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Vertigo

Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest and most personal film, Vertigo has been brilliantly restored (at a cost in excess of $1 million) by the team responsible for salvaging Lawrence of Arabia and other large-format films of the ’50s and ’60s . This new version of Vertigo seems all the more remarkable because the film had for years been out of circulation and was seen only in poor-quality bootleg prints. Even the official 1984 re-release prints were pale shadows of the 1958 original, simply because no good picture or sound elements were available. Going back to the original VistaVision negative (VistaVision was developed by Paramount as their answer to Fox’s CinemaScope and achieved a larger picture area by running 35mm film horizontally rather than vertically) and painstakingly treating it frame by frame, the restorers have managed to recreate the colours and image quality that Hitchcock achieved with his cinematographer, Robert Burks. Again with the help of modern technology, the sound-track has been enhanced to a quality that even surpasses the original (which was very good and in stereo), so that Bernard Herrmann great score is more effective than ever.

The result of all technical wizardry is that, for the first time in nearly forty years, Hitchcock’s supreme achievement can again be experienced as the director intended. And surely no film is more deserving of this attention and respect. Vertigo is one of cinema’s most haunting explorations of romantic obsession, a dark, disturbing yet also achingly beautiful study of the allure and fear of sexual passion. It stars the late James Stewart as Scottie Ferguson, a retired San Francisco cop who suffers from a fear of heights. He is hired by an old school friend to watch the man’s unstable wife, Madeline (Kim Novak). Scottie falls madly in love with this vision of femininity, and is devastated when his vertigo prevents him from saving her when she makes a suicidal jump from a bell tower. Later, when he meets a woman who looks like Madeline, the haunted Scottie obsessively begins to make her over into the image of his beloved.

‘To put it bluntly, the man wants to go to bed with a woman who’s dead; he’s indulging in a form of necrophilia,’ Hitchcock told François Truffaut in a famous interview. Yet the film itself is anything but obvious as it leads the audience into a dizzying vortex of infinite complexity. Even if you’ve seen Vertigo before, you won’t want to miss it looking and sounding this good. If it’s your first encounter, prepare to be amazed at what could be achieved within the Hollywood studio system in the ’50s.

U.S.A., 1958.
Restored version, 1996.
128 mins.
35mm version.

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