“Vertigo” By Alfred Hitchcock Movie Review

Vertigo directed by Alfred Hitchcock crowds  the top of the list of the best mystery movies according to AFI. The movie became a perfect combination of suspense, phycological investigation and skillful filmmaking techniques. Twisted plot and original presentation made this film the most prominent example of the mystery and thriller gender. Alfred Hitchcock, the director of the movie,  became an iconic figure  of the world movie-making industry. His movies are recognizable and famous all over the world. Auteur theory was used to describe a strong impact of the author’s personality on the works he produces  The term  ‘Camèra-stylo’ (‘camera-pen’), used to explain this impact, “established ‘…the association of the film artist with the “serious” writer, and…on film as individual self-expression” (Caughie, 1991, p. 9).   The auteur theory can be helpful when analyzing Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Hitchcock managed to create an outstanding piece of cinematographic art. His personal vision and methods helped him to create a unique mystery movie, which makes the audience experience a range of different emotions. This paper will make an attempt to estimate art techniques used in Vertigo movie through the prism of the Auteur Theory. 

Vertigo is a psychological thriller  produced in 1958 in the US. Alfred Hitchcock became the movie director and producer. The movie is based on Buileau-Narcejac’s novel named From Among the Dead. Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylory wrote screenplay for the movie.  James Stewart (Scotty)  and Kim Novak (Madeleine-Judy) are starring brilliantly and helped the author to create deep psychological story.

The movie starts with  Scotty, the protagonist,  witnessing the death of his colleague. He is not able to help, because he has agoraphobia. After an accident during his detective practice, Scotty becomes haunted by attacks of panic and fear. From the very beginning of the movie Hitchcock makes an accent on the theme of death and inner conflict. Scotty agrees the request of his friend and starts following friend’s wife, Madeleine. Madeleine discovers the theme of death from different perspective. She has a strong attraction of death, at the same time, she is afraid of it. Madeleine makes an unsuccessful attempt of the suicide and rethinks her attitude to death, but, still dies later in the movie. Scotty falls in love with Madeleine and has a very difficult experience when he looses her. Some time later he meets Judy, who looks exactly like Madeline. The audience knows that Judy and Madeleine are one and the same person, but this information is hidden from Scotty. It turns out that Judy agreed to play Madeleine in order to help Gavin fake the suicide of his wife.   Scotty makes everything possible to reconstruct image of his beloved Madeleine. He makes Judy change her appearance and the audience can see changes in her appearance as a symbolic transition from life to death. Not knowing about this, Scotty gradually changes Judy’s identity, lifestyle and finally changes her into another person. These changes becomes fatal for Judy. “Hitchcock in making Vertigo is like Pygmalion, an artist creating the perfect woman to show up the deficiencies of ordinary women. Here, The ideal woman is secretly the sexual woman, and the sexual woman can be turned into an ideal” (Spoto 275). Finally, Scotty discovers the truth. Judy dies because of the accident, but Scotty finally becomes able to overcome his panic attacks. Unknowingly Judy agrees to play the role of woman, who is attracted to death, and, finally, dies.

Hitchcock is a world-recognized master of suspense. He has reached mastery in creating  suspense movies based rather on psychological effects, reached through camera work, imaginary, music and visual effects.

 Hitchcock uses a lot of special techniques in order to create necessary psychological impact.   Vertigo become central symbol and central idea of the movie. It illustrates Scotty’s fear of death. It also symbolizes a spiral, which helps him change and transform. Hitchcock uses special shooting techniques, in order to created the feeling of vertigo. He uses distorted and blur shooting in order to create necessary effect.

Mise-an-scene plays an important role of the movie, helping to fulfill the author’s ideas.  The bell tower Scotty enters at the end of the movie becomes a bright symbol of vertigo. The movie starts and ends with this symbolic spiral ascendance to the tower, but the character totally transforms between these two ascendances. Vertigo also becomes the symbol of death. Music in the movie helps to get the feeling of suspense. The author perfectly uses it to express inner state of his characters.

Critics may demonstrate different attitude to Hitchcock and his works, but there is no person who can put Hitchcock’s genius under doubt. As Grierson puts it, “Hitchcock is …no more than the world’s best director of unimportant pictures’ (Grierson).  A lot of critics assign Hitchcock auteur status. All his movies have authentic recognizable style. Moreover, Hitchcock was often described as a perfect example of the auteur theory and the importance of movie director.

Twisted plot and unexpected plot development are Hitchcock’s distinguishing instruments. He  creates complex setting, which makes his characters   experience borderlines states. Suspense and unexpected turns of the plot help the author create necessary conditions which help him to investigate human behavior and thinking. The movie has a complex structure. It tells a story of a man, who becomes accomplice in the murder. At the same time, the author investigates complex psychological phenomena, such as obsession with guilt, repression of feelings and dependent relations. Vertigo has parallels with ancient myth about Orpheus and Eurydice . Scotty, the main character, looses his beloved woman and has to make a long journey, meet near-death experience, in order to finally find his love in order to lose her again. Scotti has to go through inner change and transformation for the sake of his love.

Music, literary word, paintings are recognized media, which help their author  express their ideas. The situation is different when it comes to movie industry. The question about the origin of ideas, transmitted through the movie screen raises multiple doubts and controversies.  Some critics believe that films should be viewed as a collective work of multiple authors. Some of them claim that movie is a mean to reflect objective reality, and contemporary social processes. Francois Truffaut expressed an idea, that movie was a way for directors to express their ideas (Truffaut, 1984). At this point, the director of the movie becomes its author. This approach got the name Auteur theory. Auteur at this point stands in the meaning of author. Auteur theory was used to describe a strong impact of the author’s personality on the works he produced.   The term  ‘Camèra-stylo’ (‘camera-pen’), used to explain this impact, “established ‘…the association of the film artist with the “serious” writer, and…on film as individual self-expression” (Caughie, 1991, p. 9).  Despite the fact that the movie is a collective production, which introduces different specialists’ united effort, the director’s influence has the most important meaning.  The Auteur theory suggests that the entire movie becomes incarnations of author’s ideas. At this point different movie techniques, such as mise-en-scene, light, camera work, music and actor’s work become director’s means to express his personal vision. The Auteur theory suggests that most of movie works have director’s marks and disclose director’s personality and character. This theory became especially popular in 1950s. Hitchcock also became especially popular during that time. He makes a perfect example of the ideas, expressed in the Auteur theory.

The combination of themes, images and symbols, presented in Hitchcock’s’ Vertigo, represents his individual and recognizable style. Hitchcock demonstrates distinctive themes, structure and technical devices when creating his movies. In addition, Hitchcock always demonstrated high degree of involvement during all stages of the movie production. He took part in casting, writing scenario, costume choice. Vertigo movie did not become an exception. Truffaut argues that Hitchcock “exercises such complete control over all the elements of his films and imprints his personal concepts at each step of the way” (Truffaut, 1984, p. 76).

Hitchcock’s vision of the world is represented in his movies. Movie-making techniques, as well as basic themes and ideas illustrate his outlook and lifestyle.

In Vertigo Hitchcock creates the opposition between the reality and things people perceive. The audience has to doubt about everything which appears on the screen. All elements of the movie contains Hitchcock’s vision. Hitchcock makes his movie a reflection of his thoughts and ideas ”in the structure and content of the screenplay . . .in the development of plot and theme and images; in the selection of cast and setting; in the style of lighting and placement and movement of the camera; in the moods created, sustained, and shifted; in the subtle manipulation of an audience’s fears and desires; in the economy and wit of the narrative; in the pacing; and in the rhythms of the film’s final cutting” (Spoto, 1983). His works are marked with his personal obsession and outstanding vision of the world. This characteristics are peculiar to all auteur directors, who bring a strong personal impact on all works they produce.

Hitchcock makes suspense the main driving element in Vertigo. Along with  emotional impact, Hitchcock puts a lot of meaning in his film. Basic themes, such as love, death, betrayal and fear become the most important themes in Vertigo. Hitchcock is deeply interested in the functioning of human brain and consciousness. He investigates these mechanisms in the movie. He studies the nature of fear, and complex relations between individual are reality.  Hitchcock uses all his genus to make the audience the participants of the story, experiencing different feelings and emotions. Thrillers became Hitchcock’s favorite genre. One of the reasons of such choice is a strong emotional appeal these movies have. Some critics even use the term voyeurism, as Hitchcock makes the audience involuntary witnesses of different events.

 Vertigo is justly called the best mystery movie ever produced. It became  a perfect combination of psychological thriller, love drama and mystic story. Hitchcock’s works had an important input on the movie industry. He has established the canons for thriller genre for a long time. His outstanding camera work used work Vertigo movie became known under the same name. The movie had also impact on audience.  The study of psychological mechanisms and human conscious and subconscious processes became the object of psychological investigation and gave a lot of information about the nature of these mechanisms.

Hitchcock became an icon of  movie-making. He combined skillful camera work with deep psychologism and this way managed to create bright and thought-provoking movies. In his movies he investigate wide range of themes, but the theme of death is presented in all of them.  The death helps to discover new qualities in people and makes them change and transform.    The depiction of death in the movies becomes for Hitchcock  not only the way to make audience scared and create suspense. The theme of death becomes for him an opportunity to investigate human values, desires and emotions. In many movies, love and death are closely interconnected and it is hard to separate them from each other.  Hitchcock uses  the theme of  death to get a better understanding of love and life.  Vertigo is one of his most popular and most-recognized works where the theme of death and love are investigated from different perspectives. The main characters of the movie  passes  a long and twisted way of personal transformation. During this way he has to come in terms with his fear of death. Through overcoming his own fears and through the loss of his love he discovers new vision of death which helps him to approach a new vision of life as well.

References

Caughie John, (ed.) (1981), Theories of Authorship, Routledge, London,  p.9

Raubicheck, Walter,  Srebnick,  Walter  Hitchcock’s Rereleased Films: From Rope to Vertigo, Wayne State University Press, 1991. Print.

Spoto, Donald. The Art of Alfred Hitchcock: Fifty Years of His Motion Pictures. 2nd ed. New York: Doubleday, 1992. Print.

Truffaut, Francois. Hitchcock. Rev. Edition. With Helen G. Scott. New York: Simon & Schuster (Touchstone), 1984. Print.

Vertigo. Universal Home Video, 2008. DVD.

Fordham, Geoff Hitchcock’s place in film theory: a significant auteur or director of insignificant pictures?

Chapman, James (1998) Popular American Film, Open University

Truffaut, François (1978), Hitchcock  Paladin, London

The terms offer and acceptance. (2016, May 17). Retrieved from

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