Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)

Vertigo

Below is a report that I did after doing a group presentation on Vertigo. 

On the 31st January 2013, my group consisting of Imogen Berrington, Gina Griffiths, Micky James, Steph Scothern, and myself presented a presentation to our class about Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958). We chose Vertigo as our choice of film as we believed that we had enough information regarding the subject on how the film was a challenging masterpiece, both today and when it was first released. Each person was given a specific topic to research and speak about, with the main focus points being placed onto the PowerPoint presentation.

Hitchcock was influenced by early filmmakers such as D.W.Griffith and Fritz Lang, particular during the Silent Era wherein he was named England’s Best Director. We can also tell how much the Silent Era influenced his later work as many of his famous film sequences, relies on expressions along with music to set a tense environment for the audience. A sense of dread is created by such emphasis on sound and music without the need of dialogue, which sets Hitchcock apart from other auteurs. He takes the audience back to when the art of cinema focused on actually seeing and taking in what is on the screen rather than listening to what is being spoken.

It was by 1938 that Hitchcock reached his peak of fame and he was known for being a brand: books were sold about him; a magazine was made about him and most interesting, a TV series produced called “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”. He was a brand to the public, as his films drew the most interest at cinemas as the audience knew that for two hours or less, they were going to be watching a drama filled with themes of obsession, paranoia and the art of looking. To me, it seemed that Hitchcock knew how to manipulate and control the audience as he knew that they wanted to escape from reality and be able to watch a film about their deepest desires and not be judged e.g. the art of voyeurism, the ‘torture the heroine’ aspect. Hitchcock knew that the best way to keep the audience interested was have the woman protagonist in distress and needing a male to save here, hence his famous mantra of “torture the heroine.”

Hitchcock is mainly known for his psychological thrillers, being named ‘The Master of Suspense’ as the audience is always known to be on the edge of their seats while watching one of his films. Another aspect of his that is a common theme throughout his films is the use of ‘mistaken identify’ that is mostly seen in Vertigo. John/Scottie is obsessed with Judy who he thinks is Madeleine; the woman who he had previously loved but due to his fear of heights, was believed that she fell to her death on top of the clock tower. Judy is then pressured into changing her appearance to match Madeleine to make her more appealing to Scottie as he is obsessed with the idea of resurrecting Madeleine memory onto Judy. He sees Judy as an object that he can control for his own desire and to help bring him out of his depression as he is focusing on something other than the fact that he could have saved Madeleine. Laura Mulvery (a British feminist film theorist) who in 1975 calls this the ‘maze gaze’ that was explained by Imogen in the presentation which to summarize, is when the female characters are the object of the gaze by men as they are often sexualised and are seen to be under the control of male characters. It places emphasis on the ‘the look’ that is controlled by the male characters within the film as well as the male members of the audience.

Finding research about Alfred Hitchcock was not hard to find as he is a popular auteur and nearly everyone has heard either of him or his films. During A-Levels, I studied Hitchcock and his particular style of visual storytelling that he was famous for and how exactly he was an auteur. I used lecture notes and newspaper articles to help me base my speech and how it was all related to Vertigo. Deciding whether a film is a masterpiece or not, it always is good to know background information about the director and to see similar traits that comes across the chosen film as well as others. I found that even though my section originally had nothing to do about Vertigo, when doing a presentation it is always good to set the scene first about the director. If we know more about the director, then we can start to understand why certain themes of the film are present and why they make films the way they sets them apart from others. The most interesting research that I found was that Hitchcock and Disney were good friends as often; Hitchcock used Disney’s special effects technicians to help out in his films. It was also said that they were such good friends as they both had a deep sadist side that crept out into their films e.g. Hitchcock’s brutal killing of Janet in Psycho and how Bambi’s mom was killed in Bambi by Disney.

Overall, I personally think that out presentation gave our class a helpful insight into how Vertigo is seen as a challenging masterpiece. We also had an approximately forty minute discussion after the presentation that allowed the class to join in with the debate as certain questions were asked for example, ‘Why is Vertigo seen as a masterpiece today after its re-release rather than when it was first released in 1958?’ We worked well as a group and personally, the overall presentation and mini-seminar was a success as I would like to think that people gained a deeper insight about Vertigo.

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (Lucas, 1977)

Star Wars IV poster

“When I left you, I was but a learner; now I am the master.”  Everyone knows about Star Wars: Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia. Starting from 1977 all the way up to the present and the knowledge of a 7th film in production; it is safe to say that it’s a series that will never die. It will always be in high regard and be a form of escapism that people will always run to. Children will have their fantasy of owning a lightsaber when they first watch the film: while adults can continuously re-live their childhood fantasy over and over again. This however is not the film where men are crying their eyes out, or a single tear is forced out. It’s more of a film where Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) learns more about himself and the use of the Force.

All aboard

All aboard

“The Force is what gives a Jedi his power.” Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is captured by Darth Vader (David Prowse) in order to gain information on where the new rebel forces base is. With the help of Obi-Wan (Alec Guinnes) who has fined the art of the Force quite predominately and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) who at first cares for no-one but himself, try and rescue the Princess alongside Skywalker. Star Wars brings clear the theme of good & evil and has a clear grasp on what spectacle is really about. Even without the use of high special effects, Lucas has managed to bring to the public a new experience of film-making. A woman instead of being boring airhead and moaning about someone to save her, actually helps in the making of her escape and has a tough personality that takes no nonsense. Women can take a leaf out of her book and instil in real life situations and not rely on men to do everything, which is the 70’s was becoming more & more apparent.

The beginning of a masterpiece series and only being 121mins, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope certainly packs a punch.

The Green Mile (Darabont, 1999)

The Green Mile Poster

“I have no illusions of immortality, but I will have wished for death… long before death finds me.”  The Green Mile is no ordinary film. It touches upon comedy, drama and most specially, the act of God. John Coffey (played by Michael Clarke Duncan) is a big, black man on death row in the 1930’s, yet he has a child-like personality. As black people still wasn’t appreciated, obviously the film has to have a prison guard who acts like Coffey is worse than dirt beneath his feet: Percy (played by Doug Hutchinson). As much as want to hit him through the screen as he is clearly not educated enough to work on Death Row, we cannot but eventually we know he gets his well-deserved comeuppance. Even then, John still has the faith in mankind to help those who are are hurting, whether physically or mentally.

Emotions running high

Emotions running high

“We found each other. We found each other in the dark.” It is always the end scene that can make or break a film. There is nothing worse than watching an entire film and the ending being so poor, you wished you never saw it. The Green Mile doesn’t exactly have a happy ending, more of a situation that has to be wrapped up and couldn’t be handled in any other way. We sympathise with Paul (played by Tom Hanks) as he has to make a decision that affects him in more ways than he imagined. The close-up shots of all the prison guards, especially Paul & John Coffey are just perfect, seeing so much emotion (in some cases, tears) from men will get some type of reaction from even the hardest of person. They understand that they are condemning an innocent guy to die, but it is their job at the end of the day. They have no say in who gets to die or not.

189 minutes of a powerful script that gains new followers every day. “Why did I kill one of his true miracles?” Trust me; everyone is wondering this thought by Paul by the end of The Green Mile.

Leon (Besson, 1994)

Leon Poster

“Is life always this hard, or is it just when you’re a kid? Every child has must of said this at least once in their life, whether it be about school or getting a ‘telling off’ from a parent. In Leon however, when a 12 year old child says it, it’s because her dad has just punched her in the face and her nose is bleeding. Hearing those words at the beginning of the film makes it more intense and you can feel your heart-strings being pulled already. Leon is similar to Man on Fire; as yet again it is a child that gives an assassin the will to love. Leon (played by Jean Reno) is socially awkward and when the whirlwind of Mathilda (played by Natalie Portman) enters his life one day, he teaches her the only thing he knows:  the art of killing.

How to use a sniper

How to use a sniper

“I take no pleasure in taking life if it’s from a person who doesn’t care about it.” Luc Besson has once again made a film in which a woman wields a gun which seems to be a consistent theme e.g. Nikita, The Fifth Element. For being such a dark film, the surroundings are surprisingly quite homely & colourful – the park scene, the training scenes; just the overall feel of the film. This is quite the contrast as the viewer knows that what we are watching is not meant to be glorified, especially the relationship between Leon & Mathilda. As Mathilda hasn’t had the best father figure in the world, she seems to uphold Leon in high esteem and develops feelings that she thinks is love for him as he is the first male to be kind to her. Leon loves her in his own special way, especially as she has given him a new take on life.

Saying goodbye

Saying goodbye

“If you saved my life, you must have saved it for a good reason.” Leon doesn’t actually cry but the emotion-filled scene when he sending Mathilda away to live another day instead of dying with him is pretty intense. We can feel how attached he has become to her and all he wants for her now is to have a normal life and I sense that he is returning the favour: saving her life like she did for him. We feel an attachment to Leon as we watch him watch old classics by himself, giving his plant all the care & attention in the world. All the actors perform brilliantly at their roles; most especially Gary Oldman (who played Stansfield) gets all the quirks and facial expressions of a mad, corrupt cop down to a tee.

Leon is another drama/thriller film where we don’t expect the main protagonist to have such deep feelings inside them. An explosion 110 minutes of how love changes everyone, even men who kill for a living.

Blue Valentine ( Cianfrance, 2010)

Blue Valentine Poster

“What do you think about love at first sight?” Whenever this line is uttered through a film, a cringe/shudder is often seen upon at least one person’s face when in a cinema. Most likely, it’s followed by a cringe-worthy showing where you know that there is going to be a happily ever after, the same ending in the majority of romance films. Not ‘Blue Valentine.’ Blue Valentine has a dramatic ending which shows what love is actually like, not Disney’s version. We get to see the hardship of Dean (played by Ryan Gosling) and Cindy’s (played by Michelle Williams) relationship from when they were young, up till the present. The flashbacks show the true state of how they got together and how their feelings have seemed to change for the worst through no fault of their own.

End Scene: Dean crying

End Scene: Dean crying

“How can you trust your feelings when they can just disappear like that?” Seeing a man cry is the ultimate test in a relationship. The audience is for once, made to feel for Dean as he has the bad end in the relationship. Short of being cheated on, he has to suffer through Cindy’s “bi-polar” tendencies, her dysfunctional family life with her parents from when she was younger and a child who he adores. Even though there isn’t someone talking every minute, the sounds of nature are always apparent. Whether it is the leaves rustling, the wind, or the heavy sounds of water pelting down in the shower; it adds a sense of realism to the entire film. We are forever wondering why Dean puts up with Cindy especially as it seems like she doesn’t appreciate him for what he is worth. She is always saying that he needs to get an actual job, rather than just helping to fix up people’s houses which he enjoys.

Dean

Dean

“Tell me how I should be. Just tell me. I’ll do it.” Throughout the whole film the audience sympathises with Dean as the love he has for Cindy is so powerful that it is too overwhelming. Cindy has never felt such a selfless feeling for such a long period of time that she somehow manages to turn it into hatred on her side. Frankie (played by Faith Wladyka) seems to have grown up in the environment where Dean is the playful, attentive dad and Cindy is the strict mother. By the end of the film, we see the break-up of what was once a blooming relationship and how the implications affect not just those two, but Frankie as well. The contrast of the fireworks which usually represents happy times seems out of place but somehow suits the scene as nothing is right with their marriage. The most shocking visual element however is the transformation of Dean from a dashing young man to an old-before-his-time man in the space of 3 years. Combined with the sharp, bright colours of the flashbacks and the dimmer, darker tones of the present, Blue Valentine is a feast for the eyes.

“Blue Valentine” tears up previous notions of how relationships are seen through the eyes of the media. “I think men are more romantic than women.” An 112 minutes of intense viewing that will leave you wondering whether you actually want to be in a relationship filled with violent longing & pain.

Argo (Affleck, 2012)

Argo poster

“The whole country is watching you, they just don’t know it.” Most often films based on real-life events tend to be uneventful and doesn’t actually follow the events that have occurred. Not Argo. Argo stands alone in achieving an experience that follows you in your mind even after you have left the cinema. A mixture of silent, action, nail-baiting scenes about the ‘Iran Hostage Crisis’ in 1979 leaves you amazed at what you are viewing. The main feature is not that Ben Affleck (playing Tony Mendez) is a superb actor and suits the role perfectly, but that he is also the director. It’s always hard for the actor to reverse roles behind the camera but for Affleck, he seems to flow between the two like he was born to do it, maybe following in the footsteps of Clint Eastwood.

Interrogation

Interrogation

“If I’m going to make a fake movie, it’s going to be a fake hit.” Even though the atmosphere throughout the film is gritty, dark, and tense; whenever you see Lester Siegel (played by Alan Arkin) and John Chambers (played by John Goodman), a laugh is always guaranteed. The two work together so well to input a bit of humour in the dire situation that is occurring. Their take on Hollywood is so close to the truth that you just can’t help and laugh with them. Then you can’t help and sigh alongside everyone else in the cinema at some of the suggestions that come out of the American Governments mouths to try and help the crisis that is happening. Mix that with diegetic & non-diegetic sounds, the use of dialogue, the certain shots used (at points, the reaction shots fit perfectly alongside the script) and an amazing film is born. There is no need for a man to cry in Argo. The film is so tensely wired that in the last couple of minutes you cannot help but to let a tear escape by the performances by the whole cast and the accompanied soundtrack.

Learning lines

Learning lines

“This is the best bad plan we’ve had… by far, Sir.” Personally, Argo is a film to watch when you want to do a bit of learning while enjoying it at the same time. Watching the film with your mind set not to enjoy it as the setting is in Iran and thinking that the film will be a waste of time, which will soon change. From the trailer it seems like it’s another typical Hollywood version of events but after watching Argo, you realize what the hype was about and how wrong you were. A combination of hard hitting scenes and getting to know Tony Mendez (played by Ben Affleck) personal life injects life throughout the whole film. Every audience member secretly wants to know more personal information about Mendez as the realer the character seems, the attachment grows stronger and makes the acting more convincing. Any film that leaves a lasting impression on me is seen to be a ‘good’ film. The right amount of tension left me grabbing the hand of the person sitting next to me and wishing that everything would go as planned. The 70’s vibe and the saturated colours also is a huge bonus to Affleck directing as it makes the whole film more realistic, sets the scene so the viewer can distinctly imagine what are going on at that moment in time.

“Argo” is not your typically history/drama film but an explosive 120 minutes in which your emotions are ever changing. “Argo f*** yourself!” will forever be on people minds when the word Argo is mentioned. Plus how many awards it will win.   

Dirty Dancing (Ardolino, 1986)

                                                                                         

“Nobody puts Baby in the corner.” The iconic line from one of the cheesiest dancing films made before Mamma Mia. Everyone knows that Dirty Dancing is the movie you put on when it’s a cold night and you want a film to make you laugh and get up to join along with some of the dance moves. Sadly, no tears are shed by Johnny (played by Patrick Swayze) as he falls in love with ‘Baby’ (played by Jennifer Grey) and realises his true potential and that there is someone out there who loves him for who he is: a summer dance instructor. If there was ever an ACTUAL sequel, not Dirty Dancing 2, maybe tears may arise then when he realises that it was just a summer romance and true love doesn’t conquer all.

“Go back to your playpen, Baby. ” Emile Ardolino has directed a good film in which you feel like you too are experiencing a summer romance and rebelling against Mommy and Daddy wishes. Baby is always wearing dresses in pastel colours and doesn’t seem to be noticed by her own generation to Johnny, who has the ever classic bad-boy persona who parents on a whole just seem to instantly dislike, seems to be an accurate portrayal of upper-class Americans in the 60’s. Near tears do come from Baby’s dad as he realises that his youngest daughter is growing up, falling in love and having a mind of her own. The POV shot where Baby sees “dirty dancing” for the first time as the camera focuses on couples around the room and the reaction shot that follows has to be the one of the best scenes shot throughout the film. We can literally feel Baby’s’ disgust and awkwardness as she wonders how much she has been missing out on life.

If anything is taken away from this film, let it be that we do not see a male actually cry. Dirty Dancing is a good film to watch with the girls or your boyfriend if you manage to persuade him as a smile is always guaranteed at the end.