After 50 years of supremacy, Citizen Kane finally ceded it’s title as “greatest film ever made” — at least according to the prestigious British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound poll — to Vertigo, the late-period Hitchcock film that has posthumously come to be considered his masterpiece. But don’t let the imprimatur of the stodgy establishment disillusion you: it’s a deeply weird film that deserves to be seen and seen again.
On it’s face, it’s a somewhat straightforward mystery film with a layer of classical Hollywood romance. Scotty (James Stewart) is a SFPD detective who has recently taken a leave of absence after a traumatic incident that happened while on the force. He is hired by a rich businessman to follow his enigmatic wife, Madeline (Kim Novak), who has been acting very strangely. As Scotty follows her, he is drawn into her mysterious life and falls in love with her, but is unable to rescue her from what troubles her. What follows is a legendary twist and a sad, unforgettable second act, with one of Hitchcock’s only true downers of an ending.
More than a beautiful Panavision time capsule of San Francisco or a twisty mystery or a love story, the film is a disturbing psychological profile of obsession, objectification and misogyny. It can be read as a movie about watching movies, as Scotty becomes fixated on the image of someone acting a role and forces her to live out the false ideal, no matter the consequences. It also has, probably, the best musical score in film history, the absolute apex of the collaboration between Hitchcock and composer Bernard Herrmann.
As a bonus, the Brattle is premiering The Green Fog (2017), an experimental film by legendary Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin. The film is a “remake” of Vertigo made entirely of clips of other movies, with no footage from Vertigo included. I can’t imagine what that looks like, but Maddin’s work is always worth the time. As an added bonus, the Coolidge is showing Psycho (1960) at midnight on Friday night — one could see what are arguably Hitchcock’s two most important films in a single night tonight.
Screening all weekend at the Brattle Theatre.