VERTIGO (1958, Hitchcock)
Like the previous post about Scorsese, this shot is staged with great originality and really bares the stamp of the director. Kim Novak’s famous entrance in the film is so simple, restrained, elegant, and full of weight. The placement of the actors, the color design (the colorless extras, the red walls, her vivid dress), the famous music cue, the elegance of the camera movement, all tell you to pay attention, something life-altering is happening to our main character (Jimmy Stewart) – we’re meeting what will become his obsession.
There’s something about this shot that is beyond its design and beyond explanation; simply the effect is greater than the sum of the parts, in my opinion. Especially when you think of all the millions of ways he could have chosen to reveal her, makes you thankful he picked this way!
The Reveal: One of Hitchcock’s specialties
If I had to pick one thing about a shot that I think is most important, it’s the reveal, ie, the surprise, the beat of the story unexpectedly exposed. This reveal here is so brilliant. How can Hitchcock do this with such restraint and yet so obviously? It really engages the viewer – startles you (or at least it did me) – because you feel like you’re spotting something on your own. This is what great filmmaking does, lets the audience deduce and discover on their own.
As with most great stagings/shots, this one works economically on so many levels: Stewart and Novak’s characters become clear, we see he’s an outsider as we learn what world she inhabits, exudes; he’s spying, so are we; we’re also bathing in the sense of supernatural mystery that surrounds her; get a dose of his foreshadowed feelings for her; and experience the gravity both he’s experiencing and that is sneaking up behind her (or so we are lead to believe). And let’s not forget the suspense of the shot, which maximizes the reveal’s impact; this is, after all, Hitchcock we’re talking about. (Thanks to Jeremy Cole for reminding me of this last point in his comment below!)
I’m trying really hard not to swear here to emphasize how much I admire this shot! The whole rest of the clip is awesome, too. How about the light that comes up behind Novak’s head when she strikes a pose? No rule says you can’t. Or the two shots of Stewart, one on his right and one on his left, as she passes him, each conveying a distinctively different moment. Very fine. And then the thematic two-of-her as she passes the mirror! Hitch was into the details.
Behold! Shot starts at :06 –
Next week I’ll do another shot from Vertigo. I wonder if you can guess which one? If you do, I will make the next Vertigo shot the official post of “your name here!“