The film Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 58) uses lifestyle and environment to explain the theme of imagery, illusion, and the ability to manipulate women(Cooper 7). The film starts by showing the sorry state of mental disorder that which victims pose; two individuals are depicted to have vertigo and acrophobia. In the movie, the effects of the conditions are analyzed and the possible causes are established based on the two individuals who exhibit the conditions. The author of the movie uses his prowess to create and destroy women, this is depicted by the situation where John “Scottie” Ferguson (James Stewart) is creating the image of a woman he desires from a woman who is strange to her (Blakesley 111). The director of the movie uses the theme of manipulation to create a cast that is highly rated compared to other films of their time. Additionally, he uses the technology of that time to develop a movie that is precise in terms of its theme and character development.
Comparison of the Film with its Contemporaries
The film was acted in the year 1958, a time when the use of technology and camera modification was of age (Cooper 7). Vertigo incorporated the use of the available technology to develop a masterpiece of art that is highly rated among the best production of that time. Additionally, the film focuses on the real issues affecting the people during the time of its production. Women were not believed to be equal to men in society; men had an upper hand in social rank. Additionally, men were endorsed with the ability to control and manipulate women; on the other hand, women were expected to comply with the directions and instructions given by their male counterparts (Cooper 12). During the period, women were required to be loyal, and perform the duties that would enhance the happiness of the male gender, even if it compromised their happiness and comfort. In the movie, the protagonist, John “Scottie” Ferguson, a former police detective, creates an image of the woman he desires, and when he meets Judy Barton (Kim Novak), he urges her to play the part of this woman (Cooper 13). Judy has no objection to the demand as is expected by society; therefore, she finds herself impersonating the woman of Scotties’ desires, to please him and make him satisfied. Further, Judy appeared in the movie as a character brought by Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) to cover up for the murder of his wife, a plan that Scotties is not quick to discover. The little resistance that Judy offers to the instructions by Gavin Elster to impersonate his wife is an indication of the position given to women in society. Therefore, the film narrates the occurrence of events that are in society at the time of its production, and it is an accurate reflection of society.
Vertigo compares competitively with other films produced during the same period, addressing nearly the same issues of women’s discrimination, impersonation, and imagery. An example of a 1950s film includes Harvey which was produced in 1950, the film covers the theme of imagery where the protagonist is an eccentric drunk who has an imaginary friend. The film High School Confidential produced in the same year; 1958, covers the theme of impersonation which seems a common occurrence in the 1950s. High School Confidential focuses on a police detective who impersonates a student to investigate crime and drug use in a high school. Other films of the 1950s revolve around common themes, and therefore, the creativity and the quality of an individual film determine by prowess.
The Use of Mise-En-Scene, Cinematography, Editing, and Sound
In order to build the theme in the film and further makes the movie interesting and enjoyable, the director uses various visual and audio enhancement techniques which blend well to ensure the subject is well understood. Among the visual and audiovisual techniques that are used are Mise-En-Scene, Cinematography, Editing, and Sound.
Mise-En-Scene is the process of taking up the stage; it is the process in which the actors in the film make movements that look similar to when the movie is being acted in a theater (Kolker 2). The use of Mise-En-Scene is evident in the film, one of the clearest scenes where this technique is used is during the conversation between Gavin Elster and John “Scottie” Ferguson. In the conversation, when Gavin Elster starts narrating about his wife’s possession he moves and climbs a raised platform like that on stage while John “Scottie” Ferguson remains on a lower platform. This is interpreted to mean that Gavin Elster is the performer while John “Scottie” Ferguson is the audience. In another instance of Mise-En-Scene, Scottie walks around San Francisco while counting the number of times a church bell is behind his frame. This is the use of foreshadowing of the events that later happen towards the end of the film. The director of the film excellently uses this technique to pass over his information and also create anticipation in the mind of the audience.
Cinematography, on the other hand, is used efficiently in the film, this is where the actors in the film do not communicate or incorporate little dialogue in their casts. This technique is meant to keep the audience of the movie guessing the next step which is not certain to them, and also it helps to create a unique sense of suspense between different episodes in the film. Vertigo film has many instances where cinematography also referred to as pure cinema is applied to create a situation or dilute an argument. Among them include the scene where Scottie is tailing Madeline in his car, in this scene there in no dialogue at all for a very long stretch, and therefore, the audience is left to follow the camera moves and the background musical beat (Blakesley 119). Another excellent application of cinematography is the occasion where Madeline commits suicide in the church by jumping down from the tower bell. The director of the film intentionally avoids taking images of the scene from different angles or different heights; instead, he moves to a platform high above the bell tower from where it is possible to make one short of the whole situation. The event is, therefore, clear to the audience compared to taking the many images of the same scene.
Sound has been incorporated in the film to bring out the different situations in the film which are enhanced by the beat being played. The superiority of this movie is accelerated by the music that accompanies the different scenes in the film. At some point in the movie, the soundtrack is scary. The use of the wailing horns in scenes that are terrifying enhances the theme and further, creates a mental picture of the event that is likely to occur. When the police detective John “Scottie” Ferguson falls from the rooftop, wailing horns are used to create an atmosphere that is terrifying (Blakesley 124). Additionally, the last two trombones heard creates a feeling of uncertainty in the mind of the audience, an indication that sound has been used effectively to enhance the movie. Further, the sound play can be romantic; in the scene where Scottie hugs Madeline and they start kissing, the soundtrack being played creates an occasion of romance. The surrounding environment further accelerates this scenario, the environment is a beach which is associated with romance. The use of sound is one of the milestone achievements of this movie, which makes it a masterpiece.
Video editing has enhanced the quality of the film, this has enabled the use of camera and video tricks that brings a well-coordinated transition from one scene to the other. In a perfect exhibition of editing, the director is able to make one actor play the roles of two different people without causing contradiction and confusion. In this context, Madeline plays the role of Judy and Gavin’s wife, editing has enabled her to perfectly get into the two roles without causing contradiction to the point where Scottie cannot realize he is dealing with the same person.
Blakesley, David. “Defining film rhetoric: The case of Hitchcock’s Vertigo.” Defining visual rhetorics (2004): 111-133.
Cooper, David. Bernard Herrmann’s Vertigo: a film score handbook. No. 2. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001.
Kolker, Robert. “Mise-En-Scene.” Film, Form and Culture. McGraw-Hill Higher Education (1999).