Sunday, October 23, 2011

Experience the Acrophobia

The legendary Mr. Alfred Hitchcock is well known for his style and technique. To be quite honest, I'm not a huge movie buff, and a Hitchcock picture is not a common selection I would make. However, I'm quite grateful for being required to watch Vertigo for another course; it allowed me to understand why his craft is unique, and I've come to truly respect his work. Vertigo follows a retired private investigator, John Ferguson and his quest to watch and protect a wealthy acquaintance's wife, Madeleine. Under the impression that the Madeline is possessed by a dead ancestor who wants to kill her, Ferguson is forced to run after her as she enters the bell tower. Diagnosed with acrophobia, the ex-detective has a hard time keeping up with the woman who plans to commit suicide. Hitchcock utilizes great camera angles, and editing techniques to truly convey the sensation of vertigo. The climatic rush of anxiety and panic peaks when Madeline's body is seen falling through the window.

Focusing on the elements composed in the bell tower scene, I've discovered many layers of careful decisions Hitchcock has made. The soundtrack plays a vital role in the story telling. The beat picks up after the two characters separate, and Madeline begins to run. The rhythm of the violins match the panic Ferguson expresses in his attempt to chase her. Diegetic sounds, such as foot steps and the sound of Madeline's body hitting the ground act almost like dialogue in a scene with very little words. The carefully picked sounds assists and enhances the action.

Eye line match is used the most in this film. A close up shot of Ferguson looking up diagonally, followed by a shot of the tall bell tower conveys his conclusion that Madeline is running in order to jump off it. When he enters the church in a wide shot, followed by two empty wide shots of the church, the sound of her footsteps is what leads audiences to understand why he ran in the direction of the empty stairs. These empty scenery shots of the church were short but long at the same time. Short, because they were literally only a second or two- but long because audiences have identified themselves with Ferguson's point of view. Thus, when in a panic, one scans one's surroundings quickly but carefully, elongating the experience of time.

Hitchcock develops the chase scene up the tower steps, running with the usage of eye line match. Crucial to the movie, Hitchcock used a filming technique to distort and create a sensation of vertigo by zooming in and tracking back at the same time. A wide shot of Ferguson struggling to climb up and over looking the banister, is followed by this distorted shot- allowing the audience to understand his suffering. The sweat on James Stewart's forehead further emphasizes the effects of vertigo. After Madeline's body falls, and Ferguson is climbing down the steps again, the high angle of the stairwell with him making his way around is a powerful image since audiences can still feel the overwhelming dizziness from both acrophobia and from witnessing a devastating death. There's great acting, camera work, and music- however, what truly makes this scene a classic is the editing involved in combining these elements.

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