A Video Essay Guide to Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’

Want to learn more about the Hitchcock masterpiece? Check out these five video essays.
Vertigo Kim Novak
By  · Published on May 15th, 2018

Is debating the best movie of all-time a productive exercise? No. Is it a ton of fun? Yes. There are probably twenty or thirty films that one could argue deserve the top spot. These are the films that we watch again and again and again, that awe us in new ways each time we view them. One such film is Alfred Hitchcock‘s 1958 masterpiece, Vertigo. (I place it second behind Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo on my all-time list).

As the years go by the film’s mystique only continues to grow. In 2012, it topped the Sight and Sound poll of the world’s greatest films. If you are a fan of the film or preparing to watch it for the first time (hurry up!), here are five video essays you should watch:

The Influence of Vertigo

Like many a masterpiece, Vertigo was not appreciated in its time, and not realized a masterpiece until decades after its release. While the film did turn a profit, reviews were mixed, and it did not receive the same kind of attention as some of Hitchcock’s other blockbusters. Even Fran├žois Truffaut did not spend as much time as one may think on the film in his conversation with Hitchcock. He was far more interested in films like Notorious and Rear Window.

As is the case with Hitchcock himself, Vertigo‘s master-status was made mostly by the praise of other directors who were blown away by the film and recognized it for what it was. The two essays below do an excellent job in contextualizing Vertigo in cinema history. The first, by Fandor’s Jacob Swinney, provides an overview of Vertigo’s history and influence, while the second, by Alejandro Villarreal, is a collection of interviews with directors about the film.

How Hitchcock Blocks A Scene

The scene that sets the entire story of Vertigo in motion comes when Scottie Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart) receives a phone call from his old college friend Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore). Gavin asks Scottie, who has just retired from as a police detective after being diagnosed with vertigo, to follow his wife, who he believes is being possessed by the spirit of a deceased relative. I will not spoil the film, but it’s an essential and great scene, one you will appreciate even more by watching the superb video essay by The Nerdwriter, which breaks down how Hitchcock blocks this scene, below:

Vertigo’s Use of Color

Even if you haven’t seen Vertigo, you probably know its most famous scene. Some have even called it the greatest scene in all of cinema. I will not spoil it for you, but there is one crucial detail I can tell you about it: there is a lot of green.

From the vivid red of Ernie’s restaurant to the red and green found in the dream sequence, the below essay takes a look at what color means in the film.


Vertigo and The Empire Strikes Back?!?

I must admit, the impetus for this blog post was the below video essay by film scholar Catherine Grant. I watched it a couple of days ago and was absolutely blown away. Her essay begins with the definition of the word anagnorisis: the point in the plot especially of a tragedy at which the protagonist recognizes his or her or some other character’s true identity or discovers the true nature of his or her own situation.

Grant explores the meaning of this work by placing the opening scene of Vertigo, when Scottie first learns of his vertigo, beside one of the most famous scenes in movie history: when Luke Skywalker learns the identity of his father. It is a striking comparison that pays off by the video’s end. It is only three minutes long, so, just watch it:

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Will DiGravio is a Brooklyn-based critic, researcher, and video essayist, who has been a contributor at Film School Rejects since 2018. Follow and/or unfollow him on Twitter @willdigravio.