Detective John “Scottie” Ferguson has retired from the police force because he developed a paralyzing fear of heights after a rooftop chase that resulted in a colleague’s death. He comes out of retirement, however, at the behest of Gavin Elster, a college friend who wants Stewart to follow his wife, Madeleine, claiming that she has been behaving strangely. Stewart unexpectedly falls in love with her, only to witness her suicide. Devastated by Madeleine’s death, Scottie later encounters Judy Barton and obsessively remakes her in the image of the dead Madeleine. However, Scottie does not realize that Judy already knows him because she had pretended to be Madeleine as a ruse concocted by Elster to cover up his wife’s murder.


Peter Bogdanovich: Isn't Vertigo about the conflict between illusion and reality?

Alfred Hitchcock: Oh, yes. I was interested by the basic situation, because it contained so much analogy to sex. Stewart's efforts to recreate the woman were, cinematically, exactly the same as though he were trying to undress the woman, instead of dressing her. He couldn't get the other woman out of his mind. Now, in the book, they didn't reveal that she was one and the same woman until the end of the story. I shocked Sam Taylor, who worked on it, when I said, "When Stewart comes upon this brunette girl, Sam, this is the time for us to blow the whole truth." He said, "Good God, why?" I told him, if we don't what is the rest of our story until we do reveal the truth. A man has picked up a brunette and sees in her the possibilities of resemblance to the other woman. Let's put ourselves in the minds of our audience here: "So you've got a brunette and you're going to change her." What story are we telling now? A man wants to make a girl over and then, at the very end, finds out it is the same woman. Maybe he kills her, or whatever. 

Here we are, back in our old situation: surprise or suspense. And we come to our old analogy of the bomb: you and I sit talking and there's a bomb in the room. We're having a very innocuous conversation about nothing. Boring. Doesn't mean a thing. Suddenly, boom! the bomb goes off and they're shocked - for fifteen seconds. Now you change it. Play the same scene, insert the bomb, show that the bomb is placed there, establish that it's going to go off at one o'clock - it's now a quarter of one, ten of one - show a clock on the wall, back to the same scene. Now our conversation becomes very vital, by its sheer nonsense. "Look under the table! You fool!" Now they're working for ten minutes, instead of being surprised for fifteen seconds. 

Now let's go back to Vertigo. If we don't let them know, they will speculate. They will get a very blurred impression as to what is going on. "Now," I said, "one of the fatal things, Sam, in all suspense is to have a mind that is confused. Otherwise the audience won't emote. Clarify, clarify, clarify. Don't let them say, "I don't know which woman that is, who's that?" So," I said, "we are going to take the bull by the horns and put it all in a flashback, bang! right then and there - show it's one and the same woman." Then, when Stewart comes to the hotel for her, the audience says, "Little does he know." 

Second, the girl's resistance in the earlier part of the film had no reason. Now you have the reason - she doesn't want to be uncovered. That's why she doesn't want the gray suit, doesn't want to go blond - because the moment she does, she's in for it. So now you've got extra values working for you. We play on his fetish in creating this dead woman, and he is so obsessed with the pride he has in making her over. Even when she comes back from the hairdresser, the blond hair is still down. And he says, "Put your hair up." She says, "No." He says, "Please." Now what is he saying to her? "You've taken everything off except your bra and your panties, please take those off." She says, "All right." She goes into the bathroom. He's only waiting to see a nude woman come out, ready to get in bed with. That's what the scene is. Now, as soon as she comes out, he sees a ghost - he sees the other woman. That's why I played her in a green light. You see, in the earlier part - which is purely in the mind of Stewart - when he is watching this girl go from place to place, when she is really faking, behaving like a woman of the past - in order to get this slightly subtle quality of a dreamlike nature although it was bright sunshine, I [s]hot the film through a fog filter and I got a green effect - fog over bright sunshine. That's why, when she comes out of the bathroom, I played her in the green light. That's why I chose the Empire Hotel in Post Street - because it had a green neon sign outside the window. I wanted to establish that green light flashing all the time. So that when we need it, we've got it. I slid the soft, fog lens over, and as she came forward, for a moment he got the image of the past. Then as her face came up to him, I slipped the soft effect away, and he came back to reality. She had come back from the dead, and he felt it, and knew it, and probably was even bewildered - until he saw the locket – and then he knew he had been tricked.”

Peter Bogdanovich and Alfred Hitchcock in conversation1


“There are many things I love in ‘A Free Replay’: core ideas about the film’s logic condensed in a few strong formulations; a daring attempt at interpretation that is also a manifesto for the imaginary (and, perhaps, a sophisticated ruse); a deceptively meandering appearance (“notes”?) under which lies an exhaustive analytical work and a strong internal cohesion; tons of obsessive research gracefully (sometimes whimsically) threaded into the main argument; a trust in rhetoric and a taste for its pleasures; and a high degree of performativity, since Marker is constantly staging, executing and playing with the very ideas (the elliptical, the mirroring, the space-time relation, the stratagem, the replay…) that inform his discussion of Vertigo.

Perhaps the most audacious part of this essay is its third section where, after a beautiful meditation devoted to ellipses and the power of imagination, Marker proposes an oneiric interpretation of Vertigo’s second half, by carefully tracing the film’s complex game of mirrors, reflections, double figures and double meanings. Afterwards comes the final section, where we are taken on a tour through 1990s San Francisco in search of the real locations where Vertigo was shot. My favourite passage is located in the midst of this section and, at the start, it seemed to me oddly placed. Today, I think it’s in the perfect spot: the tour through the city becomes Marker’s own “spectacular metaphor” for the vertigo of time, mirroring and replaying the introduction (whose initial inkling/hypothesis is both completed and extended by this passage

“One does not resurrect the dead, one does not look back at Eurydice. Scottie experiences the greatest joy a man can imagine, a second life, in exchange for the greatest tragedy, a second death. What do video games, which tell us more about our unconscious than the complete works of Lacan, offer us? Neither money nor glory, but a new game. The possibility of playing again. ‘A second chance.’ A free replay.”  

To me, this is like the sequoia tree in Vertigo: it goes simultaneously backward and forward in time; it travels deep to the roots – the myth of Orpheus and Euridyce – and expands its resonances in concentric circles, linking cinema (and Vertigo, in particular) with videogames (and, by implication, other modes of artificial/virtual life). Just to be clear: there’s no equating of cinema and video games in Marker’s proposition – to state the obvious: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. But there is a strong idea about why myth matters and about how myth is always happening.”

Cristina Álvarez López2

  • 1Peter Bogdanovich, Alfred Hitchcock, The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock. (New York: The Museum of Modern Art Film Library, 1963).
  • 2Cristina Álvarez López​​​​​​​, “Passage: Cristina Álvarez López​​​​​​​. Replaying Marker,” Sabzian, 1 June 2022.


François Truffaut: [...] Vertigo ontrolt zich in een doelbewust tempo, met een bedachtzaam ritme dat scherp contrasteert met uw andere films. Die zijn over het algemeen gebaseerd op snelle bewegingen en plotselinge overgangen.

Alfred Hitchcock: Inderdaad, maar dat ritme is hier heel natuurlijk. We vertellen tenslotte het verhaal van een man in een emotionele crisis. Heeft u de vervorming gezien, als Stewart van de trap van de toren naar beneden kijkt? Weet u hoe we dat gedaan hebben?

Truffaut: Was dat een achterwaartse rijer, gecombineerd met een voorwaartse zoom?

Hitchcock: Ja. Toen Joan Fontaine flauwviel tijdens het gerechtelijk onderzoek in Rebecca wou ik laten zien hoe ze het gevoel had dat alles van haar weg dreef voordat ze omviel. Ik moet altijd denken aan een avond op het Chelsea Arts Ball in Albert Hall in London, toen ik vreselijk dronken ben geworden en datzelfde gevoel had. Dat heb ik in Rebecca geprobeerd weer te geven, maar dat ging niet. Het standpunt moet vaststaan, terwijl het perspectief veranderd wordt als het zich uitstrekt. Ik heb vijftien jaar over dat probleem nagedacht. Tegen de tijd dat ik Vertigo maakte, losten we het op door tegelijkertijd een dolly en een inzoom te gebruiken. Ik vroeg hoeveel dat zou gaan kosten, en er werd me verteld dat dat vijftigduizend dollar was. Toen ik vroeg waarom, zeiden ze: “Omdat we, als we de camera bovenaan de trap willen krijgen, een groot apparaat moeten huren om hem op te tillen, tegengewicht te geven en in de ruimte te houden.” Ik zei “Er zitten geen mensen in de scène, het is alleen maar een blikrichting. Waarom kunnen we geen maquette van de trap maken en die horizontaal op de grond leggen, en onze opname maken terwijl we er vandaan rijden en een zoom plat op de grond gebruiken?" Zo hebben we het gedaan, en dat kostte maar negentienduizend dollar.””

François Truffaut en Alfred Hitchcock in gesprek1

  • 1François Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock, Hitchcock/Truffaut (Amsterdam: International Theatre Bookshop, 1988), 209-210. Vertaald door Loes Goedbloed.


« C’est que San Francisco est un personnage à part entière du film. Samuel Taylor m’écrivait qu’Hitchcock certes aimait la ville, mais en connaissait « ce qu’il voyait dans les restaurants et par les fenêtres des hôtels et des limousines ». Il était « what you might call a sedentary person ». Pourtant il avait décidé d’utiliser Mission Dolores et, assez étrangement, la maison de Lombard street où habite Scottie « à cause de la porte rouge ». Taylor était amoureux de sa ville (Alec Coppel, le premier scénariste, étant « a transplanted Englishman »), il a mis cet amour dans l’écriture du scénario, et peut-être plus encore, si j’en crois une phrase assez cryptique à la fin de sa lettre « I rewrote the script at the same time that I explored San Francisco and recaptured my past »... Des mots qui pourraient s’appliquer aux personnages autant qu’à l’auteur, et qui permettent d’interpréter comme un nouveau bémol à la clé cette indication donnée par Gavin au début du film, quand il décrit à Scottie les errances de Madeleine qui reste longtemps à scruter, de l’autre côté de Lloyd Lake, des piliers au nom emblématique: the Portals of the Past. Ce facteur personnel expliquerait beaucoup de choses, l’amour fou, les indices oniriques, tout ce qui fait de Vertigo un film à la fois totalement hitchcockien et totalement « différent » dans l’œuvre de ce parfait cynique – cynique au point de fabriquer pour la télévision, soucieuse de morale comme on sait, une nouvelle fin : retour à Midge et au poste de radio où le charmant couple retrouvé entend la nouvelle de l’arrestation d’Elster. Crime doesn’t pay. »

Chris Marker1

  • 1Chris Marker, "A Free Replay (Notes sur Vertigo)," Positif, nr.400, juin 1994.
UPDATED ON 29.12.2023
IMDB: tt0052357