Preface to Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic, special edition ebook

What do you think about the prominence that Vertigo has assumed for your European critics?

H: I think they understood the complexities of the situation. But do you agree with those among them who say the film refers to you….?

H: No, there’s nothing in that.

(Alfred Hitchcock to Charles

Thomas Samuels, 1972)

…I think that in all artistic domains we attempt to create an emotion. The importance of a work of art, no matter what sort, is to evoke a reaction. It doesn’t matter what sort of reflex is stimulated. As soon as one says “I like” or “I hate” that signifies that one is no longer indifferent. I very much like the story of the young couple in a museum of modern art. They stop, perplexed, in front of an abstract painting. Suddenly a hand with a finger pointing at them emerges from the frame a and says, “I don’t understand you either.”

(Hitchcock to Nicoletta

Zalafi, 1972)

When St Martin’s published this book in 1998, Vertigo was still very much a niche film. Loved by the few who had seen it. The book’s success was that lucky convergence of author, timing and cultural phenomenon. The book was conceived and completed as Harris and Katz were finishing their restoration of the film. It was a lucky coincidence. When I arrived at the Academy’s research library, I knew that I had to have a project to justify seeing any of Hitchcock’s personal files. I had decided that I needed to know everything there was to know about Vertigo.

The film had intrigued, perplexed, bothered. I needed to work through what about this film in its inception might inform my profound reaction to each viewing of the film. 15 years on, the film has been voted the best film ever made by the international film critics polled by the British Film Institute and published once a decade by Sight and Sound. Vertigo unseated Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane which had held the top spot since the 1960s. Vertigo did not even make the list until the 1980s.

Late July 2012, the BBC called with the news that the BFI was likely to announce the prestigious list with Vertigo at the top on Aug. 1st. I was asked to come into Hollywood to do an interview about the choice, this film. I didn’t go. I wasn’t sure what to say.

And, as the day arrived, as Vertigo arrived, its most profound chronicler left. Chris Marker, whose work is discussed in the book, died on the eve of Vertigo’s ascendancy. His departure, the film’s arrival like a time confused dance of the insane memory he describes in the Vertigo sequence of San Soliel. Marker understood Vertigo.

Robin Woods understood also and Woodsis gone, too. These two men were my guides to that dreadful climb up the tower. They now rise as shadows to encourage. To provoke. Vertigo, its profound nature, its absurd success, this book can only run at, fail, and then make another run, on and on. No book can explain or pin down the quickening that makes a masterpiece.

In this special edition, I have made many corrections, added some details, tweaked statements that were once true and added back in much of the art that was in the St. Martin’s edition. It is the best eBook version possible of the original. The book will always be a thing of beauty impossible to recreate in the virtual world.

I’m certain that Hitchcock would be honored, touched even, by Vertigo’s success today. But I’m certain

he would also be speechless at this turn of events. Hitch, Alma, they too stand in that tower’s dark corner. Those left living, well, we stand in wonder still.

Dan Auiler, 2013

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