Blog Directory CineVerse: Themes, patterns and techniques in “Vertigo”

Themes, patterns and techniques in “Vertigo”

Friday, August 21, 2009

by Erik J. Martin

Note: This is part two of a seven-part article on Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”; part three will post tomorrow.

“Vertigo” is a film imbued with rich, deep themes, including guilt, manipulation, obsession, voyeurism, fetishism, and the objectification of women as sexual and artistic symbols.

Several motifs and patterns are evident throughout that play on these themes. Hitchcock uses patterns of wild and rising crescendo, animated or exaggerated images that contradict reality, shadows and music that transform a character, depictions of towering structures arrayed almost menacingly across our vulnerable hero's horizon, and many more to spin his celluloid yarn--to utterly overwhelm our senses with a barrage of recurrent stimuli via cinematic devices (many of his own signature) that we may submit to his mastery as a storyteller.

Numerous deep space camera techniques were used to create the illusion of depth and great stretching of distances: the corridor shots in the Empire Hotel, the asylum, and the alley adjacent to the floral shop, as well as the driving scenes occurring down San Francisco streets. The lens often tilts skyward to give the perspective of Scottie looking up at tall, phallic-like monuments (trees, the bell tower, buildings, mountains, crosses, the Golden Gate Bridge, etc.), and, conversely, high angles are also used in occasional scenes, such as the view from the top of the bell tower just after Madeleine's death. These images reflect a dominant male hierarchy at work in the film.

A plethora of tracking shots are implemented to create the phenomenon of Scottie stalking Madeleine. During the :first half of “Vertigo”, the camera pans from right to left, and from left to right for the second half--an attempt to impart the feeling of vertigo itself. And of course, there is Hitchcock’s famous forward zoom/reverse tracking method to provoke the most heightened sense of agoraphobia. These forward zoom/reverse tracking shots were done with miniatures laid on their sides, since it was impossible to do them vertically. This shot—which produced the view down the mission stairwell—cost a whopping $19,000 for just a couple of seconds of screen time.

The costumes, although not particularly significant, are relevant in reflecting the personality of each main character. Scottie is always donned in formal garb, and Midge's appearance expresses her practicality and motherliness. But Madeleine's very shapely, stylish attire, though dignified and refined, elicits her natural, sexual beauty: she doesn't wear a bra, as evident by her wearing of a strapless gown and the fact that it was neither on her in bed or hanging up to dry in the scene after her rescue. Also, Madeleine wears only darker colors, indicative of her preoccupation with death. Judy, likewise, flaunts a strikingly buxom appearance, but in a more coarse, almost concubine style.

These are all examples of how the primary techniques implemented in “Vertigo” become imprinted to elicit certain conditioned response via repetition. Through all these aspects--camera techniques, misc en scene, editing and so forth, we are given mental, and even spiritual (with the religious insinuations somewhat manifest) dimensions functioning in the protagonist's (and our own) universe. As a composite, they create the entire picture that Hitchcock the director wishes to paint. The challenge lies in delving beneath the shapes, colors, and even the canvas, to reach a truer, fresher perspective through subjective interpretation of the given stimuli.

Tomorrow: Part 3—Vertigo’s voyeurism and sexual politics

  © Blogger template Cumulus by 2008

Back to TOP