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Alfred Hitchcock was an auteur who relied upon a set of codes and conventions which made his films

some
of the most memorable ever made. He was primarily concerned with authorship in his films and tended to
use dark fears and imaginative settings to attract the audience. For example this type of setting was used in
the film 'Psycho'. The majority of the films that Hitchcock made were very similar and this is because he
included specific motifs that were symbolic of him and his style. He would somehow incorporate these
motifs into his films, sometimes in different ways, and they would form the base of which the film was to
work on.
Hitchcock liked to keep the audience thinking and wanted viewers to in a way be confused at what he is
trying to show only for it to be revealed at the end. It eventually would become clear in his films but only
because the audience were so familiar with his trademark cinematography and mise en scene.
He was quoted as saying, "Always make the audience suffer as much as possible". And this he did do. One
of the defining characteristics of most of Hitchcock's films was that he would make a cameo appearance.
However because this would also become so familiar, he would make his appearance in the beginning of
the films because he knew viewers were watching out for him. This way it wouldn't deviate their attention
away from the story's plot and this typifies the regard that he had to the importance of a films plot.
In the film Vertigo, we see the image of Hitchcock at its best. The film opens with an ominous chase over
the rooftops of San Francisco that leaves police detective John "Scottie" Ferguson (James Stewart)
overcome with an intense fear of heights. Hearing of his troubles, an old college acquaintance hires Scottie
to take on a bit of freelance detective work where he wants Scottie to shadow his wife Madeleine (Kim
Novak), whom he describes as "being possessed by a spirit" and being a "suicidal neurotic." Scottie is wary
of agreeing to the job and this shows in the slightly uneasy performance that the character gives.
Throughout the section that we are focusing on he is constantly looking around and the tentative look on
his face suggests that he isn't completely comfortable with the situation that he is placed in. This all adds to
the image of the crooked male that is so common in Hitchcock's movies. There is an air of vulnerability
about Scottie and this has incurred from his fear of heights and the fact that this fear resulted in the death of
one of his colleagues. So, in a sense Scottie is psychologically damaged and in following the lady around
he is perhaps contradicting his character. There is an element of innocence within Scottie and this for one is
portrayed in the fact that his car is white, a signifier of purity and genuinity.
He firstly follows Madeleine into a florist. Now, this is where we are faced with the main theme of the film
and possibly Hitchcock's most popular motif, voyeurism. This is the idea of looking at someone without
them being aware and Hitchcock uses it in a number of his films, namely Psycho and Rear Window.
However, the way it is constructed in Vertigo is different to that of, lets say, Psycho. For example,
voyeurism in Vertigo is more concerned with suspicion and mysteriousness whereas that of Psycho is to do
with danger and spying. The only real similarity we see to Psycho in Vertigo is when Scottie is watching
Madeleine through a gap in a door. This could be connected to the spy hole that is seen in Psycho.
The scene in the florist is also where we see Madeleine in full frontal, projecting her beauty and the image
of the glacial blonde. Hitchcock was obsessed with a particular type of female image and he moulded them
into appearing the same. He preferred to use blondes and this was evident in other films where he used
actresses such as Tippi Hedren, Grace Kelly and Janet Leigh.
Madeleine is depicted in the centre of the screen and all the audiences' attention is focused on her. The fact
that she is in a florist as well, surrounded by flowers complimenting her stature adds to her beauty and the
effect that she gives. It is this moment that Scottie notices Madeleine properly for the first time and it has a
real effect on him. He begins to fall for her and gradually becomes obsessed with rescuing her. This idea of
Scottie being vulnerable is furthered with the fact that he falls hopelessly in love with this shadow of a
woman he knows so little about. It exhibits signs of weakness which again is something Hitchcock liked to
show. Eventually, this weakness results in Scottie being unable to save Madeleine from the top of the
building because he's too scared.
This image of Madeleine in the florist is true of Hitchcock's beliefs of the role of females in films. The idea
was that females were associated with visual pleasure and were simply objects to be looked at. The theory
was that men act and women appear and Vertigo was no exception to this. The visual clip of Madeleine is a
scene that male viewers were likely to get pleasure out of. The male role was associated with activity and
narrative and the way Scottie is used suggests this.
Upon leaving the florist, Scottie then follows Madeleine to the church where she goes to the graveyard.
This is where we see the familiar image of Scottie behind the wheel, with Madeleine a steady distance in
front. This again tells us more about Stewart and the way that voyeurism should be interpreted. Scottie is
being careful whilst following Madeleine by not getting too close to her but keeping at a distance where he
can still keep an eye on her. This shows how Scottie has no intention of trying to frighten Madeleine by
making her feel conscious of someone watching her. And it again suggests insecurity about him, whether he
should really be doing this and feeling unsure of himself.
The shot we get of Madeleine in front is effective. Hitchcock liked to include P.O.V (Point of View) shots
in his films and this is an example. The car, similar to Madeleine in the florist, is at the centre of the screen
with the front window of Scotties car acting as a kind of cinematic frame to which all our attention is
directed on Madeleine's car.
In a way, these shots involved the audience more.
The church is quite a domineering, white building. Hitchcock tended to be influenced by his background
when producing his films and in this instance he has included the subject of religion. Catholicism
influenced Hitchcock heavily and the notion of guilt within this is conveyed in the attitude of Scottie. He
also attended a Presbyterian school which gave him a respect for religion and shows this as superior to any
man, including James Stewart whom he regarded as one of the finest actors. By depicting Scottie in front of
this foreboding landscape, the church in a sense is seen as superior.
The graveyard scene also conveys the importance of sound in Hitchcock's films. He understood the power
of music in heightening tension where dialogue could not and this is proved throughout Vertigo. The music
used is perfect for creating suspense and the lack of dialogue adds to its effect. In a way, the music creates
dialogue. The effect of the strings invokes mystery on the part of Madeleine and the sound of the harp
creates a feeling of romance. This is heard when Scottie sees Madeleine for the first time.
Most notably the effect of sound in this scene comes in the shot of the gravestone that Madeleine was
looking at. The quiet sound of strings is suddenly interrupted by a loud tone involving brass. The impact of
this unexpected sound makes the audience more aware of the gravestone and it signifies how it is likely to
be an important part of the film.
Madeleine's final destination in this sequence is the art museum and this is where we are faced with more of
Hitchcock's traditions. He liked to insert shots of a woman's hairstyle and frequently included close-ups of
a woman's hair. This occurs as Madeleine is sitting down, looking up at a painting. She is holding a similar
bunch of flowers as the lady in the painting and their hair is exactly the same. With this comes the motif of
a double identity that Hitchcock used so often in his films. Again, it is used in Psycho and the case of a
mistaken identity occurs in North by Northwest, also including James Stewart. This process had a lot to do
with Hitchcock's aim to unease the audience and make them confused. In this case, Madeleine is seen as
herself, the woman in the painting and later she becomes Judy. When Scottie asks the man at the museum
who the painting is of, he finds out that it is Carlotta Valdez, the same name that was on the gravestone. The
fact that Madeleine is attempting to be exactly the same as her shows she has some kind of problem which
we recognise as being obsession.
Kim Novak plays three characters in Vertigo and her performance is very real. This is another Hitchcockian
aspect that the audience tend to take for granted. He used mostly the same actors and actresses in his films
and therefore we have a certain expectation of their performances. James Stewart in particular appeared in
many Hitchcock films.
The cinematography is an integral part of the effect on the audience that Vertigo has, most notably, the
effect of the camera zooming in and out to emphasize Scottie's fear of heights. This also is used to
unbalance the audience. The colours used are vibrant and glowing and this all contributes to giving the film
a haunting, tense aura.
Vertigo captures a snap shot of San Francisco which acts as a backdrop for the movie.
This is similar to the effect of Rear Window and the estate that is shown, which is reminiscent to that of a
theatre backdrop.
Hitchcock was at the height of his skill when he directed Vertigo in 1957. The blend of mystery, romance,
obsession, voyeurism and murder make the film typical of the Hitchcockian style. Every image, every
musical note and every aspect of the film was at the closest level of perfection that he could attain.