Even though I’ve seen Vertigo before, I decided to discard my thoughts as an impulsive 15-year-old and view it with the eyes of a more composed young adult. I’ve always asked myself why Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 psychological thriller is frequently ranked as one of the greatest films of all time, beating the likes of The Godfather and Citizen Kane (two of my favourite films). Having enjoyed several other Hitchcock classics, such as Rear Window, North by Northwest, Psycho and The Birds, I decided to explore the truth for myself.
The cinematic experience of Vertigo prior to its third act can be best described as hallucinatory and feverishly engaging. Working chronologically, the Fantasiaesque opening credits, courtesy of Saul Bass, are gloriously spooky, complemented by Bernard Hermann’s menacing, ingenious score, which sinisterly strokes us throughout the rest of the film. There’s no denying that Hitchcock is the master of suspense, but he owes so much to the musical score, as well as his veteran cinematographer Robert Burks. The cat-and-mouse game between Scottie and Madeline is initially intriguing and wrought with tension, even if there is a noticeable age-gap between these two.
By the time we have conquered the second act, Vertigo’s abundance of cinematic strengths starts to decline as its weaknesses begin to manifest themselves. It becomes clear that the performances are weak in comparison to other Hitchcock films, and the intrigue of the film’s already complex nature mysteriously disappears. Although the plot twist is not too bad for a murder/mystery film, the third act is just way too messy, as if it demands the audience to lose interest in the picture. Sadly, Vertigo is one of the earliest films that suffers from Third Act Syndrome, in which the last 30 minutes fail to match the breadth and depth of the first two acts. The most recent and perhaps frustrating example of this is Interstellar, which also had a great director at the helm that just lost it at the end.
Despite these weaknesses, Vertigo can be cheered for its plethora of great locations around San Fransisco, as well as its genuinely frightening chase and nightmare sequences, in which it seems as though you’re tripping on LSD (not that I’ve actually experienced that). These factors, coupled with the strong potential in the first 90 minutes, prove that Vertigo is not a bad film, but it is offensively overrated. With a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and the #1 spot on the Sight and Sound Poll, I’m genuinely confounded and speechless, but maybe I’m wrong. The main question, for me, is this: can two great savoury dishes compensate for a weak dessert?
Rating - ☆ ☆ ☆
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