Restoration of "Vertigo", 1996
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The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Universal Pictures press, 1996. Thanks to Universal
Germany and Bob Harris
Harris (right) and James Katz (left) with 70mm cans for "Vertigo". Image
source: Robert Harris.
Picture credit: Laura Luongo
If the greatest movies, like the greatest of
loves, are meant to linger in the imagination forever, Alfred Hitchcock's
"Vertigo" is an astonishing act of seduction.
The director's darkest, most dream-like tale of suspense, it draws the
audience in with the air of a mystery then plunges into a dizzying
exploration of romantic obsession.
Today, this same explosive theme, that of a man possessed and a woman hiding
secret identities, has continued to excite audiences in some of cinema's
biggest box-office suspense thrillers. But from its head-spinning imagery to
its shocking psychological revelations, from its breathtaking cinematography
to its dramatic Bernard Herrmann score, from its unwavering sense of mystery
to its unanswered questions, Vertigo remains that irresistible first love.
Once seen, it cannot be forgotten; and the more times one sees it, the more
fascinating it becomes.
Yet the full seductive powers of "Vertigo" have been marred up until now by
deteriorating negatives and prints - prints that cut the visual allure that
Hitchcock's most revealing film brought to audiences in its initial release.
Now at last, following one of the most massive restoration projects ever
undertaken, "Vertigo" will have a chance to win over new audiences and
resurrect the passion of long-time fans in a stunning new 70 mm version
featuring DTS digital stereo.
Under the sponsorship of Universal Studios, Robert A. Harris and James C.
Katz, the same team behind the restoration of such large-format films as
"Lawrence of Arabia",
"My Fair Lady", have spent the past two
years painstakingly rebuilding, layer by layer, what is essentially a brand
new 65 mm restoration negative.
Dan Slusser, Senior Vice President/General Manager, Universal Studios
recalls: "We were faced with the simple question of do we let this great
film go forever or do we bring it back? And we felt that it made both
emotional and economic sense to give a new generation a chance to see
something truly beautiful."
"We're in the business of snatching great films back from the brink of
extinction. The negative had gotten to the point where if we didn't restore
"Vertigo" now, it would have been too late," says Robert Harris. "Without this
effort, no one would ever again experience Vertigo, for the glorious first
time or a still-awed tenth, as it was intended to be seen."
Casey Silver, Chairman of Universal Pictures, comments: "Alfred Hitchcock's
legacy is a great source of pride to the studio. He is a master filmmaker
and "Vertigo" is a good example of a master at the top of his game. Now, a
whole new generation of moviegoers will have the opportunity to be swept
away by "Vertigo" on the big screen in 70mm."
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Adds Jim Katz, "People who have seen "Vertigo" before have never seen it like
this. Those who are lucky enough to be experiencing this film for the very
first time will see it as Hitchcock would have wanted it to be seen today,
with all the sound, visual effects and other elements of excitement at their
absolute best and in sync with `90s technology. For decades, this has been a
motion picture that people can't get out of their heads; and we want that
legacy to continue."
So it was with great sadness that film restorers James C. Katz and Robert
Harris discovered that the perfection Hitchcock demanded had deteriorated
into shrunken and vinegared sound elements and faded negatives that could
not possibly do his dark romantic fable justice.
For Harris and Katz the loss was unthinkable. Vertigo is truly one of the
most important movies ever made," says Harris. "It's on the Library of
Congress list of most important films; and on many critics' Top 20. It's
unacceptable to think that such an incredible and enduring work of both art
and entertainment might be lost forever to generations of movie-goers."
Yet that is exactly what almost happened.
Although there is a feeling that once something is filmed it remains
forever, it is sadly not the case. Images are fragile, their colors and
tones easily fade away, and acetate safety film grows brittle and old. In
fact almost 50% of all films ever made have been lost to the ravages of
"It is an outrageous thing that an industry that is only 100 years old
should have already lost so much," says Jim Katz. "Fortunately, things are
better today. But the condition of film elements just 20 years old can be
For decades, Hitchcock's work was privately stored outside of the studios.
Unfortunately, hundreds upon hundreds of boxes filled with original
Hitchcock film material were junked just to save storage expenses. Even
worse, the material was stored in a vault that was not state-of -the-art and
unable to protect the negatives and black and white separations from the
ravages of climate and time. The loss was imminent.
To recover lost film, it takes individuals akin to both archaeologists and
detectives, film preservation and restoration experts such as Harris and
Katz, two producers who have taken special interest in preserving
state-of-the-art films from Hollywood's lavish era of large-format features.
"It's a lot harder to fix a film than it is to make one," admits Katz, who
has produced such contemporary features as the 1989 satire "Scenes From the
Class Struggle in Beverly Hills" and the 1986 comedy "Nobody's Fool". "You
have to go into it not believing anything, because whatever you find is
going to just be the beginning of your problems."
"What we do is part digging through history, part film production and part
science mixed in with a whole lot of bulldoggedness," adds Bob Harris, who
is one of a handful of people in the world with the skills to extract the
buried treasure that can lie beneath decades of dirt smudges, tears and
neglect. Together, the pair are the world's foremost experts on fully
restoring large format films.
Harris (left) and James Katz (right) with 70mm frames of "Vertigo". Image
source: Robert Harris.
Picture credit: Laura Luongo
Martin Scorsese, a long-time supporter of their work, comments: "What Bob
and Jim are doing isn't a normal restoration, which these days amounts to
just cleaning up the negative. They actually enhance the picture further.
They don't try to make what Hitchcock did better, but they try to give the
audience today a sense of seeing the film for the first time the way it was
originally presented. And this is really important."
When Harris and Katz cracked the remaining film cans containing "Vertigo",
they had a good idea what they would find. "We knew exactly what to expect,
given the way the negative was stored and the peculiarities of the 1950's
film emulsions. We found fading and shrinkage, as well as torn negative
replaced with dupe, basically a film that looked and sounded nothing like
what Hitchcock had created," says Katz. He adds: "We're not magicians of
course and we can never restore the negative to mint condition. But we can
say that Vertigo will now be seen as Hitchcock could only have dreamed it
would look and sound."
To undertake this task, Harris and Katz were provided with over $1 million
from Universal, Hitchcock's final studio home since the early 60's, which
now owns the rights to 14 of the filmmaker's features, including "Vertigo".
Although the film was originally released in 1958 by Paramount, the rights
eventually reverted back to the director, moving with him to Universal,
along with other Hitchcock features from the late `40's to early `60's,
including "Rear Window", the 1956 remake of "The Man Who Knew Too Much" and
Back in the early `40's, Hitchcock had made "Shadow of A Doubt" and
for Universal, which released all his films from 1963's "The Birds" through
1976's "Family Plot", his final film. The studio currently has one of the
largest film libraries in the world, with materials dating back to 1915, and
annually spends more than two million dollars on preserving these precious
films for the future.
"Universal has been really great. They truly believe in the project and they
trusted us to do whatever was necessary. It means a great deal that studio
executives are standing behind this vital preservation of our cultural
heritage," says Harris.
Adds Katz: "It's imperative that we do everything to the best of current
human and technical abilities -- because a film only gets restored once. The
support was critical."
Dan Slusser, General Manager of Universal Studios, oversees much of the
studio's restoration work. "There's a substantial commitment to preserving
film here at Universal," says Slusser, who knew Hitchcock personally late in
the director's life. "We've been at it a long time. In the case of "Vertigo",
when Universal came into it, the negative had been sitting on a shelf in a
public storage warehouse for 18 years. When you put a film in an area where
it isn't properly preserved under an ideal humidity and temperature, it
deteriorates very rapidly. That's exactly what happened with "Vertigo". It had
to be restored frame by frame, reel by reel. It's a very laborious,
expensive process, but we felt that if we did not put in the effort, it
would have been lost forever. That would be an unacceptable loss not only to
Universal but to the world."
Casey Silver, Chairman of Universal Pictures, concurs: "At Universal, we are
steadfastly committed to restoring and preserving great films, not only for
today's audiences but for the new audiences of tomorrow. With the global
demand for motion picture product ever increasing, film preservation is not
only a moral imperative for us but a business imperative."
70mm frame. Full VistaVision image pillar boxed inside 70mm frame.
With the studio fully behind the project, Harris and Katz retired to the
laboratory to do a transformation of their own. They divided the problems
into two main areas: picture and sound. As Katz says: "Both were lousy."
On the picture side, the restorers had to contend with the difficulty that
"Vertigo" was originally shot in
VistaVision, created by Paramount in the
early 50's as a non-anamorphic, wide-screen alternative to Twentieth Century
Fox's CinemaScope. But VistaVision is no longer utilized and the team had to
undertake a restoration which would ultimately turn a 1:85 VistaVision
negative into a 70mm print.
Furthermore, Hitchcock's trademark use of rear-screen projection added
another layer of complexity onto the restoration. Explains Harris: "With
rear screen projection, you're already working with thinner, more faded
negative and more problems present themselves."
Other visual problems included unacceptable fading of Hitchcock's carefully
chosen pastiche of colors. Never before had Hitchcock been so obsessed with
color in a film -- from the color of Madeleine/Judy's hair to the themes of
red and green -- stop and go -- running throughout. The wrong colors could
seriously detract from Hitchcock's original intent.
For example, during the inquest scene in which Scottie is questioned about
Madeleine's apparent suicide, five men sit on the bench wearing the same
blue suits --only by now their suits ranged from "marine to clown blue,"
To get the color right, Harris and Katz had to go back in time, way back,
even getting chips of paint from a circa 1957 green Jaguar to make sure the
shade was correct! They also borrowed from Paramount Pictures many of the
original wardrobe pieces designed by Edith Head to capture her vivid color
Explains Harris: "It was a very difficult process. Especially because the
film was originally printed in the Technicolor process which hypes the color
anyway. We had to do a lot of research with people who worked on the film
and use any source material at hand to get close to the original."
One interesting discovery was made: "No one realized for years how much
yellow Midge wears. Now we see that was a part of setting her character,"
In addition to fading, shrinkage was a serious problem in key scenes.
Shrinkage refers to the shrinking of layers in the black & white
separations, which can cause multi-colored rims to appear around the images.
The only way to "fix" shrinkage is to mechanically, painstakingly, fit the
separations back together layer by layer, as closely as possible.
Just as the images had been fading and rotting in vaults, the sound elements
of "Vertigo" were in similarly poor shape, with sound effects and foley tracks
completely lost. Fortunately, Harris and Katz made one major find: the
original orchestral recording sessions under conductor Muir Mathieson, which
had been recorded in Germany due to an American musicians' strike. These
elements had just barely survived a 1967 junking order (not from Paramount)
and sat undisturbed, but rotting, in Paramount's vaults.
Harris in the footsteps of "Vertigo". Mission Dolores Church and
Cemetery, location of Carlotta Valdes's grave. Image source: Robert Harris
The restorers took this remarkable recording and digitized it so that it
would sing over today's speaker technology. Now, "Vertigo" becomes the first
ever 70mm DTS release. Even those most familiar with the soundtrack were
taken by surprise. "When we played it for some of Bernard Herrmann's people,
they actually heard instruments and notes they'd never known were there,"
says Harris. "That's a wonderful feeling."
But the foley tracks had to be completely redone from scratch -- although
not without some direction from Hitchcock. Harris and Katz also came across
Hitchcock's extensive and detailed notes on sound., which they used to copy
the many eerie, lonely and ghostly sounds that make Vertigo so chilling.
"Of course, we knew that Bernard Herrmann was notorious for hating sound
effects over his score, so we wanted to be as careful as Hitchcock had been,
using his pages and pages of notes on how to integrate the sounds from
beginning to end," says Katz.
Of all the pressures Katz and Harris faced, the greatest one may have been
the shadow of Hitchcock looming over their work. "Hitchcock's standards of
perfection are legendary and nowhere more so than on "Vertigo", admits Katz.
"We were under extraordinary scrutiny from people who knew and loved
Hitchcock. But even more importantly, we wanted to restore his film in a way
that we were certain would make him proud."
Katz is careful to differentiate a true restoration such as Vertigo from the
numerous "restored prints" and "video restorations" -- many of which are
merely reprinted -- that seem to be proliferating. "True restoration brings
the negative close to its original quality in a form that will last for
generations to come," he says.
Adds Harris: "I feel confident that if Hitchcock were here today wanting to
show this film to new audiences, he would take advantage of the technologies
One thing Hitchcock may not have counted on was the uncovering of an
alternate ending to "Vertigo", which the director shot under pressure from
foreign distributors who insisted on a more conventional final scene. This
brief final scene ties up many of the loose ends that have given "Vertigo" its
incredible power. Although the scene adds little to the film, it does
incontrovertibly reveal how much more powerful the director's instincts were
than any commercial suppositions.
Thanks to this unprecedented restoration, these instincts will once again be
on vivid display.
For many filmgoers, it will be a welcome transformation of an old love.
For those seeing "Vertigo" for the first time, it could be the start of an
About the Restoration Team
Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz
Harris (left) and James Katz (right) visiting the portrait of Carlotta
Valdes - based on a portrait of Vera Miles. Image source: Robert Harris
ROBERT A. HARRIS mixes art with archaeology,
bringing forth from the vaults some of the 20th Century's pinnacle
achievements in cinema and magically reconstructing and restoring them for
this and future generations to enjoy. A producer whose credits include the
critically acclaimed "The Grifters" (with Martin Scorsese), Harris aided
Kevin Brownlow in reviving Abel Gance's silent masterwork
"Napoleon" and was
instrumental in its presentation in a joint effort with Francis Coppola's
Thinking it would be "fun" to restore the complete version of David Lean's
"Lawrence of Arabia", Harris embarked on what turned out to be a two-year
odyssey -- involving months of intensive research; more months of detective
work as he literally scoured the world gathering over four tons of surviving
picture and sound elements; and a touch of modern archaeology as he attempted
to reconstruct an entirely new negative with neither a written continuity
nor a surviving print of the original premiere version to work with. The end
result, however, was proclaimed one of the great triumphs of film
reconstruction and went on to win over new audiences in theatrical release.
Harris, along with partner Jim Katz, followed "Lawrence of Arabia" with
another triumphant restoration of
"Spartacus" for Universal
Pictures, establishing them as the world's foremost experts in complex,
large-format reconstruction. Most recently, Harris and Katz restored the
classic American musical "My Fair Lady", using the latest in digital
technology to bring a badly damaged negative back to stunning, new life.
Harris is currently planning an original feature and preparing for another
major restoration, both with Jim Katz.
JAMES C. KATZ has built a career equally
focused on preserving the old and creating the new in cinema. On the new
side, he has produced such features as Paul Bartel's "Scenes From the Class
Struggle in Beverly Hills" and "Lust in the Dust" and was co-producer of
"Nobody's Fool", written by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Beth Henley.
As President of the Universal Pictures Classics Division in the early
1980's, Katz was responsible for the reissue of five Hitchcock films-- "Rear
Window", "Vertigo", "Rope", "The Trouble With Harry" and
"The Man Who Knew Too Much"
--the reissue of the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night", the Preston Sturges
package and Abel Gance's "Napoleon", during which he cemented his partnership
with Bob Harris.
At the same time, under Katz' aegis, Universal Pictures Classics became the
first classics division to be involved in film production with John Huston's
"Under the Volcano". Katz was also involved in bringing such films as Jerszy
Skolimowski's "Moonlighting", Merchant Ivory's "Heat and Dust", Nagia Oshima's
"Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence" and Franco Zeffirelli's "La Traviata" to U.S.
During this time Katz' concern with the state of film art converged with Bob
Harris' skills in film reconstruction and restoration. Together the team
brought film audiences a celebrated reconstruction of Stanley Kubrick's
"Spartacus" and a wondrous new transformation for the Oscar-winning
musical "My Fair Lady".
Katz began his career in the 1960's in the United Artists publicity
department, eventually becoming Vice President of Worldwide Publicity. He
was involved in campaigns for such films as the Clint Eastwood Spaghetti
Westerns, the James Bond movies, "In the Heat of the Night" and two Beatles
movies, "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!" He subsequently lived in Europe for 10
years, where he produced and directed short films and co-produced the
National Theatre's production Chekhov's Three Sisters starring and directed
by Laurence Olivier.
Filming of "Vertigo"
advert from Paramount Pictures. "Vertigo" was filmed in large format
"Vertigo" was filmed in 1957 on location in
Northern California and on the stages at Paramount Studios. Those who were
on the set recall that Hitchcock's famous attention to detail was heightened
more than ever on this film. The color, the visuals, the performances -
everything had to be absolutely perfect.
Kim Novak recalls the director employing a metronome "to try to get the
right rhythms for certain scenes, like going up the spiral staircase, to get
that staccato feel. And it had to be exactly so."
Screenwriter Samuel Taylor later said, "Hitchcock knew exactly what he
wanted to do with this film, exactly what he wanted to say, and how it
should be seen and told... and anyone who saw him during the making of the
film could see, as I did, that he felt it very deeply indeed."
The reasons why "Vertigo" touched Hitchcock so deeply have been debated in
endless books and articles, but there is no doubt that the themes of the
film - the fallibility of romantic love, the power of transforming reality
into make believe, the temptation of molding women into unattainable
beauties, the parallel fear of and attraction to dark impulses, the
paralyzing effects of moral ambiguity - were all near and dear to
Whatever it was, something in "Vertigo" spurred him to the heights of
inventiveness. The film established many of the hallmarks audiences have
come to expect in the suspense thriller. For starters, Hitchcock chose, in a
move that was revolutionary for its time, to reveal the shocking dramatic
twist involving Madeleine and Judy to the audience before the final act. His
choice broke every known dramatic rule - yet it worked and set a precedent
for what Hitchcock called "creating suspense not surprise." In today's most
exciting features, the audience almost always knows who the bad guy is
before the hero does.
"Vertigo" also revealed that innovative use of visual effects could set the
audience so much on edge they would feel the film, not just watch it. For
many film fans, the shot of Scottie gazing into the depths below is among
the most skillful and gripping ever seen. By zooming in and tracking out
simultaneously, a move Hitchcock himself invented, he dares moviegoers to
try to keep their equilibrium as they move back and forth between
anticipating a fall and fearing it.
Later, when Scottie finally kisses Judy, the couple appear to fade back into
the stables where Scottie first kissed Madeleine. Here, Hitchcock put his
actors on a turntable and performed a 360-degree tracking movement with the
camera. The effect is to give the audience the sudden terror that even they
don't quite have a grip on where reality stops and illusion begins.
Today, the most popular action and suspense films continue to rely on tricky
camera work almost as much as plot and performance to keep the audience on
the edges of their seats.
In addition to the superlative performances, "Vertigo" offered the world one
of the most emotionally affecting musical scores ever written for the
screen, a score that would reveal how music can get to the very innermost
source of anxiety and emotion in suspense and psychological thrillers.
Point, beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, Marine Drive, San Francisco
Hitchcock left the score almost entirely in the hands of one of his favorite
collaborators, Bernard Herrmann, who also wrote the score for "Citizen Kane"
as well as most of Hitchcock's later films, including "North by Northwest" and
"Psycho". (Later, Herrmann was to score Brian DePalma's "Obsession",
widely regarded as the contemporary director's homage to "Vertigo".) In fact,
Hitchcock so trusted Herrmann's musical instincts that in his meticulous
sound notes he follows his description of the opening rooftop chase with the
addendum "all of this will naturally depend upon what music Mr. Herrmann
puts over the sequence."
Despite working on his own, Herrmann seemed to know exactly where Hitchcock
was going with the film. While Hitchcock's visuals revealed swirling
graphics and spiraling patterns, Herrmann's score churns with the
crescendoing strings of anxiety and the sustained chords of desire. The
score features strains of Wagner, Mozart, and an Andalusian fandango, but
the overwhelming result is a sweeping dreaminess and longing.
When Scottie looks down with paralyzing terror as he hangs from the rooftop,
his frenzied disorientation is echoed by the glissandos of harps. As he
follows the bewitching Madeleine, Herrmann heightens the atmosphere of
mystery and sadness with high-range violins and deep bass clarinets.
Perhaps the score's most memorable moment comes when Scotty first embraces
Judy and is transported in his head into the dead Madeleine's arms.
Hitchcock decided to shoot the scene -- all five minutes of it -- without
dialogue. "It will be just the camera and you," he told Herrmann. Herrmann
came through with his insatiably passionate love theme, which harks back to
Wagner's Liebestod from "Tristan und Isolde" as it soars from uncertainty to
The Legacy of "Vertigo"
Harris and James Katz at Fort Point, beneath the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Image
source: Robert Harris
Since its release in 1958,
"Vertigo" has become
one of the most analyzed and discussed motion pictures ever.
Perhaps this is because it seems to reveal so much about the hidden
emotions, longings and psychology of the mysterious Alfred Hitchcock.
Perhaps it is because so many elements came together--the alternately
charming and charged performances of James Stewart, Kim Novak and Barbara
Bel Geddes, the sly, suspenseful script, Robert Burks' groundbreaking
cinematography, the haunting Bernard Herrmann score, the character-laden
Edith Head costumes--so perfectly all at once.
Or perhaps it is because Vertigo gives a visceral face to the wrenching
human dilemma between desire and fear, illusion and reality, between taking
a leap of faith and hurling into the abyss.
Whatever way you approach it, "Vertigo" clearly has an indelible effect on all
who view it.
Today, it can be viewed as an extremely prescient movie, one that
anticipates such contemporary themes as fear of commitment (not just fear of
falling but fear of falling hopelessly in love) and such contemporary styles
as psychedelia. As director Martin Scorsese summarizes: "This is an amazing
movie...that sustains over the years because of its powerful truth and its
unflinching themes." He adds: "Most American directors working today have
been influenced by Hitchcock. There's no doubt. I mean I think you could see
a lot of the sense of obsession that you see in Vertigo in the movies I've
made." "Vertigo" takes its main character and the audience on a spiraling descent
into the mysteries of attraction, commitment, identity and illusion. The
film begins with an ominous roof-top chase scene that ends with police
detective John "Scottie" Ferguson (JAMES STEWART) overcome with an intense
dread of heights that leads to the death of a fellow officer.
It turns out that Scottie suffers from severe acrophobia - a deep fear of
falling which results in a stultifying vertigo, and must retire from the
police department unless and until he finds an unlikely cure. With the help
of an old girlfriend, the sensible Midge (BARBARA BEL GEDDES), Scottie
attempts to return to a normal life.
But his life takes another unusual turn when an old school acquaintance,
Gavin Elster (TOM HELMORE), hires Scottie to take on a little freelance
detective work. To Scottie's dismay, Elster asks him to shadow his wife
Madeleine (KIM NOVAK), who he describes alternately as "being possessed by
a spirit" and being a "suicidal neurotic."
Scottie is wary but the minute he sees Madeleine he cannot resist the chase.
Madeleine is not only lumaniscently beautiful but utterly mysterious. A
patrician-looking blonde, she spends her days visiting ancient gravesites,
staring at a portrait of a woman in an art museum, and gazing out the window
of a small rented room in a rundown, historic hotel. She is there, but
somehow not there, and Scottie finds himself yearning to sort out not only
Madeleine but her macabre fascinations.
The mystery and the lure only increase when Scottie saves Madeleine from an
apparent attempt to throw herself into San Francisco Bay and begins a
face-to-face relationship with her, keeping his other identity as her
husband's hired detective a secret.
In precious stolen moments, Scottie begins to fall madly in love. But as his
fixation with Madeleine grows, so too does Madeleine's obsession with death.
When Scottie takes her to visit an old mission she's described from a dream,
Madeleine suddenly heads for the bell tower in a desperate act of suicidal
panic. Once again, Scottie's fear of heights prevents him from coming to the
rescue as Madeleine and his one chance at perfect love come crashing to a
But is it really over? Broken down and unable to go back to his ordinary
life, Scottie continues to be haunted by the dead Madeleine. Then one day,
he sees a woman walking down the street who looks just like Madeleine... and
yet she can't be Madeleine, because Madeleine is dead. She is Judy Barton, a
brunette department store salesgirl from Kansas with none of the alluring
mystery and perfect poetry of the Madeleine for whom Scottie so
But Judy also has her secrets - secrets which will once again turn Scottie's
world into a dizzying battle between illusion and reality.
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