According to Wikipedia and a lesson for me:
“Vertigo” is often used (incorrectly) to describe a fear of heights, but it is more accurately a spinning sensation that occurs when one is not actually spinning. It can be triggered by looking down from a high place, or by looking straight up at a high place or tall object, but this alone does not describe vertigo. True vertigo can be triggered by almost any type of movement (e.g. standing up, sitting down, walking) or change in visual perspective (e.g. squatting down, walking up or down stairs, looking out of the window of a moving car or train). Vertigo is qualified as height vertigo when referring to dizziness triggered by heights
Acrophobia is an extreme or irrational fear of heights. Most people experience a degree of natural fear when exposed to heights, especially if there is little or no protection. Those who are confident in such situations may be said to have a head for heights. Acrophobia sufferers can experience a panic attack in a high place and become too agitated to get themselves down safely. Between 2 and 5 percent of the general population suffer from acrophobia, with twice as many women affected as men.
Well, now that’s cleared up, Vertigo in this case is also a classic Hitchcock film from 1958. It starts with a great fast-paced opening scene along the rooftops. The characters and the situation are introduced immediately with no hassle: a robber popping into view to be chased by a couple of detectives, one of whom is our protagonist Detective John “Scottie” Ferguson (James Stewart). The other detective slips and needs help, but Scottie suffers from height vertigo as a result of his acrophobia (I think!) and is unable to stop his colleague from falling to his death on the street below. This sequence is transmitted brilliantly with a zoom/move effect similar to the Jaws beach scene. This is also called the ‘Dolly Zoom’ and is achieved by moving the camera away but zooming in at the same time (and vice versa) to keep the subject of the frame the same size but to play with the fore and background. It’s a very unsettling effect that appears to distort reality.
And so we’re off: we have a main character and an idiosyncrasy, all we need now is a situation that is going to hinge on that. As it turns out, a friend of Scottie asks him to follow his wife Madeline (Kim Novak) as a private detective because he is worried that she is possessed by a dead relative who committed suicide on a birthday that Madeline is vastly approaching.
Kim Novak has bright blonde hair but very thick, dark eyebrows (which may be a hint at the plot) but before we get there, what follows initially is a long tailing exercise through hotels, art galleries and some other locations. And lots of shots of someone driving with San Francisco superimposed in the rear window. The central conceit is a bit of a stretch and a bit wet to be honest. This section is sometimes a little dull and almost as if to acknowledge that there is a big plot twist which seems to have been rushed into the story early on.
Something that did perk my interest was a first kiss between two characters which happened with waves crashing on rocks in the background. It’s beautifully dramatic and must have taken quite a few takes to get the timing right! This wouldn’t be Hitchcock without a beautiful high shot as well and indeed there is one of the tower as Scottie sneaks away and the police rush in on the other side – brilliant. There is also a nice trippy dream sequence where the lights flashing on his face as he falls asleep bleed over into the dream.
Scottie should have focused on his friend called Midge who was beautiful and interested in him, but this Madeline drives him nuts and the film comes to a head back in the tower where preposterous events occur to close the film.
There are great aspects to this film, but it’s not great on the whole. Certainly not a patch on North By Northwest.
3 on 5
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes
UK Release: 1958