In Alfred Hitchcock's great film Vertigo, filmed in San Francisco in 1957, the protagonist, Scottie, played by James Stewart, becomes obsessed with Madeleine, played by Kim Novak. Scottie, a retired detective, suffers from a disabling case of acrophobia, which becomes a critical if tenuous plot point.

Bernard Herrmann's brilliant score depicts both the passion of the lovers and the powerful, destructive effects of Scottie's infatuation, which grows as he tails Madeleine around San Francisco; in time it veers into something darker and domineering, with even an allusion to necrophilia: Scottie attempts to turn a living woman into one he believes has died in order to make love to her. Robin Wood, one of the first critics to take Hitchcock seriously, described Vertigo as "one of the four or five most profound and beautiful films the cinema has yet given us." (footnote 1)

Audiophiles exhibit, to varying degrees, what young film executives in Hollywood like to call passion. We spend time, energy, and money in order to pursue that passion. Sometimes when I meet people at cocktail parties and they ask what I do, I answer: "I'm a composer and an audiophile." The questioner who hopes for a tidy answer leaves empty-handed.

Here are some of the things I do: I buy cardboard cards with letters on them to alphabetize my record racks. I measure, to a fraction of an inch, the distance between my loudspeakers and my sitting position, making sure that the equipment rack is precisely centered between my eyes and the equally separated speakers. As I've done for years, I place my heavy little wood-and-steel VPI brick on top of my CD transport, although I don't know what it does, if anything. Before I play a record, I clean off the top of the platter with a paint brush I bought for this purpose, even though the record player is protected by a custom-made, museum-style, Plexiglas display case.

Then there's the collecting itself. My collection comprises several thousand music recordings in three physical formats: 78rpm records, 33rpm records, and CDs. (I do not extend my collecting into files on hard drives and servers, but I can understand why some people do.) I enjoy owning and curating inert forms of music and bringing them to life, and I protect these objects of my desire. I cover my records in new plastic outer sleeves. I would be upset if anyone hurt them or took them from me. A mild case of OCD —neurosis even?

I have been hooked on everything having to do with Vertigo, including Bernard Herrmann's hypnotic musical score, since I was a college freshman, when I first saw the film projected from a 16mm print. Over the years, I have viewed the film dozens of times. It is gratifying, all these years later, to see Hitchcock's masterly camerawork and brilliant use of color looking so great in its current Blu-ray version from Universal, and hearing the score sounding so fine on a newly remastered LP from Varèse Sarabande (VSD-0029). I have a deep empathy for the character so searingly inhabited by Jimmy Stewart, and I'm always knocked out by the blazing sensuality Kim Novak created for the two characters she plays.

I understand that Vertigo is a work of fiction, and that I am not actually those people. Vertigo is about disturbing stuff. The intensity of the themes and emotions it explores is an order of human magnitude beyond, say, ordering too many CDs on Amazon or stopping at every garage sale in search of mint-condition Mercury Living Presence LPs.

In Vertigo, Scottie and Madeleine visit a spot in Golden Gate Park where they gaze at the portico of a once-great mansion, nicknamed the "Portals of the Past"—an apt image in a film whose themes include the notion that history, when brought to life, can rise up and claim the present. So it is here: When I listen to a finely remastered Riverside jazz recording on my current rig, I'm not transgressing social norms —but I am enacting desires. I experience love for the music, and for the act of reviving something created long ago, by people no longer among the living. Those emotions and memories can be brought to life by the listener who, in his or her determined pursuit of music, invests in it a certain passion; as for the lengths I'm willing to go to . . . well, I'm a composer and an audiophile.—Sasha Matson

Footnote 1: Robin Wood, Hitchcock's Films (A.S. Barnes & Co., 1969).

Anton's picture

"I measure, to a fraction of an inch, the distance between my loudspeakers and my sitting position, making sure that the equipment rack is precisely centered between my eyes and the equally separated speakers."

How do you get your head into the proper position and then hold it within that fraction of an inch while you listen? How do you even know each time that you will wind up within that fraction of an inch when you sit down? I don't have the constitution nor will to accomplish such an Herculean feat.

Do you have a listening vice you snap your head into or a thing like at the eye doctor to keep your head in the proper listening alignment?

I would likely bob my head or move my neck or something and the whole castle would crumble. There would be no Reggae, for me!

I've even been known to move my head and arm to sip wine when listening.

There are days when, if audiophilia was like 'Lord of the Flies,' I would be killed as fast as you could say 'Simon.' Even 'Piggy' outlasted 'Simon.'

Now I am bumming thinking about all the things I am doing wrong.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"All the Wrong Things" .......... Branan Murphy :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"Hello, hello ...... I'm at a place called vertigo" .........

"Vertigo" ............ U2 :-) ........

John C Freeman's picture

At least 40% of the movie takes place in San Juan Bautista, a beautiful small town just 40 miles south of San Jose, Ca. And yes I live there. The town is wonderfully preserved, still looking much the same as it did in 1957. The Mission, the Plaza now a State Park all remain in much the same state as it was in 1957. The movie is also great.

ediblegardener's picture

Sasha, I have London phase 4 stereo of Obsession.

ediblegardener's picture

apparently not
anyone else? I will give it to you
pay postage.

Sasha Matson's picture

Greetings 'ediblegardener',

Was on road and failed to get online here past few days. Thanks for thinking of me regarding Herrmann's 'Obsession' score. You got me! I'm not familiar with that one, has been years since I've seen that film. And the score that usually gets more attention is the one that followed shortly after - as you know, Herrmann's last score, for 'Taxi Driver.' So yes - although we don't normally post our e-mails, here it is:
Get in touch if you still have that LP......
Sasha M.