Textual Analysis 4: ‘Vertigo’ Opening Title Sequence

Introduction 

The film ‘Vertigo’ was made in 1958 and was directed and produced by Alfred Hitchcock. It was based on the 1954 novel ‘D’entre les morts’ by Pierre Boileau and Pierre Ayraud.

The lead actors in the film are James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes and Tome Helmore.

The synopsis of the plot is about a retired police detective from the San Francisco bay area (whom suffers from acrophobia and vertigo) who is investigating the strange activities of an old friends wife, and ends up becoming dangerously obsessed with her.

 

The opening title sequence

This opening title sequence is split into two parts, part one is a mixture of live action and graphics, which were designed by Saul Bass. This first part of the sequence introduces the character Madeleine, played by Kim Novak.

The second part was directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It is live actions and begins the narrative of the film. it introduces John “Scottie” Furguson, played by James Stewart.

As you will see below, this opening title sequence uses live action and graphics, which would have been extremely unique in the 1950’s and totally different from anything the audience would have seen before.

 

Camera

In the first part of the opening title sequence only one shot type is used. This is a close up of the woman’s mouth and pans to her eyes. The screen then turns red, which connotes to the audience blood and/or danger. The camera is made to focus on her physical beauty, however it shows her as though she is in shock, with her twitching lip and her wide, unblinking eyes. This enhances the suspense within the audience , and is a key convention in thriller.

However in the second part of the sequence with the rooftop chase, there are multiple camera angles and shots used. For example, there is an establishing shot used to show the audience the location and to show that its set at night. A shallow depth of field is shown with the close up shot of the hand giving the audience a sense of enigma before the audience see the the next shot of whom the hand belongs to. A point of view angle shot is used from the perspective of the protagonist looking down when he is helplessly hanging in the air, this connotes a possible fear of heights and represents the powerless situation he is in.

Sound

The non-diagetic music starts as soon as the universal logo fades. Eerie music is played to build up suspense in the audience, a common convention in thriller. The music gets louder and faster, making the audience feel like something is going to happen. This non-diagetic music runs through the entirety of the opening sequence, including the police chase, this is to give the audience an idea of what genre it is and to build suspense through the scene. There is very little dialouge in the opening sequence, yet the little diagetic sound creates a lot of enigma in the audience. Also, when the policeman falls the music deepens echoing the mood.

Editing 

The scene with the woman’s face is one long take, adding a slow pace to the sequence adding suspense to the audience.

Graphical geometric shapes and special effects were edited in the sequence. The audience see spirals spinning in the eyes of one of the characters, to represent the vertigo that the protagonist suffers from. The spirals are also repetitive, as one leaves another suddenly appears. This symbolises a never ending fear.

Slow paced transitions are used to convey the dark mood of the film. The straight cuts are used to make the scene dramatic.

Mise-en-scene

In the first part, the audience is not shown what the lady is wearing, portraying that that the director only wants the audince to focus on the close up shot of her face, which shows her physical beauty and her fear.

However in the second part with the chase, the audience sees three men in formal attire, and one is in a police uniform, representing that he has higher authority. This higher authority is backed up as he is the one who is chasing the other man, as if he is the predator and the other man is the prey. Also the only prop used in the sequence is the police mans gun, showing his high authority.

The protagonist in the chase scene is wearing a suit, which is not what is expected in a chase scene, adding enigma. The suit does however signify his possible profession and status.

The setting of the woman’s location is unknown, adding enigma to the scene. The setting in the chase is the roof tops in San Francisco, the running across rooftops signifies the danger of the situation.

Also the use of low key lighting makes the setting and atmosphere seem dark and mysterious, to run parallel with the genre. The street lights and the darkness contrast in the chase scene. The contrast of light and dark in the scene conveys good and evil in the scene.

 

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