Friday, 20 March 2009

Vertigo (1958)

There are some films that I can watch over and over again, and still find new things in them, or marvel at their near-perfection. Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo is one of them. Of course it's a cliché, but if you have seen the film I imagine you are likely to agree. It mingles love and desire with death and obsession. To say anything else is to spoil it to who ever hasn't seen it, as it is impossible not to reveal something crucial - in fact, everything is crucial here. It's one of Hitch's most perfectly built films, and consequently, one of the most perfectly built films anywhere.

At the core of it, there is what I can only describe as one of my favourite performances. Kim Novak, who is usually a rather limited actress, shows here a fenomenal range. Compare the last 15 minutes of the film with what she showed us in the beginning. What is supposed to be the same, isn't really. Where before there was an aloofness, a distance, there is now despair, intense love, sorrow and as the film approaches the climax, fear. That this performance was not acknowledged at the time with an Oscar or even a nomination just shows how unfortunate can be to some of the Academy's choices.

In fact, the film only got two Oscar nominations, and lost both: Art Direction and Sound. Where are the nominations for Film, Director, Script, Actress or Edith Head's costumes which help define Kim Novak's amazing performance? "Gigi" won most of the awards of 1958, but as much as I like it, it can't really compare.

Or for Bernard Herrmann's mesmerising score, which I can't help but love, and have heard countless times. It is one of the most original, unforgettable film scores. So why wasn't this recognised? And then there is James Stewart. I often find him limited but here, playing a rather unpleasant, ungrateful character and despite the fact he's perhaps too old and certainly obscured by Kim Novak's perfomance (I might be in a minority here), it is one of his best performances. He certainly deserved the award more than David Niven (for "Separate Tables").

But if contemporary recognition failed, time has been kind to it. It hasn't aged and has been finally recognised as the masterpiece it is.

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