Vertigo – An Appreciation
Looking closer, the technical achievement Hitchcock displayed in this film is one to behold. Through the use of repetition, visual composition, music, and lighting, he was able to portray the growing obsession Scottie felt throughout the film. Take a look at the very first scene where we are introduced to Madeleine, at the restaurant. As Scottie looks on, the camera tracks back to a wide shot, showing the entire room filled with people. Although we can see everyone in the restaurant, where are our eyes fixed? To the blond woman on the other side, her back turned toward us. As the camera moves slowly toward her, we find ourselves unable to take our eyes away from this person, whose face we haven’t yet seen. This beautiful shot is made so effectively that it seems to have been filmed in slow motion, but if you watch the other people in the scene, you’ll find that it was not.
As Madeleine gets up and walks out of the restaurant, she stops for a moment in a profile shot. We notice the shape of her face, her hair pulled back tightly, the lighting behind her slightly getting brighter. This is an exaggerated shot, calling attention to itself, but will be used again and again throughout the rest of the film, a key moment being when Judy sits in front of her window, the neon green light putting her in a profile shot covered in darkness. This use of repetition helps remind our main character of the woman he has fallen in love with, and when Judy makes her final transformation back to the persona of Madeleine, she becomes enraptured in the light, the result of either the neon light outside or Scottie’s obsessed vision, or both. The same is expressed about her hair, notice the tight curl of it, it will be repeated again in the hair of a woman painted and displayed in an art gallery. This is as obvious as you can get, Hitchcock literally telling us that the woman Scottie follows is the same compared to the tranquil image on display.
There are so many great aspects of the film that it could take literally a number of essays to go through them all. The opening credit scene, portraying the contours of a woman’s face, immediately puts us in the mindset of the main character. Bernard Hermann’s great musical score is a beautiful and haunting piece of music, one of the best ever made, perfectly fitting within the context of the story. The nightmare Scottie has after the “death” of Madeleine captures the emotional, humiliating, and psychological break this character undergoes. The now famous shots of the staircase of the bell tower and the alleyways of the opening scene, where the camera tracks back while zooming in, expresses the fear of heights so present in the main character. The rotating shot of Scottie and Judy in her apartment, with the background changing to reflect Scottie’s mindset, is one of the best shots Hitchcock has ever produced. And the acting, done so wonderfully by both Stewart and Kim, expresses the love each of their characters have for one another, and then turns in to the sadness of knowing that it was all based off a lie.
Surprisingly, this film was not a financial hit when first released to audiences. Perhaps, during the time, they didn’t quite relate to the deeper themes running throughout. Hitchcock would blame it on Stewart’s age, and in turn the two would never work with each other again. Now, decades later, Vertigo is considered a true masterpiece, an example of The Master in complete understanding of his ability. Alfred Hitchcock made a number of great movies, each one exciting audiences and keeping them on the edge of their seats with suspense. This is the most telling of all his films, the most prime example of the passions that obsessed him. Yes, Hitchcock loved to have control, he loved to tell his actresses what to do, how to move, and how to act. If the cinema was his church, then this film was his confession.