Anastasija Mensikova “Vertigo” 1958. United States. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Script by Alec Coppel and Samuel A. Taylor. Photographed by Robert Burks. With James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore.
“Vertigo” is a well-known psychological thriller, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, that tells the story of an acrophobic detective, Scottie, who is asked to find the answer to the mystery of Madeleine, the wife of Elster, who has been acting very strangely and might have some mental issues. The story of “Vertigo” is actually built around a well-known Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Throughout the whole film we, as the spectators, follow Scottie as he investigates the mystery; we are constantly surprised by the infinite amount of new facts that are given to us as a treat. The modernist nature of the film makes it a bit vague by not answering a few questions by the end of the movie, but the ending acts both as a surprise and a relief. Our beloved Hitchcock is definitely a master; he “plays” with aspects of the film and creates a genius piece of art that is incredibly engaging. “Vertigo” doesn’t follow the rules of typical Hollywood thrillers (it only has 1 dynamic scene; the evil character (Elster) is not punished; Scottie doesn’t really investigate a murder; Madeleine dies half-way through the movie, and her story is revealed before the last third of the movie is finished), but that’s exactly what makes it so incredibly amazing. We can definitely say that different aspects of the mise-en-scene of “Vertigo”, including lighting, acting, setting and make-up & costumes, its narrative, cinematography, editing and sound all correspond together to create suspense throughout the film that “seduces” the audience by actively engaging with it and creates unlimited interest in the story. Suspense is therefore the main aspect of the film that “drives” it and makes it the “Vertigo” we all are so familiar with.
Segmentation and Characters
C. Opening credits with a face of a woman and abstract moving spirals accompanied by horrifying music.
1. Scottie and the policemen on the roof
a. The chase
b. Scottie left hanging
c. The policeman falls down
2. Scottie and Midge in Midge’s apartment
a. Scottie and Midge discuss Scottie’s backache and the corset he is wearing.
b. Discuss Scottie’s acrophobia and retirement
c. Discuss Elster’s call
d. Scottie tries to fight his acrophobia by climbing the chair. Falls
3. Scottie comes to Elster’s office
a. Discuss Elster’s job and Scottie’s story
b. Elster explains what’s happening to him and his wife, and asks Scottie for help
4. At the restaurant
a. Elster and Madeleine are having dinner, then leave. Scottie sees Madeleine for the first time.
5. Scottie follows Madeleine
a. In the car
b. In the flower shop
c. Returns back into the car
d. At the chapel
e. At the cemetery
I) Madeleine visits Carlotta Valdes’s grave
f. Returns back into the car
g. In the art gallery
I) Scottie finds out Madeleine is examining Carlotta’s portrait
b. Scottie buys Judy clothes – the same clothes Madeleine owned
32. Judy and Scottie go to his apartment
a. Judy is upset
b. Scottie says he wants Judy to colour her hair
33. Scottie takes Judy to the beauty salon to colour her hair
34. Judy returns back to the hotel room
a. Scottie asks her to out her hair up. She does. Scottie is finally happy
b. Judy puts on the new dress (the same as Madeleine’s)
c. Judy puts on Carlotta’s necklace. Scottie finally realizes what has happened
35. Scottie takes Judy to the same church Madeleine jumped off
a. He makes Judy come upstairs. She tells him how it all happened
b. The nun comes. Judy jumps out of the window. She dies. The bell rings
E. End credits
The characters of “Vertigo” are seen to have chemistry between them; they interact with each other and masterfully induce the suspense created by other aspects of the film. Throughout the first two thirds of the film we, as the audience, identify ourselves with Scottie; we see the story from his point of view. Scottie is lost in fantasy and illusions because he really believes in Madeleine’s story; we feel sympathy towards him because of what his does and feels; we can identify ourselves with him at certain points. Madeleine is therefore acting as a representation of the perfect romantic world, which poor Scottie is attracted to; her perfection allows her to “play” with Scottie’s feelings, and she is therefore a clear representation of his fears and desires. We don’t really meet the real Madeleine, but the Madeleine we know and her “husband” Elster are the main creators of suspense in the film; they control our knowledge and only “feed” specific information to us to keep us interested in the story. Whereas the idea of Madeleine seems surreal, Judy represents the reality: her rough manners and looks “wake us up” and remind of reality; it feels as if she was sent to us just to act as a presenter of the information we receive from her in a form of a flashback in part 26.a. The interactions between Scottie and Judy create even more tension, which builds up throughout the last third of the movie and leads to a turning point, the climax, the resolution at the very end. Midge, Scottie’s ex-bride, represents the next level of reality; she is practical and doesn’t believe in mysteries Scottie is solving; she is constantly trying to ground the mystery in reality while at the same trying to please her beloved Scottie; at the end all her hard work is left unnoticed; she tries to bring Scottie back to reality using classical music, which, in fact, is always around her, but it ends up being unsuccessful, and so she gives up. In the context of suspense created throughout the movie, Midge is seen as trying to flatten out the story by proving there is nothing mysterious going on thus trying to exclude the idea of suspense from the story; she knows that there’s something else behind the beautiful mystery; she tries to turn everything into a joke (e.g. in part 15.a, when she paints herself into Carlotta Valdes’s portrait), so Midge is a clear representation of reality. Elster is the underrated character in “Vertigo”; we only see him in a few scenes, but he does play a huge role in the story; he, in fact, is the main initiator of everything we see in the plot. Elster acts as a starting point of the suspense: he makes up the mystery and controls the actions of people involved in it, as well as the information each and every one receives, including the audience. Elster directs the suspense. These 5 main protagonists combined together create the web of suspense that we, as the spectators, are stuck in. Their personalities and interactions create this rich and mysterious plot.
“Vertigo” is said to be a film noir movie. The features of its narrative all work together to create the suspense that keeps the spectators engaged with it. The audience for most of the time watches the film from Scottie’s point of view, until we see Judy’s flashback in part 26.a, when we start observing everything from a double perspective (Scottie’s POV and Judy’s POV). Because of this, until the flashback the narration is restricted to Scottie’s POV: we don’t see Elster planning everything or killing his wife, we don’t see Judy changing herself into Madeleine just because Scottie has no access to such information. Only when we see the flashback, the narrative becomes rather unrestricted, we know more than Scottie does, and now sympathize with Judy. Restricted narrative is a classical way of creating suspense; such a restriction creates tension and makes the spectators pay attention to every single moment in the film in anticipation of something important to happen. The information in the flashback then acts as a relief for us. The narrative of “Vertigo” is actually shaped like a spiral: Scottie is constantly trying to save somebody close to him from death, but always fails (his colleague, Madeleine, Judy). Such a shape of the narrative works greatly when trying to induce suspense: it builds up the tension, and then instantly reduces it to nothing, and then builds it up again.
Ellipsis is a gap in narrative that usually includes something the spectators not necessarily need to know. Ellipses are very often used to create suspense in a film, but, we must say, “Vertigo” doesn’t employ that many of them, and still manages to keep up with the level of suspense. The only major ellipsis is seen in the very beginning of the film (in part 1), when, after losing his colleague, Scottie is left hanging on the roof, and we are then instantly switched to Midge’s apartment (part 2). This makes us ask a lot of questions and make guesses on how Scottie managed to escape and survive. Such an ellipsis doesn’t necessarily create a lot of suspense, but it is a crucial part of the narrative.
One of the reasons why Hitchcock is called the master of suspense is his ability to use motifs to induce the suspense already present in the film. He excessively uses motifs in “Vertigo”, which contribute very well to the overall story.
One of the most well known motifs is the spiral, which represents the actual vertigo Scottie is suffering from. We can see spirals in the opening credits (part C) in a woman’s eye; Scottie’s colleague in the opening scene (part 1) falls in a shape of a spiral; Madeleine’s hair, which is a replica of Carlotta’s hair, in the art gallery is shaped in a spiral; the stairs at the bell tower are shaped as a spiral; the film itself is structured as a spiral as stated before, and even the film poster features multiple spirals. All these spirals usually indicate the mystical world Scottie is stuck in, the spiral he follows throughout the movie, the chaos into which Madeleine leads Scottie; they show that he is completely lost. This chaos and mystery make the spectators unconsciously dig deeper into the story thus creating more interactions between the plot and the audience. Such interactions tend to increase the interest and thus build up the tension leading to more suspense. Another similar motif Hitchcock uses throughout “Vertigo” is the corridor. The corridors in this film have quite a commonly known meaning - they lead to death. We can see a corridor when Scottie’s colleague dies in part 1: Scottie’s view on his dead colleague vaguely represents a corridor. Also, when Scottie and Madeleine go for a walk to the forest (in part 14.a), Madeleine tells Scottie about her dream, where she was walking down the corridor. After Midge visits Scottie at the hospital after Madeleine’s death, we can see her walking down the corridor; this indicates the death of Midge’s hope about any relationships with Scottie; she gives up. Another corridor is seen when Scottie drives Judy to the church in part 35 (the road they drive on looks like a corridor). All these corridors represent some sort of death. The clues this motif gives in some ways “feed” the spectators and increase their “greed” for more information thus inducing suspense. Another interesting motif in “Vertigo” is the flowers. There might be many different interpretations of what flowers represent in “Vertigo”, but they seem to be representing Madeleine. When Scottie follows Madeleine for the first time (in part 5.b), she first goes to a flower shop and buys a beautiful bouquet of flowers. The perfection of these flowers mirror Madeleine’s perfection from Scottie’s point of view. When Madeleine goes to the San Francisco Bay to drown herself (in part 11.a), she is seen plucking petals from flowers; the destruction of the flower represents the self-destruction of Madeleine. After Madeleine’s death Scottie is having a nightmare in his apartment (in part 20.a); the nightmare is shown as a graphic sequence showing flowers; it represents Madeleine’s death. We then see a painting of flowers in Judy’s room (in part 25), which acts as a clue for the audience that Judy is somehow connected to Madeleine. Before Scottie takes Judy to buy clothes, he buys her a flower (in part 31.a); this flower shows that Scottie does value Judy, but she is just a fraction of what Madeleine means to him. These flowers in all the different parts of the movie act as a web connecting certain events thus increasing suspense. Overall we can see that the motifs tend to be used to give clues to the audience on how certain aspects of the film are connected and on what is about to happen; they therefore induce the audience’s curiosity thus creating suspense.
In terms of the narrative duration, we can see that “Vertigo” employs condensed duration for most of the part. We cannot say that its story is majorly condensed, but it does omit quite a few parts of the story. Its party condensed partly real-time narrative duration allows it to manipulate our knowledge very masterfully and therefore leads to suspense.
The narrative of “Vertigo” is a definite proof that Hitchcock is a master of suspense: he uses motifs, ellipses, narrative duration and restriction to create suspense in a very perfect way and therefore make us, the spectators, more interested in the story.
Mise-en-scene involves all the aspects of the film that are planned beforehand and used throughout the film to create certain effects. The four main features of mise-en-scene are lighting, setting, make-up & costumes and acting. All of them have to be planned very thoroughly if they are to create such an effect as suspense; Hitchcock manipulates them throughout the film in a way that lets them induce the suspense already created by the narrative.
Lighting is one of the most important aspects of the whole film that is used to affect the spectators’ perception of what’s going on. For most of the time “Vertigo”, despite being a film noir movie, employs high-key lighting with very little use of chiaroscuro. Low-key lighting along with chiaroscuro usually implies that something important is being hidden; they usually represent the mystery that runs throughout the movie. It would be understandable if “Vertigo” used low-key lighting to add some more mysteriousness, so the use of high-key lighting makes us question the story of “Vertigo”; Hitchcock used it to make the spectators believe that there is actually nothing hidden in the story, that everything they see from Scottie’s POV is everything they could possibly know. Such a technique is very powerful, because, when the audience sees Judy’s flashback in part 26.a, their shock is limitless: throughout the whole film Hitchcock made the audience believe in Elster’s story not only through the narrative, but also through the professional use of lighting that enhances the situation. High-key lighting therefore induces suspense in a film noir movie. The different colours are also used throughout “Vertigo” to affect spectators’ perception of the characters and their actions. Green and red seem to be Hitchcock’s favourite colours; he constantly uses them to contrast different characters and situations both using lighting and just simply the colour of the costumes. For example, when Scottie meets Madeleine for the first time in part 4.a, the restaurant (“Ernie’s”) is fully decorated with red garments, and all the patrons there seem to be wearing dark clothes and they therefore don’t stand out that much, whereas Madeleine is wearing a green gown, what makes Scottie and the spectators notice her instantly. Green is then always identified with Madeleine; it represents her ghostly nature: she takes Scottie to a green forest, where she opens up to him about her dreams and fears; her car is green; when Scottie rescues Madeleine after she tries to drown herself in the San Francisco Bay (in part 11.b) and takes her to his apartment (in part 12.a), he is wearing all green; Judy wears green when Scottie sees her for the first time in part 25. Green lighting, however, is most obvious in part 29, when Scottie and Judy come back to her hotel room, and Scottie asks her to meet up again: backlight in this scene is the only available light, and the neon green “Empire Hotel” sign from outside gives the whole room a green glow; because of the backlight we can only see Judy’s profile, and, because Scottie most of the time sees Madeleine from her profile, Judy’s profile in this scene acts as a clue for Scottie that their profiles are identical; due to the lack of light we can’t see what Judy is feeling or thinking about, so we have to rely on her silhouette and voice; the lighting here represents Judy’s secretive nature and acts as a clue for Scottie. Red colour, on the other hand, represents Scottie’s romantic fantasies, sometimes his vertigo and sometimes even danger: when Scottie rescues Madeleine in part 11.b and takes her to his apartment in part 12.a, he gives her a red robe, which means that he identifies his romantic fantasies with Madeleine; when Scottie follows Madeleine to the cemetery in part 5.e.I and sees Carlotta Valdes’s grave, we can see the red flashes, which indicate the danger that is awaiting Scottie just “around the corner”; when Midge paints her face into Carlotta’s portrait and shows the painting to Scottie in part 15.a, she is seen wearing red, which might indicate Midge’s unsuccessful attempt to enter Scottie’s romantic fantasies. Another interesting use of lighting and colours is employed in part 20.a, Scottie’s nightmare after Madeleine’s death, which is shown as a short cartoon featuring flowers and blue flashes. This represents the unusual nature of the situation, and use of flowers showed Scottie’s “addiction” to Madeleine. It has now become very clear that the use of lighting, which is used both to create mysterious atmosphere and to open up the situation in order to increase the magnitude of shock of the spectators later on in the movie, and the use of colours, which is used to draw lines between different characters, their actions and to represent different emotions and feelings, in “Vertigo” interact between each other in a way that fluctuates the level of suspense throughout the film and leads to the total catharsis at the very end.
Make-up and costumes are other two very important aspects of the mise-en-scene in “Vertigo” that are also linked to lighting and colours. Hitchcock uses them to draw distinctions between different characters and represent the certain mood or feelings in different situations. As stated before, Madeleine is associated with the green colour throughout the movie, so whenever we are shown something in green, we are given clues about Madeleine and her further actions. It all started with Madeleine wearing a green gown in the restaurant scene (part 4.a), when Scottie sees her for the first time, with Scottie wearing all green in part 12.a, with Scottie wearing all green whenever he is in his apartment (which indicates that by entering his apartment he drowns in his dream world), and ended with Judy wearing green when Scottie meets her in part 25.b. However, in part 21.a both Scottie and Midge wear blue, what correlates with Scottie’s nightmare in part 20.a; the colour blue in this case indicates the craziness Scottie was led into; it shows how Scottie has changed since he met Madeleine, and that the nightmares are not the end of the story, thus promising the audience something fresh and exciting in the nearest future and thus increasing the suspense. In part 28, when Scottie takes Judy to a restaurant, Judy tries to stand out by wearing an open purple dress; this shows that, despite being very similar to Madeleine, Judy is very different by being way more vulgar, what actually makes the suspense more complex by hiding the fact that Judy is the same as Madeleine. Hitchcock actually always chose the costume colours very carefully: Madeleine is quite often wearing a grey suit because it’s an unnatural colour for a blonde to wear, what makes it psychologically irritating for us to watch, which therefore reduces our sympathy towards Madeleine and shifts our attention to Scottie; she is then seen wearing a white coat in 13.a when she brings a letter to Scottie, which is a much more natural colour for a blonde, what induces our sympathy towards her thus following Scottie’s POV and fantasies and thus hiding the Judy side of her character. Midge’s costume is also always very carefully constructed: most of the time she wears simple pastel colour clothes, what makes her seem more innocent and nice thus making us love her even more; she is also always wearing glasses, what makes her seem very serious and smart thus making us prefer her as Scottie’s beloved rather than Madeleine. The make-up is also always carefully chosen as it depicts the nature of the characters: Madeleine always has very neat natural make-up that underlines her pale face, whereas Judy, despite being the same person as Madeleine, has rather vulgar and cheap make-up. This was done to emphasize the difference in class and wealth of Madeleine and Judy, as well as the difference in character. As we can see, costumes and make-up played a very big role in “Vertigo” as they created certain qualities for each of the characters and let us, the spectators, differ them all very easily. They also acted as clues towards the narrative: they at the same time made it easier to predict what was about to happen, but also hid some features. With all these interactions, make-up and costumes almost certainly arose our curiosity throughout the movie and therefore increased the levels of suspense.
Another important aspect of mise-en-scene is the setting. Setting qualities differ throughout “Vertigo”, but most of the time Hitchcock preferred using artificial setting to be able to control the environment (including lighting). Most of the film was filmed in California, former Spanish territory, what created an idea of cultural identity in the movie (e.g. Carlotta Valdes, Mission San Juan Bautista etc.). Every single setting in “Vertigo” has its own identity and is clearly distinguishable from everything else. For example, the restaurant (“Ernie’s”), where Scottie sees Madeleine for the first time in part 4.a is all covered in red garments, what clearly makes it a romantic area, the place, where Scottie’s romantic fantasies started becoming real; after watching this scene the audience unconsciously starts making connections between the colour red and Scottie’s fantasies towards Madeleine. Judy’s room, on the other hand, is illuminated with green colour in part 29, what already makes us draw connections between Judy and Madeleine and identify the differences between them because we already identify the colour green with Madeleine. Judy’s room also has a painting of flowers, which once again lets us see the connection between Madeleine and Judy even before we see the flashback in part 26, because we already subconsciously identify flowers with Madeleine; however, her room is also quite messy, which is obvious in parts 25 and 27, what gives us a clue about how Judy actually differs from Madeleine. Another interesting aspect of the setting is the One Way sign next to Madeleine’s house, which is emphasized very often (especially in the beginning of part 5); it seems like the sign is there to show that there is only one way for Scottie right now as he started working on this mystery – he will lose not only his fantasies, but also himself; there is no way out. Hitchcock also worked very well with contrasts in the setting that emphasize the characters. For example, in part 14.a, when Scottie takes Madeleine to the forest, the forest is shown very dark, whereas Madeleine stands out because of her white coat. This was done to make the spectators pay full attention to Madeleine, so that they could notice even the small details that could give any clues about what will happen soon. When Scottie meets with Elster in part 9, the establishing shot showing gentlemen’s club they are meeting at lets us see the area and realize the wealth and status of the place and therefore Elster; this makes us realize how powerful Elster actually is and how little power Scottie has; this can act both as a clue that Elster’s wealth means that he didn’t hire Scottie just for fun, he hired him to solve a serious problem, and also as a clue that Elster is too wealthy to care about the mysteries that his wife is stuck in. Hitchcock also excessively uses corridors throughout “Vertigo” to represent the pathway to death, for example, in part 21.a, when Midge walks down the corridor at the hospital where Scottie is staying after she gave up on him, or in part 35, when Scottie drives Judy down the road, that reminds of a corridor, to the church where Madeleine died. Such a use of setting therefore puts the level of suspense up in the movie by “throwing” clues at the spectators.
The last, but not least, aspect of mise-en-scene is the acting. The characterization was analysed in the Segmentation and Characters part, but it is also important to realize that acting itself also affects the story and the film. First of all, movement and acting throughout the film are slow paced; this was done to allow the spectators to fully sink into the story and understand every single part of it, and to be taken away by the suspense. It is also important to realize that Madeleine and Judy were played by the same actress, so it was very challenging for Kim Novak to show the true nature of both Madeleine and Judy, but it was definitely very successful; not only based on make-up and costumes, but also based on certain movements and gestures we can clearly distinguish between Madeleine and Judy (e.g. in part 25.b Judy’s behavior is quite vulgar, whereas in part 14.a Madeleine is shown as a very gentle and feminine lady). We can sometimes see actors breaking the fourth wall (e.g. Madeleine in 17.a); this was done to let the audience feel what Madeleine feels and therefore rethink the story from her point of view. Midge is also one of the most interesting characters; we can definitely see that she misses Scottie and that she wants him back as her fiancé, but, other than that, we don’t know what is on her mind, we don’t know if she really is Scottie’s friend or maybe she is Elster’s friend and actually tries to ruin Scottie’s life. Overall we can see that acting is one of the most crucial aspects of mise-en-scene, and it is also definitely crucial to the suspense as it controls the feelings and thoughts of the audience and can therefore affect the engagement between the actors and the audience thus inducing suspense.
Cinematography mainly involves different camera movements and use of technology throughout the movie that correlate together to present the story to the spectators the best way possible. In “Vertigo” Hitchcock masterfully manipulates camera in a way that sometimes hides or emphasizes certain emotions and actions. In fact, one of the reasons why “Vertigo” became so famous was its use of cinematography: it invented the dolly zoom, which involves zooming in and tracking out at the same time; it was mostly used to depict Scottie’s acrophobia, when he was looking down whilst being up, by creating distortion thus emphasizing the heights (e.g. in part 17.b.I). The dolly zoom therefore adds more mysteriousness to the film’s already existing suspense.
For most of the time in “Vertigo” Hitchcock uses soft focus in order to hide imperfections on actors’ faces and emphasize the perfect face of Madeleine; however, in scene 25.b, when Scottie meets Judy for the first time, when we get a close-up of Judy’s face, we can clearly see how imperfect her face is and how vulgar her make-up is; this was done to allow the spectators to easily distinguish between Madeleine and Judy and compare them as representatives of two ends of the class and wealth spectrum, what allows us to make predictions about Scottie’s behavior towards Judy in the future thus increasing suspense.
The certain camera movements also acted as motifs throughout the film. For example, the first time Scottie and the spectators see Madeleine in scene 4.a, we can only see her profile; the same happens in scene 5.g, when Scottie watches Madeleine in the art gallery; the first time we see Judy in scene 25, we are also given the view of her profile, and, when Scottie walks Judy back to her hotel room in scene 29 and begs her to meet him up again, we also see the silhouette of Judy’s profile emphasized by the backlight and shadows; before “showing” us the flashback in scene 26, Judy turns around and allows the camera to stop at her profile and capture it. The constant view of Madeleine’s profile is a way Hitchcock tries to give us clues about Judy when we first see her in scene 25. Such a camera movement therefore also acts as a suspense inducer.
Hitchcock’s use of a flashback in part 26 is also another way of increasing the “fire” of suspense throughout “Vertigo”. Before it the spectators are trapped in Scottie’s POV, they don’t receive any extra information about what is going on outside Scottie’s knowledge and have no idea that there is something hidden from him. The flashback acts as the main information provider, it’s a relief given to the audience, but it also instantly increases levels of suspense as we, as the spectators, now know more than Scottie does and are anxiously awaiting the resolution. After the flashback we not only see the story from Scottie’s POV, but also can see it from Judy’s POV. The use of cinematography in the creation of a flashback in “Vertigo” is therefore definitely creating a new level of suspense for the rest of the movie.
Quite often during the film Hitchcock uses rear projection to show the moving background, for example, in scene 5, when Scottie follows Madeleine in a car. We can also see that most of the time he uses medium lenses, the most common way to film a movie; however, sometimes the use of a wide-angle lens is also obvious, when we are shown the relationships between the characters or even the objects, for example, in scene 30.a, when the difference between Scottie and Judy and other patrons in the restaurant is clearly emphasized. Hitchcock also uses extreme long shots and long shots as the establishing shots throughout “Vertigo”, for example, in scene 11.a, when Madeleine goes to the San Francisco Bay to drown herself; Madeleine there is shown as a shadow on a light background to allow the spectators see her movements, and therefore intentions, very clearly. Establishing shots are also used in other scenes, for example, in scene 7, when Scottie goes to the bookshop, or in scene 12, when we are first introduced to Scottie’s apartment. In other cases Hitchcock most of the time uses medium long shots (for example, in scene 29) and medium shots, with an exception of an extreme close-up in part C, the opening credits. In scene 34.a, when Scottie and Judy kiss, Hitchcock also introduces us to a 360 pan shot, when we leave Scottie’s POV and finally see everything from the “outside”; this shot also represents a spiral and therefore illusion Scottie is surrounded by. For most of the time, especially during the first half of the movie, the audience is shown POV shots and other shots that show Scottie’s perspective in order to hide any extra information from the audience. Except for the dolly zoom, Hitchcock seems to have preferred tracking in and out, rather than zooming to avoid any extra distortion in the picture. We can definitely say that Hitchcock employed all the possible variations of cinematography that would allow him to control the levels of suspense throughout “Vertigo”.
Two of the very interesting shots that represent the way Hitchcock used cinematography are in scenes 1.c and 31.b. 1.c is the scene, when Scottie is left hanging after his colleague falls down: the camera shows the dizzying angle from Scottie’s POV, and the close-up of his face shows the sweat and terror that he experiences. This scene acts as a precursor of what Scottie will feel further in the movie; it opens up Scottie’s character and shows what he might suffer from in the future, thus inducing suspense. 31.b is the scene, when Scottie takes Judy to a clothing shop to buy the same exact grey suit as Madeleine wore: we get a low-angle shot of Judy when she sits down disappointed in Scottie’s choice of clothing, and she breaks the fourth wall; we can see how much power Scottie has over her at this moment, and can get “into” her head and feel her pain. Such a scene allows us to feel that not everything is going in the right direction for both Scottie and Judy, and it therefore allows us to make predictions and feel bad for Judy at the same time, thus increasing the drama and suspense through the rest of the film.
We now can clearly see how important cinematography is; it only allows the director to depict the happenings very well, but also allows him to control the feelings and expectation of the spectators, and it is therefore used by Hitchcock to control our knowledge and induce the suspense.
Editing is another integral part of filmmaking that allows the director to make the film cohere and guide the spectators through the movie by the use of technology. For most of the film we can clearly see that Hitchcock uses continuity editing as it creates a unified space time in “Vertigo”. This is especially obvious in scene 9, when Scottie meets up with Elster to speak about what he’s found out about Madeleine: we are shown an establishing shot showing the wealthy atmosphere of the gentlemen’s club they are meeting at followed by a sequence of shot/reverse shots showing Scottie and Elster during their conversation.
“Vertigo” employs a lot of fades and dissolves as part of its editing to emphasize the transition between two settings. The editing is also always very slow paced; it was done to build up the tension throughout the movie, and therefore to affect suspense in a positive way; such a technique calms the audience down before the great resolution. The editing also features a lot of repetition and redundancy; this was not only done to make editor’s work simpler, but also to make the spectators unconsciously draw connections between certain scenes and actions involved in them. The film also features a flashback, which is a crucial turning point in the film – it changes the way audience perceives the story, and it follows the 180 rule for most of the time to allow the spectators to continuously follow the story with no interruptions. Quite often “Vertigo” uses establishing shots to allow the audience to study the surroundings, as well as the eye line matches, for example in scene 29.a, when Scottie tries to persuade Judy that they are meant to be together, and somewhat recognizes Madeleine in her face due to the profile view.
There are two great scenes that deserve our attention for the editing techniques that they employ. First of all, it’s the opening sequence; it features an extreme close-up of a woman’s lips and eyes with clearly defined moving spirals in her eye; it somehow acts as a precaution of what the film is about and what the story might be hiding (or what the protagonist woman might be hiding). Another scene is Scottie’s nightmare in part 20.a, which features a small cartoon with surreal photography; it employs colourful flashes, pictures of flowers (which represent Madeleine), as well as a sequence of flashbacks that put an emphasis on Carlotta Valdes’s necklace in the painting and her grave; this scene proves the audience that Scottie’s fears are real, and warns that his further actions might be out of his control.
Overall “Vertigo” uses the spiral as a pattern of editing. Its editing clearly makes it cohere, and affects the way we perceive the film; it emphasizes certain moments whilst hiding others, and allows the audience to see different sides of the same story. The fluctuations in editing patterns in “Vertigo” allows it to control the way we perceive the suspense thus inducing it throughout the film.
The sound is the last, but not least, crucial part of the film. In fact, it is quite often considered the most important aspect of it as it can directly affect the mood of the audience. Sound in “Vertigo” is the amazing work of a famous composer, Bernard Hermann, who masterfully used horror techniques to add more suspense to the film.
Throughout “Vertigo” music quite often mirrors Scottie’s vertigo, and sometimes represents the dreamy nature of Madeleine, whereas the classical music that accompanies scenes with Midge shows her realistic nature as well as represents the norms of society Midge falls into, but it, unfortunately, doesn’t affect Scottie in scene 21.a, when Midge tries to “wake him up” with the help of classical music. We can see a clear pattern of sound usage throughout “Vertigo”. For example, Hitchcock not only emphasizes Scottie’s vertigo with the dolly zoom, but also with exceptionally loud and dramatic music that allows the audience to realize the importance of his sickness in the plot. For most of the time sound in “Vertigo” is synchronous with very dynamic non-diegetic music and sometimes exaggerated diegetic sounds. It also uses big intervals between dialogues with non-diegetic music in order to build up the tension and therefore induces the suspense throughout the film.
There are a lot of interesting scenes that masterfully use sound to affect the audience’s perception of the situation. One of such scenes is in part 5.d, when Scottie follows Madeleine into the chapel that leads to the cemetery; we hear the chapel bells ringing before we see where Scottie goes, what gives us a clue about what might happen soon; the sound coming earlier than the image acts as a sound bridge in this case, and also “throws” clues at the spectators thus inducing the suspense. Some other scenes, such as 5.e, when Scottie finds Carlotta’s grave at the cemetery, or 11.a, when Madeleine suddenly jumps into the San Francisco Bay trying to drown herself, feature rather sudden and dramatic music that might even scare the audience; this is done to emphasize the importance of a given moment and warn the audience of something important happening. Scenes 5.j and 14.b, on the other hand, feature music that gets louder with action progressing; this was done to show that something crucial is about to happen and to add up more horror to the film; scene 14.b also emphasizes the sound of the waves at the San Francisco Bay; it shows how powerful waters of the bay are, and how easy it would actually be for Madeleine to drown herself; it emphasizes the “fakeness” of Madeleine’s suicide and therefore induces suspense by increasing our curiosity about the true Madeleine. When Scottie takes Madeleine to the forest in scene 14.a, we can clearly hear the echo there; it adds mysteriousness to the situation and emphasizes the emptiness Madeleine feels. Music in Scottie’s nightmare in scene 20.a is also quite dramatic, it certainly emphasizes the necklace Carlotta wears in the painting in Scottie’s flashback and therefore shows its importance further in the movie (Scottie recognizes Madeleine in Judy just because of the necklace in scene 34.c).
As we can see, sound definitely is crucial to “Vertigo”; it might not be its most important aspect, but it does affect the atmosphere. Sound suggests the feelings to the audience, while at the same time works with other elements of the film to allow the audience to read the clues not only in the actual performance of the actors, but also in the surroundings and the atmosphere. Sound therefore is integral to the suspense being created throughout “Vertigo”.
After analysing all the aspects of “Vertigo” and how they correlate together to keep the level of suspense up throughout the whole film, we can clearly see why it was named the best movie, and why Hitchcock is called the master of suspense. Every single aspect of it seems to be planned thoroughly beforehand, and any relationships between any characters and their actions seem to be planned in a way that greatly affects the audience’s perception of the film thus regulating the levels of suspense and therefore constantly keeping the spectators engaged with the movie. It is not just the lighting, or the costumes, or the sound that instantly changes the atmosphere of the movie; it is all those features working together and creating the suspenseful “Vertigo” we all love so much.
Word count: 7616 in total, 6560 without the segmentation.