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.

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