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Vertigo  

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  1. 1. Does "Vertigo" belong on the AFI list?

    • Yes 🌀
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    • No 🤢
      1

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  • Poll closed on 05/31/19 at 07:00 AM

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Paul & Amy fall into Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 psychological thriller Vertigo! They learn who created the famous Vertigo zoom, listen to a classic 90s song inspired by Vertigo, and ask if the age gap between Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak works to the film's credit. Plus: Tony Lee Moral, author of multiple books on Hitchcock, tells us where Vertigo fits into his filmography.

 

Next week is our 50th movie special - tell us which films we've covered so far surprised you or stuck with you, or offer us your 30 second elevator pitch for an AFI movie mashup! Just call the Unspooled voicemail line at 747-666-5824. Follow us on Twitter @Unspooled, get more info at unspooledpod.com and don’t forget to rate, review & subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts. Photo credit: Kim Troxall

Edited by DanEngler

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I'm realizing this is my favoritest type of movie: the one less concerned with concrete plot mechanics and more with a cinematic emotional experience. This goes for stuff on the list (2001, say) and not (e.g., a Rushmore which is more of a mood piece than people realize). They don't have to be sad emotion, just mood emotion, films you let wash over you as an experience. I'm left wondering about a lot after seeing Vertigo for the first time since 1996, sure, but that's what the best movies do - stick in your brain and make you work for it. Amy said something like she was 'willing herself to find reasons to like it' and it sounded like a knock, a bit of an insult, but for me, that's what I want a movie to make me do: to search for its center, and its greatness. Greatness doesn't have to be evident to everyone immediately, and just maybe... it shouldn't either. This is how I feel more connected to these top-of-the-list movies - they are true experiential pieces of art and not just 'a cool story I'm watching.'

The ones that hit me like this will be in my top-10 in 50 weeks. I do shuffle my list around a bit all the time as I continue to think, but I feel safe in saying these moodier pieces like Vertigo and 2001 will still be there then.

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5 hours ago, AlmostAGhost said:

I'm realizing this is my favoritest type of movie: the one less concerned with concrete plot mechanics and more with a cinematic emotional experience. This goes for stuff on the list (2001, say) and not (e.g., a Rushmore which is more of a mood piece than people realize). They don't have to be sad emotion, just mood emotion, films you let wash over you as an experience. I'm left wondering about a lot after seeing Vertigo for the first time since 1996, sure, but that's what the best movies do - stick in your brain and make you work for it. Amy said something like she was 'willing herself to find reasons to like it' and it sounded like a knock, a bit of an insult, but for me, that's what I want a movie to make me do: to search for its center, and its greatness. Greatness doesn't have to be evident to everyone immediately, and just maybe... it shouldn't either. This is how I feel more connected to these top-of-the-list movies - they are true experiential pieces of art and not just 'a cool story I'm watching.'

The ones that hit me like this will be in my top-10 in 50 weeks. I do shuffle my list around a bit all the time as I continue to think, but I feel safe in saying these moodier pieces like Vertigo and 2001 will still be there then.

I definitely agree with you about mood over plot. The movies with some of the strongest impressions on me get to me in a way I can't describe, in a visceral way. I've always described this as a rhythm thing like you're in sync with the movie or you're not. And sometimes that doesn't translate to other people. It's the difference between "yeah, 2001 is a good movie" and "no, it was a religious experience".

That said, I don't get that for Vertigo. I didn't rewatch it this week and it's honestly been a very long time since the last time I saw it. I like it just fine but I don't get its current status as the greatest movie ever. I'd keep it on the list but it's nowhere near the top for me.

If you're into mood over plot, I wholeheartedly recommend Wong Kar Wai movies. In The Mood For Love in particular, but Days Of Being Wild and Chungking Express are both fantastic as well.

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9 minutes ago, grudlian. said:

 

If you're into mood over plot, I wholeheartedly recommend Wong Kar Wai movies. In The Mood For Love in particular, but Days Of Being Wild and Chungking Express are both fantastic as well.

Cool I will

I've been thinking about this all some more. I wanted to add, there's certainly a class of movies that are too much mood. There still needs to be some sort of coherence behind it, I think.

But yea rhythm is a good way to think of it, I like that. I told this story during 2001, because somehow we had gotten on to James Joyce. But my brother was a minor Joyce scholar, and I always remember him saying to people who struggle reading Ulysses as "too hard": "just read it." It's not necessary to follow every paragraph. It's not necessary to get bogged down in not knowing every reference. Just let it wash over you and keep going and you should fall into its rhythm. And when you do, it's worth it. It's a book to experience.

I do agree that Vertigo maybe isn't quite that level (though I believe 2001 is). There is a story here and it's pretty interesting and it's not nearly as ambiguous as 2001; the point isn't to ignore that. But I think it's a film about Ferguson's mental state, above all. And it sure does succeed in getting that across.

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7 hours ago, AlmostAGhost said:

Cool I will

I've been thinking about this all some more. I wanted to add, there's certainly a class of movies that are too much mood. There still needs to be some sort of coherence behind it, I think.

But yea rhythm is a good way to think of it, I like that. I told this story during 2001, because somehow we had gotten on to James Joyce. But my brother was a minor Joyce scholar, and I always remember him saying to people who struggle reading Ulysses as "too hard": "just read it." It's not necessary to follow every paragraph. It's not necessary to get bogged down in not knowing every reference. Just let it wash over you and keep going and you should fall into its rhythm. And when you do, it's worth it. It's a book to experience.

I do agree that Vertigo maybe isn't quite that level (though I believe 2001 is). There is a story here and it's pretty interesting and it's not nearly as ambiguous as 2001; the point isn't to ignore that. But I think it's a film about Ferguson's mental state, above all. And it sure does succeed in getting that across.

Getting into a character's mind state is something I think Paul Thomas Anderson is trying to do more and more with his recent work. The Master and Inherent Vice felt like he wanted the audience feel everything the character felt. I guess that's what every movie tries but it feels like it's trying to br more personal somehow with Paul Thomas Anderson.

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22 hours ago, AlmostAGhost said:

Amy said something like she was 'willing herself to find reasons to like it' and it sounded like a knock, a bit of an insult, but for me

I think it was more - I didn't connect to this movie the first time I saw it, but since everyone says it's good, I'll give it multiple viewings, and try to appreciate what it is other people are seeing in it. 

Which I don't think is inherently an insult.

It's a rumination on acclaim and how it affects how we interact with movies that I've posted on these forums myself. And I think in relation to talking about Vertigo in a previous thread, as well.

I've still yet to find my connection to Vertigo that's clarifies to me at least why so many other people love it. But because it's the very top of the critics Sight & Sound poll, I want to give it at least a couple more tries (and I'm not talking about even loving it myself, I just want more of an emotional sense of, "yeah," I can see why people love this movie).

Note - I still haven't rewatched yet for this episode. Hoping to squeeze it into Memorial Day weekend stuff.

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In terms of mood over plot, I'd also second WKW coming to mind.

Maybe partially affected by knowing a co-worker is coincidentally also just started exploring some of his films recently.

Fallen Angels is his most overtly stylistic, In the Mood for Love his most poignant (that has aged for me better than his others).

(ETA: if you're going for something more sublime, since you said Kubrick, you might want to check out Tarkovsky if you haven't. My preferences are for Stalker over Solarys, and one of those are probably where you should start).

As for the Vertigo remake Amy mentioned, I remember brought it up in the Indiana Jones thread due to its fan-made remake. Anyhow, I'll warn people, Guy Maddin is a very... um, stylized director.  Primarily using my old-fashioned stuff. E.g. he does silent films. He does silent films with voice-over.  I really enjoy his stuff, but I know it's not going to be for everyone here. I think The Saddest Music in the World is his most accessible. Maybe Brand Upon the Brain?

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While I don't count Vertigo among history's greatest plots, I think it deserves its spot on the AFI list for direction/cinematography alone. Watching it for the first time, there were so many moments that I had to rewind just to marvel at what seems like an impossible amount of beauty captured on screen. And this video gave me an even greater appreciation for Hitchcock's amazingly intricate choreography.

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Sorry if this has come up before (I just discovered this podcast and have been bingeing it), but have Paul and Amy mentioned how they are watching these films?  On small computer screens, maybe?  A friend and I saw Vertigo for the first time in a movie theater and were absolutely stunned and mesmerized.  We could barely speak coherently after the screening.  I've seen it on TV a few times since then, and it just didn't have the same effect.

The older movies on this list weren't created to be streamed through Netflix onto handheld devices.  It would be like trying to judge the value of Michelangelo's paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by looking at thumbnails on your iPhone.  An image is overwhelming when you have to crane your neck and gaze side to side to take in the entirety of it.  I suspect that our hosts are dismissing so many of the movies on the list because they might literally be looking down on them when they view them.

Think, for example, about the typewriter key that slams into a page to open All The President's Men.  The innocuous key is meant to appear two or three times as tall as you and the bang should hurt your ears, sending you the message that this is actually a weapon powerful enough to take down a sitting president.  When Alex's face opens A Clockwork Orange, you should feel as though a malevolent giant just fixed his gaze on you and is smirking at your insignificance (and, incidentally, the big lashes on his right eye should make the eyeball look like a giant cog in, say ... clockwork.)

Just wanted to point this out.  I hope that Paul and Amy are indeed watching these great movies on the biggest screens they can manage (and that, if not, they can fix that before the time comes to watch Lawrence of Arabia!).

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I'd assume Paul & Amy, because of their jobs, have gigantic TV screens.

But either way, me, I watch most all of these on my phone. It's fine. It's how I watch things now. I still liked 2001 and Vertigo an awful lot and my experience isn't lessened with the films. In fact, I find it more absorbing to be that close to it.

If a film can't accurately depict its scale without literally being big, I dunno, is that good?

Watch them how you watch them. It's 2019. I will defend viewings in this way!

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Honestly, I find that if the filmmaking is strong enough (and for folks like Hitchcock or Kubrick it generally is), then the movie plays well no matter what kind of screen you're watching it on. Sure, the big-screen theatrical experience is ideal, but the movie will work no matter what. (The only exception is that you do need to actually be able to see and hear everything, so watching a movie cropped from its original framing or otherwise edited for content is a big no-no for me.)

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I've watched 2001 in 70 mm, and I've watched it on my computer, and while yes, the film does "work" on a computer screen, there is definitely a difference in the way you experience it. It's similar to the difference between hearing a live orchestra and hearing a recording on your ipod. And if we're talking technicolor, when I finally saw a technicolor print of The Wizard of Oz (of which I had already seen a regular film print) I learned that sadly, every technicolor film loses a lot when you don't see a proper print of it, which most of us never will. That is like the difference between seeing a painting and seeing a print of the painting.

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I hate this line of discourse, because it approaches the classist, exclusionary rhetoric that the art world is too often guilty of and should seek to eliminate.  If you're saying that seeing a film on a huge screen with a great sound system takes a great film and turns it into a great experience (which seems to be what Cronopio is saying), then I agree.  If you're saying that seeing a film in less than ideal circumstances means you're doing it wrong (which seems to be what Harry Lime is saying), that comes off as privileged arrogance to me.

Now, I love seeing films in theaters.  When I lived in LA, I was an American Cinematheque member for two or three years and made sure to see three or four films a month at the Aero and Egyptian Theaters.  (That's how I also saw a 70 mm print of 2001.)  I was also fortunate enough to see Roma on a huge screen with a great sound system at the Virginia Film Festival, and was so blown away by the sound design that I recommended to my friends and family that they make an effort to see it in a good theater if they had the means.  But the reality is that most people don't have the means.  Most people don't live in areas with great movie theaters period, let alone ones that show the types of films we're talking about.  And many more people who have access to that can't afford it.  So saying that they are incapable of experiencing a film "correctly" only serves to discourage people from engaging with the art form.

Because although I did see 2001 in 70 mm on an enormous screen in a historic theater, I saw it first on a 15" computer screen, and it blew my fucking mind.  I've seen Lawrence of Arabia on a big screen as well as on a 26" TV, and I had the same feelings both times (that it's boring, racist, and overrated, but I'll save that for the Unspooled episode).  As alluded to by AlmostAGhost and sycasey, if a film has no merit beyond spectacle, then it has very little merit.  Moreover, I'd say that if a film that's borderline for inclusion on the list gets a large part of its value from an experience that most of the world can't share in, then I don't want it on the list.  Art for everyone!  Watch Titanic on your phone!  Listen to Beethoven on mp3!  Buy a $5 poster of "Starry Night"!  There are ways of experiencing these things that I wouldn't necessarily go for, but ultimately, if you're forming a connection to a work or art by any means, you're not doing it wrong.

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I knew I truly was in film school when I realized that if I asked anybody there if they'd seen any one of the films we were all supposed to have seen in order to be considered serious film students, like say "have you seen Nashville?" , they'd give one of three answers: yes,  "yes but only once", or "yes, but only on video"

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Yes, but maybe only once. About 25 years ago. On VHS. On my 12" CRT in college.

I'm sure something was lost. I liked it, but compared to other movies I saw that way and still loved - but would later see on a larger screen, something was lost on that small screen (either theater or even compared to my 65" tv now).

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I didn’t listen to Amy and Googled tryptophobia. Now I just want to tear off my skin forever. This is what I get for hubris...

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I was originally not the biggest fan of Vertigo among the Hitchcock canon, probably because I was trying too hard to follow the plot and figure out the mystery and found that a bit wanting. (I do put some of this down to viewing experience -- the old pan-and-scan VHS presentation tended to condition you to just look for story and dialogue, because the full frame wasn't being shown and someone was choosing what the most "important" information on screen was.)

Coming back to it this time, already knowing the plot very well, I was able to appreciate that the mystery isn't really the point. It's revealed pretty early in the story that Judy is really Madeline, because that leaves Scotty's condition and mental state as the only truly "unresolved" issue in the audience's eyes. That's what the movie is really about, how he thinks he can control everything (especially Judy) but can't.

It's not my favorite Hitchcock (Rear Window, which addresses some similar themes, still holds that title), but I get the Vertigo love. It's pretty sumptuous.

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On 5/23/2019 at 5:44 PM, AlmostAGhost said:

Amy said something like she was 'willing herself to find reasons to like it' and it sounded like a knock, a bit of an insult, but for me, that's what I want a movie to make me do:

I just finished the episode and I think her take is closer to yours than you think. What’s she says isn’t “willing herself to like it,” but “willing herself to figure out why she likes it.” Which I feel like is a little like what you’re saying. That there’s an intangibility to the movie that can’t be defined by plot or anything truly objective. In other words, “I like it, and I don’t know why, but I suppose I should try to put my finger on it.

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What I love above this movie is the juxtaposition of phobia versus obsession and how it illustrates that they really aren’t all that dissimilar. That they are both the products of a mind’s irrational, and sometimes unhealthy, fixation on a thing without basis in reality . That being obsessively infatuated with a person who you don’t really know makes as little sense as being terrified of heights. 

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20 hours ago, ol' eddy wrecks said:

Yes, but maybe only once. About 25 years ago. On VHS. On my 12" CRT in college.

I'm sure something was lost. I liked it, but compared to other movies I saw that way and still loved - but would later see on a larger screen, something was lost on that small screen (either theater or even compared to my 65" tv now).

I was answering the unasked question about Nashville, which I realize now, contextually, was not clear.  It was intended as a joke.

I watched Vertigo a number of times growing up on whatever size CRT I had.  It was probably on cable (which meant there were also commercial breaks - though probably nothing was edited out, as would happen to more contemporary films - just cataloging yet other differences that come up in watching movies).

I revisited it again for the first time in decades probably a few years ago on that afore-mentioned 65", and one of the things that stood out was the lusciousness - or at least boldness - of the Ernine's scenes, and also that the color of the faces were not overly pink as I would remember some older movies tended to be on those TVs growing up (which, as an adult, I associate with color settings on TVs being poorly configured - which is yet another possible difference/flaw in viewing).  Rewatching it again this weekend*, I feel like my biggest gap between me and why I'm guessing a lot of critics love it, might be I just don't seem to get on the same wavelength with the movie on the obsession.  At least not on a personal level - I think that's what critics are responding to.  And I don't know why, because I feel like obsession is an emotional state I easily connect to in movies.  But I don't really feel it strongly while watching Rear Window, either. Maybe it's Jimmy Stewart being obsessed I don't connect to?  IDK.  I have a few more thoughts, but it's late here.

*: This time I found myself also really focusing on the rich browns, which is not a color you often think of being rich, but for example the wood in the structure in the scene linked to by Dan.

 

ETA: morning after thought - imagine Vertigo's second half without the twist let alone the reveal, but everything playing out almost the same way (the main difference just being Jimmy Stewart having paranoid accusations over a necklace that looks somewhat the same, but isn't).  That's a really dark movie.  So I do wonder if the crime aspect is getting in the way of me enjoying it more.  Though, that remake would leave the first half of the movie a little more confusing in terms of coherency.

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On 5/26/2019 at 4:58 PM, bleary said:

 if a film has no merit beyond spectacle, then it has very little merit.

I get what you're saying, but it wasn't spectacle I as much as intention that was the issue I was trying to raise.  Hitchcock couldn't have imagined anyone would ever watch Vertigo on a phone.  He thought everybody would see it in a theater, so that's how he made it.  Here's how Walter Murch, who edited Apocalypse Now and The Godfather Part II, describes the difference in approach:

"Sometimes ... you can get caught up in the details and lose track of the overview.  When that happens to me, it is usually because I have been looking at the image as the miniature it is in the editing room, rather than seeing it as the mural that it will become when projected in a theater. . . One of the tricks I use to help me achieve this perspective is to cut out little paper dolls--a man and a woman--and put one on each side of the editing screen: The size of the dolls (a few inches high) is proportionately correct to make the screen seem as if it is thirty feet wide." (In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing, 2nd Edition, 2001, p. 21-22)

Filmmakers today, on the other hand, will naturally assume audiences will be trying to judge the merit of their films on small screens at some point, so they can (and do) take that into account.

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4 hours ago, Harry Lime said:

Hitchcock couldn't have imagined anyone would ever watch Vertigo on a phone.

Sure he could.  Maybe not literally a telephone, but certainly on smaller screens.  After all, he had been working in television since 1955.  The Wizard of Oz aired on television in 1956.  In 1958, if he didn't anticipate the possibility that his film would be seen on smaller screens, that's not just a lack of foresight, it's not paying attention.

Now, I understand that some filmmakers might optimize their films for a certain viewing experience, but it's still my opinion that if a film doesn't work across other viewing experiences, I see that as a bug, not a feature.

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On 5/29/2019 at 5:49 PM, bleary said:

 The Wizard of Oz aired on television in 1956 . . . Now, I understand that some filmmakers might optimize their films for a certain viewing experience, but it's still my opinion that if a film doesn't work across other viewing experiences, I see that as a bug, not a feature.

Okay, so picture that famous moment in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy opens the door in black and white to reveal the Land of Oz in vivid color.  Are you saying this scene is "a bug, not a feature" because it wouldn't have worked for the vast majority of that 1956 television audience, who would have been watching on black and white TVs?  Those viewers could truthfully claim to have seen the movie, but they wouldn't have felt the impact that scene was meant to have.

That's all I'm saying: sometimes a person might have a "meh" reaction to a movie because they saw it differently than its makers expected.  Nobody's at fault for that.  It's just something that happens as new technologies emerge and evolve.

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