Film As Mirror In Hitchcock's Vertigo

1413 words - 6 pages

Film as Mirror in Hitchcock's Vertigo
Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo is a master's class in subtle and effective filmmaking - its noirish tale of obsession and loss is considered one of his best works. This is due in no small part to the directors' use of the various elements of film as a mirror. Hitchcock intends to create a sense of repetition and a cyclical nature to the life of the characters in the film; following Scottie (James Stewart) through his descent and ascent into madness deals significantly with themes of duality and obsession. Furthermore, the use of film as a mirror onto ourselves is made very clear in the audience's relation to Scottie throughout Vertigo. In this paper, three ...view middle of the document...

This pulls back to reveal a shot of a cityscape, focused on the top rungs of a ladder leading to the roof of a building, as we follow the resolute climb and pursuit of a criminal by Scottie and his partner. This shot establishes the faces of the characters and establishes the stakes; the criminal is panicked, and Scottie and his partner are determined and aggressive. The next shot in this scene is a wide shot of the rooftop where the chase is occurring; the blurry, obscured background indicates great distance, and the dull blue lighting indicates dusk. Combine that with the heights at which this chase is happening, and the scene carries the same unease that is placed in the audience during this scene.
The real moment of 'film as mirror' occurs when Scottie misses a jump and grips onto a storm drain for dear life. The point of view shot used to demonstrate Scottie's acrophobia is the key to creating the effect of the mirror in the scene, and is one of the most famous recurring shots in the film. As a point of view shot, Scottie's eyes become our eyes, and what he sees is reflected back at us. In this case, it is the dangerous and intimidating view of the hard, concrete ground dozens of feet below him. In order to punctuate the terror of this moment, and the fear that Scottie (and the audience) feels, Hitchcock accompanies this static shot with a simultaneous zoom in and track out. This is a camera trick used to disorient the viewer and create unease; with the threat of death from falling fully established, the film becomes our mirror to our own fear of heights. While it is exaggerated in Scottie, the film touches on our own sense of fear at this moment.
The second scene in Vertigo that elicits the film as mirror conceit the most is the first scene at Ernie's Restaurant, the one which kicks off the plot thread of Scottie following Madeleine. At first, the camera moves towards a door consisting of bright red glass; the door is a barrier, containing something forbidden. Despite this, the camera (like us) is dying to know what is inside, as Scottie wants to find and pursue Madeleine. We next fade directly to a shot of Scottie, who is clearly scanning the restaurant for her. His eyes search, and so the camera follows his search, panning around the restaurant. This movement is slow and elegant, allowing us a full view of everyone. Soon, like Scottie's eyes presumably do, the camera fixates on a woman dressed in green, slowly moving toward her. Cutting back to Scottie, we see his eye is fixed on her as well.
All of this work Hitchcock places in the scene serves to show us our own sense of voyeurism, as reflected by Scottie's own snooping and obsession over Madeleine. Through our connection to Scottie, the camera becomes an extension of him; his search becomes our search, and we see our own search for the woman at the heart of this investigation reflected in Scottie. The smoothness of the camera movement indicates the confidence that Scottie feels...

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