Classic Capsule: Vertigo (1958)

How influential was Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo? Well, for starters, it was influential enough that the opening sequence alone has been mimicked by every director from Scorsese to James Mangold. What’s more, Vertigo is currently ranked #1 on Sight & Sound‘s list of the 50 Greatest Films of All-Time.

Vertigo is an ultra-seductive, all-but-hypnotic holdover from the slow-burning demise of the studio era. Hitchcock’s location shoots alone are worth the price of admission -The Redwood Forest, The Legion of Honor, San Juan Bautista, and McKittrick Hotel, all set against the rolling hills of San Francisco, its streets shot sloping downward to reinforce a sense of helplessness. Combine that with some psychedelic lighting, a dream sequence that’s just as brilliant as it is absurd, and a revolutionary dolly technique so iconic it has since become known as “The Vertigo Effect,” and you’ve got yourself one hell of a motion picture.

For years, Vertigo appeared to be the victim of short shrift, perhaps the cumulative effect of its poor box office, mediocre reception, and the fact it would soon be overshadowed by the one-two punch of North By Northwest and Hitchcock’s Psycho. And yet, much like any work of genius, Vertigo has since fought its way back into our subconscious. In fact, most critics would argue Hitchcock’s film is worlds more relevant today than it would have been at any other point since its release. Vertigo was the first mainstream movie to explore the real-world consequences of anxiety, the first to present love as a metaphor for possession, the first to make audiences resent the buxom bombshell, while cheering on the four-eyed bookworm (a character whose platonic relationship with Jimmy Stewart’s “Scottie” was highly indicative of Hitchcock’s own relationship to Alma Reville).

The bottom line: Despite the fact certain aspects of this film almost challenge modern audiences to suspend their disbelief, Vertigo is still very much one for the ages … an ever-enduring masterpiece that just continues to get better with age.