An analysis-of-the-opening-sequence-of-vertigo-1225809461336484-8


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An analysis-of-the-opening-sequence-of-vertigo-1225809461336484-8

  1. 1. An analysis of the Opening Sequence of Vertigo (1958)The purpose of an opening title sequence for a film is to establish the mood andvisual character of a film, to introduce the viewer to all or some of the followingelements:CharactersLocationsNarrative/PlotThemesVisual styleGenreThe opening sequence of Vertigo does all of this. The film was made in 1958 and theopening consists of two distinctly different sections. One is a mixture of live actionand graphics, which were designed by Saul Bass and the next section is just liveaction and was directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It is the beginning of the narrative of thefilm. The first part of the opening introduces the character of Madeleine, played byKim Novak and the second part of the opening sequence introduces John ‘Scottie’Ferguson, played by James Stewart.Saul Bass, who designed part one, is considered by many to be a pioneer of moderntitle design and has worked on many iconic films including Cape Fear and Psycho, toname just a couple. He was originally working in advertising but a move to workingon film publicity materials was the beginning of his work in film. Prior to Bass theapproach to promotional art usually consisted of brightly coloured photographs of thestars but Saul Bass preferred the use of dramatic abstract images, deceptivelysimple drawings and broken type, all designed to give an impression of the story.Bass saw the purpose of an opening title sequence as a way of conditioning theaudience so that when the film began they already had an emotional response to it.Saul Bass understood the importance of the first moments of a film.The title sequence focuses on the physical appearance and beauty of Kim Novak,this is introduced at the beginning of the film and is a theme that runs throughout thenarrative as James Stewarts character becomes increasingly obsessed by the imageof Madeleine.Andrea Joyce 1
  2. 2. Although the title sequence played a central role in establishing the visual style forthe film its use in the marketing for the film was limited. A focus on the image of theHollywood stars was favoured.A focus on the Hollywood stars images is used within the first part of the titlesequence. The face of Kim Novak is used to introduce both the genre of the film andsome of its overriding themes. The first view of her is a close-up of her mouth; it isnot a still image as the viewer can see her lips twitch nervously, thus introducinganxiety and a close examination of this character as integral themes.The use of close-ups to frame the details of the physical features of the characterplayed by Kim Novak is a feature of the cinematography that is used throughout thefilm, it mirrors the obsession that James Stewart’s character develops.As the camera pans up to her eyes they move from left to right in a slightly panickedway, the woman is clearly on edge and not comfortable with the viewers scrutiny.This enhances the creation of suspense, a key convention of the thriller genre. It alsohighlights the notion of looking, being watched and being seen watching someoneelse. This is another convention of thrillers.Further evidence that this film belongs to the thriller genre comes when the image istinged with red and focuses in on one eye, from the centre of the pupil anunidentifiable object appears and fills the screen to reveal the title of the film.One of the themes often explored by films belonging to the thriller genre is identity.The first part of Vertigo’s title sequence introduces this as a theme within this film.The focus on the females face and then the way in which the viewer is brought intothe internal workings of her mind by the use of the graphics also indicate that herown subconscious struggles with her identity will also play a part in the narrative ofthe film.The music changes and becomes more mysterious and discordant. The screenbecomes stained with red and this illustrates a change in focus from examining theexternal signs of identity, such as facial features and moving on to focus on theinternal working of the mind, illustrated by the camera movement through the pupiland the first appearance of the graphical geometrical images. The theme of unstableidentity is central to the narrative of Vertigo. The imagery of the pupil and theAndrea Joyce 2
  3. 3. geometric spirals also communicates the sub-genre of the film, it is a psychologicalthriller.What follows is a series of graphical geometric shapes that appear to come from adistance to fill the screen, when one disappears another takes its place suggestingthe complex layers of a person’s personality, of their identity, again reinforcing it as acentral theme of Vertigo’s narrative. The spiral shapes also connote thepsychological workings of the mind and they mirror the characters hairstyle, which isrevealed as an important narrative device later on in the film. The animated spirals ofBass’ title designs create an effect of dizziness at the very beginning. The shapesalso appear at times to be falling; this is another theme of the narrative.The second part of the opening title sequence of Vertigo is live action and introducesthe second main character, Scottie. What is most important in that sequence is theintroduction of this hero’s flaw. The character discovers, from this event, that he hasacrophobia, he is scared of heights. This fear causes vertigo, dizziness. This isillustrated in the sequence by a camera effect that combines both tracking andzooming in oppositional movements, i.e. a forward zoom and reverse tracking shot,thus mirroring the disorientation experienced by the character. This weaknessdisempowers Scottie and is used by the antagonist to draw him into the concealmentof a terrible crime.The panning shot of the San Fransisco skyline, following the chase across therooftops, introduces the location and re-enforces the theme of the film. San Fransiscoas a place is famous for the huge imposing sight of the Golden Gate bridge and itsundulating streets and steep hills are explored fully in the course of the film. It is theperfect setting for a film concerned with the height, being at great heights and therisks involved in being at a great height are central to Vertigo’s narrative and this isfirst introduced in the opening chase sequence which ends with Scottie being leftsuspended at a great height with a fear of impending death should he lose his gripand plummet to the floor like his colleague.As a thriller the opening sequence of Vertigo sets up an atmosphere of anxiety andvery importantly of suspense, as one of the central characters is literally leftsuspended in mid-air. Another, as yet undiscussed aspect of the opening sequence,is the music. The score was composed by Bernard Herrman and in a 2004 article forSight & Sound the director Martin Scorsese said of its impact:Andrea Joyce 3
  4. 4. Hitchcocks film is about obsession, which means that its about circling backto the same moment, again and again ... And the music is also built around spiralsand circles, fulfilment and despair. Herrmann really understood what Hitchcock wasgoing for — he wanted to penetrate to the heart of obsession.Many sections of the music, particularly in the opening sequence are looped to mirrorthis theme of repetition and obsession with going around in circles to the point of aninitial meeting.Scorsese also said that the opening title sequence successfully set the mood of theoverall film, as well as the visual style.The opening of Vertigo is a classic example of a thriller and its genius owes much tothe simplicity of its approach.Sources: This presentation is influenced by the following sources:Spiralling Aspirations: Vertigo, 1958 by Emily King‘Why Thrillers Thrive’ (1936) by Alfred HitchcockThe Women Who Knew Too Much by Tania ModleskiAndrea Joyce 4