In recent days, former students, TV interviewers, fellow critics, passing strangers, drunks stumbling out of doorways... They've all wanted to know the same thing: What do I think of Vertigo bumping Citizen Kane out of the No. 1 spot on the Sight & Sound list of the top movies of all time?
My first impulse is to reply: Hey, I didn't get a ballot, so who cares?
On further consideration, however, I have to admit that, while I prefer Orson Welles' enduringly amazing and influential masterpiece, I have always appreciated Vertigo as one of Alfred Hitchcock's all-time greats -- and maybe, just maybe, his most deeply personal film. Indeed, I deemed it worthy of its very own chapter (excerpted here) in my currently out-of-print book (which I hope to expand and update as an e-book just as soon as I find the time to write the updates, and, well, you know, figure out how to upload an e-book). And while looking at that chapter after the announcement of the Sight & Sound list, I felt compelled to attach this addendum:
After multiple viewings of Vertigo over the years, I have come to wonder: What would the reaction have been back in 1958 – indeed, how would critics, academics and movie buffs view it today – if Hitchcock had opted to end this masterwork about ten or 15 minutes before he does? (Assuming that the Production Code would have allowed him to do so.) That is: What if The Master of Suspense had announced “The End” immediately after Ferguson (James Stewart) and Madeleine (Kim Novak) share their fevered embrace in her hotel room, bathed in a greenish light that seems to signal a shared madness, as she finally abandons all trace of her true self and he passionately grasps his last hope for a second chance?
And what if the audience were left to consider that the only way these two characters could possibly enjoy happily-ever-aftering is to maintain interlocking lies – his self-delusion, her selfless deception – forever more?
Would even Alfred Hitchcock have had the audacity to spring something so thoroughly unsettling, if not downright perverse, on us?
Here's a YouTube clip of the aforementioned scene featuring commentary by Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut. Something tells me even The Master never considered ending his movie with this, uh, stunning climax.