In This Article Vertigo

  • Introduction
  • Book-Length Studies
  • The “Making of”
  • General Criticism
  • Gender Criticism: Setting the Terms of the Debate
  • Gender Criticism: The Debate Continues
  • Psychoanalytic Criticism: Freudian
  • Psychoanalytic Criticism: Lacanian
  • Close Readings
  • Philosophical Approaches
  • Cavellian Criticism
  • Cultural/Historical Studies
  • Postmodernist Criticism
  • Vertigo as Travelogue
  • Literary and Mythological Sources
  • Vertigo and the Visual Arts (Essays, Art Films, and Other Artworks)
  • Influences on Other Mainstream Films
  • The Music/Soundtrack
  • Performances
  • Interviews
  • Biographies

Cinema and Media Studies Vertigo
by
Susan White
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 March 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0062

Introduction

Alfred Hitchcock made Vertigo during an especially creative period of 1958–1960, when he released three historic films, Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), and Psycho (1960). Each took a radically distinctive approach to the “suspense thriller.” With its overtones of mystery, romance, and the supernatural, Vertigo resembles Rebecca (1940) pushed over into the realm of the fantastic, without the irony saturating the earlier film. Despite its stellar cast, James Stewart, Kim Novak (1958’s top female box-office star), and Barbara Bel Geddes, it inspired mediocre reviews and a relatively poor financial return. Truffaut’s extensive 1962 interviews with Hitchcock reveal that he was devastated by the film’s poor reception, blaming, among other factors, Stewart’s age (fifty—twice that of Novak) for the film’s unimpressive showing. Hitchcock withdrew Vertigo and several other films from circulation between 1973 and 1983, for financial reasons. But despite initial lukewarm reactions, and the film’s unavailability to the public, critics, and journalists for a decade, Vertigo is one of the most thoroughly documented and analyzed films in history. It has risen steadily in “Top Ten” polls, often reaching the number one or two spot. (As of 4 July 2011 it ranks ninth in the AFI’s 100 Years . . . 100 Movies poll, and fourth in Sight & Sound’s International Critics Poll.) Now regarded as a defining work in Hitchcock’s canon, Vertigo may be his most “personal” film. It metaphorically comments, with great profundity, upon the process and meaning of making films and seems to convey, through the suffering of its protagonists, the director’s own powerful emotions. Thematically, the film reiterates Hitchcock’s best-known obsessions, including the attractions of an “icy” blonde who turns out to be warm-blooded and sexual fetishes such as scopophilia. Although these themes richly inhabit other Hitchcock films, Vertigo places singular emphasis on male power and control over women, men’s fear of their own often ill-repressed femininity, the role of “theatricality” in film, and the nature of suspense. For students of film, following the critical fortunes of Vertigo offers an opportunity to study important currents in cinema theory and criticism, especially feminist film criticism, in which Vertigo has been considered a prime example of women’s oppression in mainstream cinema and Hitchcock’s confessional deconstruction of that oppression. This bibliography aims to represent in a balanced way the major journalistic and critical debates around Vertigo, highlighting representative books, essays, reviews, films, and visual works that approach Vertigo from diverse disciplines.

Book-Length Studies

These book-length studies are not thematically unified, but bring to our attention the fact that Vertigo is considered rich enough (like, e.g., Psycho and The Birds [1963]) to warrant more than one such work, often in languages other than English. Because these books vary in their thematic concerns, most of them might be placed under other categories. Auiler 1998 is an authoritative work on the restoration of Vertigo in 1996. Barr 2002 is an important entry in the distinguished British Film Institute monographs on individual films and is a must for researchers on Hitchcock and Vertigo. Castro de Paz 1999 is a detailed formalist study of the film in Spanish; Trías 1998 provides an overview of the spiral motif in Hitchcock’s films from one of Spain’s most prominent philosophers. Marocco 2003 is an innovative sociocultural reading of the film. Together these books are indicative of the range and especially the depth of Vertigo studies internationally. Kraft and Leventhal 2002 places the film in the context of Hitchcock’s use of San Francisco as a location with strong historical connotations.

  • Auiler, Dan. Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic. New York: St. Martin’s, 1998.

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    Stands out in its historical treatment of the film’s production. Examines studio records, contemporary reviews, other archival materials, and reports on extensive interviews with the film’s creators. This well-illustrated book appeared after Vertigo’s “third major release in four decades” (p. xv), challenges legends surrounding the film, and recounts how Harris and Katz achieved the meticulous 1996 restoration of color and sound.

  • Barr, Charles. Vertigo. London, England: British Film Institute, 2002.

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    Barr balances historical, textual, and interpretive approaches to Vertigo, documenting the production process and the work of contributors. “Obsession” places Vertigo in the context of Hitchcock’s career. “Construction” details building the script using the work of many writers. “Illusion” explores literary influences. “Revelation” describes the film’s ending(s) and breaks down technical details of scenes.

  • Castro de Paz, José Luis. Alfred Hitchcock: Vértigo—De entre los muertos: Estudio critico. Barcelona: Paidós, 1999.

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    An in-depth critical analysis of the film, emphasizing camera movement, identification, narrative, staging, and the discourse on male love and desire. Emphasizes Vertigo’s importance as both one of the last films of classical Hollywood cinema and as formalistically modernist.

  • Kraft, Jeff, and Aaron Leventhal. Footsteps in the Fog: Alfred Hitchcock’s San Francisco. Foreword by Patricia Hitchcock. Santa Monica, CA: Santa Monica Press, 2002.

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    A careful analysis of how Hitchcock used both location and studio shooting in the films set in this region. The book features a long section (pp. 96–165) on Vertigo, appropriately subtitled “Hitchcock’s Tortured Valentine to the City,” which includes vintage and contemporary photos of the film’s settings and performs close topographical and interpretive work on these iconic locations.

  • Marocco, Paulo. Vertigo: La donna che visse due volte di Alfred Hitchcock; Lo sguardo dell’ozio nell’America del lavoro. Genoa, Italy: Le Mani, 2003.

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    Mathematician Paulo Marocco’s unorthodox sociocultural reading of Vertigo focuses on questions of time, especially the question of “leisure time,” and also considers the film’s self-reflexivity.

  • Trías, Eugenio. Vértigo y pasión: Un ensayo sobre la película “Vertigo” de Alfred Hitchcock. Madrid: Taurus, 1998.

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    Spanish philosopher Eugenio Trías expands upon his earlier work on Vertigo. Placing the film within the context of Hitchcock’s broad concerns, the book features a section dealing with the “spiral of passion” in all of Hitchcock’s films, and there is another that deals with Vertigo, breaking the film into five “movements” and unraveling its concerns with identity, genre, and repetition.

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