Vertigo is a psychological thriller film starring James Stewart as “John Scottie Ferguson” who has an extreme fear of heights (acrophobia) and a sense of moving/dizziness (vertigo). He is a San Francisco detective, hired by his acquaintance (Tom Helmore who plays “Gavin Elster”), to privately investigate his wife (“Judy Barton” Kim Novak). She appears to be acting strange, which John agrees to find out more about his friend’s wife; soon becoming obsessed with her…

  • Director and Producer of the film- Alfred Hitchcock, who was an English film Director often referred to as “The Master Of Suspense” as he created many films based in the psychological thriller genre.
  • Music by- Bernard Herrmann, who worked with many Alfred Hitchcock films including Psycho, and North by Northwest.
  • Editor- George Tomasini who again, had edited many of Alfred Hitchcock’s films.
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Above is the famous film poster for “Vertigo” as you evidently see the film will be about danger as the faded colour of red signifies this, as well being about the feeling of dizziness (“vertigo”) due to the spiral design in the centre of the poster with a character losing control. Perhaps foreshadowing events later to come in the film…

The opening credits begins with a fade in of a close up shot of half a face, at this point the audience is left unsure as the low key lighting makes it difficult to see in detail who’s face it is; which the eerie music adds to the sense of mysteriousness.

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But it’s evident that this person is trembling in fear as the use of a zoom in from the close up shot of the face, to the extreme close up shot of the lips, exemplify the character’s uneasiness; making the audience feel the same way.

Then the rapid appearance of the white typography text contrasts against the darkness of the lips, (revealed through the low key lighting), implying that this character is possibly evil.

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The text soon disappears in time with the subtle transition of dramatic music to a more ominous sound as played before the text had appeared.

Then when the camera tilts (vertically upwards) displaying the person’s eye, we can see how agitated they are by the close up shot emphasising the detail of their eyes which looks left and right in a very panicked manner. Therefore, indicating the genre of the film is-Thriller, due to the convention of suspense being created, as we almost feel as uncomfortable as the person in the opening credits.

When the text appears from out of the screen, the audience jump from the fact that the music was calming beforehand as the camera tilts, but soon as the credit/title appears it comes in a surprise.

This introduction to the female character, who breaks the forth wall as her eyes look directly into the camera, suggest that she is in some sort of danger; hence why she looks agitated and uneasy. The extreme close up gives the audience the impression that she is asking the audience for help.

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So when the camera then pans to the left eye with a red filter, it reinforces the theme of danger being  expressed in the film, as the colour red signifies this idea.

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As her eye opens more, the non diegetic sound of musical instruments increases, dramatising her anxiousness and also putting attention towards the name of the film appearing from the centre of her pupil/eye.

When the bold typography enlarges to fill the screen, the edit of a text roll occurs, so that the name slides up to the top of the screen. Then instantly after the white text has moved off-screen, there’s a purple spiralling shape in the same position of the centre of the eye. This is centre framed for the reason that the Director Alfred Hitchcock has chosen intentionally to divert the audiences attention to the twisting shape, no longer to the facial features of the woman.

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The editing then consists of superimposition of the purple spiral linking to the next shot of the same spiralling shape; but this time on a black screen and larger in size. Whilst this happens the music has a fast pace tempo, in which the audience feel as if there is a build up to something…

The build up is then released as the music changes from being tense to more relaxing as a smaller blue shape appears from the previously faded out shape. As this is also rotating, it creates a sense of disillusionment, when it get’s closer and larger, over-layering the the white typography of the credits in the right hand corner. Eventually making the credits fade out and letting the spiralling shape overpower the screen; metaphorically representing the idea that the forces of evil overthrow the good.

But as this continues to happen, the audience are left to think that the spiralling shapes connote the character’s psychological workings of the mind due to the frequent rotation being associatable to the name of the film “Vertigo” meaning an overwhelming sense of dizziness. The audience are connected to this aspect of the film, as the repetition, using graphic match, of a spiral linking to the next one makes it seem like we are in some sort of hypnotic trance. As a result, the genre of the film is established as a Psychological thriller.

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The use of the following colours are significant to the film because:

  • Purple- has connotations of mystery which the film already has a mysterious aspect to it; evident through the low volume music and high pitch sounds (eerie)
  • Blue- produces a calming effect, although juxtaposing the fact that the shape is spiralling rapidly, making it very distracting and off putting for the audience to understand what is happening.
  •  Green- suggests stability even though the narrative of the film is centred around the theme of unstable identity; perhaps leading the audience to believe one thing, setting up for a plot twist later revealed in the film.

Moreover, the change of spiral colour from red to yellow as it gets closer to filling the screen, adds emphasis for when the spiral minimises in size to fit the pupil of her eye. As the contrast of the yellow spiral against the red filter of her eye can be a reinforcement of the theme of danger.

 

There’s then a cut to the sound of effect of a blink, in time with the the eye shutting quickly, to convey the same extreme close up shot of the woman’s eye with a typography text coming out to fill the screen. We are then made to believe that this repetitive cycle of names filling the screen when the music increases, portrays the theme of obsession, foreshadowing the character John Scottie Ferguson’s obsession with Judy Barton.

This happens to be the Director’s name (Alfred Hitchcock), who remains onscreen after the extreme close up shot of the eye fades out, leaving his name for a few milli seconds, and then fades out also. This is a perfect way to end the title sequence as the key themes are expressed, setting the audience up for what actually will happen in the rest of the film.

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