Sunday, August 02, 2009

"Obsessed with Vertigo" recalls one of the greatest films ever made (as a dream)


Landmark theaters was selling a “special” collectors edition of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. I thought that the display case said 2-DVD set, but when I got home it seemed that the real copy had it all on one DVD (except for a TV episode of Hitchcock).

The most important extra is “Obsessed with Vertigo”, directed by Harrison Engle, narrated by Roddy McDowall. I had never realized that Paramount’s VistaVision original could have fallen into such disrepair for the restoration, which I saw in northern VA in 1997.

The movie, remember, is like a dream – and it uses dreams and premonitions as part of the plot. Back in the 1970s, I had a “mystery” a little bit like this one that was quite preoccupying at the time, leading me on my own treasure hunt into some secret spaces in New York. And the moral of the story, if there is one, has something to do how someone can set you up because of your eccentricities – how easy it is to attract the wrong energies, or maybe the right ones – it’s all supernatural.

And the San Francisco of today is so unlike the fairy tale place in the film, with all its reds and greens that make it a bit like Harry Potter. Even by 1978, the time of “Milk” and Donald Sutherland’s “Body Snatchers” as well as my NYC treasure hunt, it was essentially changed.

Ebert used to say that, more than any other film ever made, “Vertigo” is a dream. The opening conversation (after the rooftop cop chase) always seemed a bit long, like a slow introduction to a sonata allegro, which the film becomes. The story is adapted from the French novel Sueurs froides: d'entre les morts ("Cold Sweat: From Among the Dead") by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac. Of course, the music score by Bernard Herrmann is legendary, and there is a ballet suite from it.

Thw resotoration was done by Universal studios and is distributed by Universal (the DVD has both musical trademarks). The original film came from Paramount.

I had a bit of real Vertigo as I got up Saturday morning, which Internet searches said was a benign inner ear inflammation in older people.

Attribution link for public domain Vertigo museum picture of Kim Novak. Brian de Palma had a similar scene in “Dressed to Kill” (1980) and “Obsession” (1976) is loosely based on the Vertigo story.

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