollywood: From Vietnam to Reagan is a true favourite.
          Kim Newman
          Robin Wood

  9. Rod Croft says:

    While I enjoy and respect both Welles and Hitchcock’s work equally, I believe that only time will tell which, if either of these masterpieces, will retain their current status. The “winds of change” are about us – we are told that “Sight and Sound” approached “younger” contributors to obtain a more contemporary opinion. If it was their aim to give their list renewed interest, publicity and stimulating discussion, then they have succeeded, admirably.

    • Cheers Rod. Sight & Sound itself is going through some big changes of course and increasingly one suspects that there will be more and more to come. Isn’t it amazing that Bernard Herrmann wrote the music for 4 out of the top 10 films (including Taxi Driver and Psycho) as well as the top 2? The official website of the Herrmann society can be found at: http://www.bernardherrmann.org/

  10. Yvette says:

    I’m not a film scholar like you, Sergio. I view everything through a very personal prism and that’s fine with me. Occasionally I feel intimidated by critics or fans of certain films which are supposed to exemplify movie excellence. VERTIGO being one of them. Let me just say that I laughed out loud the first time I saw Kim Novak in a black wig and technicolor make-up. That stops the movie for me.

    I should really view it again and see why all the critical fuss. Certainly I don’t think this is the best movie ever made. Yegads, not even close. But then again, it’s just my personal viewpoint. As always I enjoyed reading your well-thought out and reasoned post, Sergio.

    If you saw my list of favorite movies, you know that I’m a big fan of Hitchcock, but generally early Hitchcock.

    • Thanks very much Yvette – there is no denying that the Sight & Sound list is an elitist one, by and for, hardcore cineastes and as such should be viewed with a lot of suspiscion as a lot of the voting is tactical and even political. Vertigo in a sense deserves to come high in that kind of list because it is unusual and unexpected but it is also misanthropic in its worldview and confoundingly illogical as a mystery. Must admit, I have always been too swayed by Novak’s handome looks to be able to laugh at any of her getups in any film, but that’s me being an Italian bloke… On the other hand, film buffery is a small club and that means that film also should cone down a lot lower in others which are less about the rarefied air breathed by intellectuals out to compete against each other and are going to appeal to a slightly wider base without pandering. I love your top 50 mysteries and thrillers list and there are maybe only 3 films I wouldn’t include in mny own (I found Salt too silly and would pick a different Sherlock and thought 16 Blocks OK but not great) but the rest are tops with me. Actually, I’m surprised Diva isn’t on their list too!

      • Yvette says:

        Any list of films without DIVA on it is a list I won’t take too seriously. I double-checked and also didn’t see GRANDE ILLUSION or JEAN COCTEAU’S LA BELLE ET LA BETE. I mean, really.

        It’s the same sort of ‘elitist’ list you see everywhere. Nothing to get too worked up about. I’ve seen some of the films and missed others for whatever reason and that as they say is that. But I wouldn’t make a list of 50 all around great films (or films that I, personally, consider great) for fear of being laughed at. The lists I make are pretty much genre specific.

        Thanks for the link, Sergio. You’re a peach.

  11. Rod Croft says:

    Sergio,
    Thanks for pointing out Bernard Hermann’s incredible achievement, a fact probably missed by many, including myself, in light of the interesting comment engendered by the publishing of the current list in “Sight and Sound”. It would seem that you may share my opinion that Hermann was one of the best and most vesatile writers of film music, and certainly not, as, Universal reportedly persuaded Hitchcock, “old fashioned”. His falling out with Hitchcock over his proposed score for “Torn Curtain” was a sad loss, not only for “Hitch” but for all of his fans.

    Many years ago, when “Vertigo” first became available for home consumption, I tried the old “tried but true” method of “music- in- film appreciation” and muted the sound. The result was amazing and, for me, certainly underlined the true value of composers, the like of Bernard Hermann.

    • Oh yeah Rod, Herrmann is definitely my favourite film composer – what an extraordinary career in film, TV (The Twilight Zone), Radio (The Mercury Theatre, Suspense) and even the concert Hall – it is impossible to imagine Vertigo without the music, you’re absolutely right. Or the shaower sequence from Psycho without music (an extra on the DVD though, like the sequence from Torn Curtain

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  13. I think that Vertigo is ONE of the best films ever but not the best.

    • Thanks Rhonda, and I quite agree. List-making is a great passtime but who would want to have such a monolithic attitude to the Arts anyway? One of the reasons I like Vertigo so much, for all its misanthropy and essential morbidity is precisely because my opinion of it has changed over the decades.

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