Dreaming in Hitchcock’s Movies

“Dream dream, filling up an idle hour
Fade away, radiate”
– Debbie Harry, Dreaming


I’m one of those persons who are quite fascinated by dreams. From the most ordinary ones to the most extraordinary ones,  I saw them in all their colours. When I can remember my dreams, I write them in a little notebook to make sure I don’t forget them later. Actually, this is also a way to stimulate my subconscious and the more I work on them, the more I can remember them. I sometimes read my dream notebook and I have some fun reading stuff I didn’t remember.

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Dreams inspire art; paintings, songs, and, of course, cinema. So I thought, why not discussing the dreaming world in movies. I cannot talk about ALL the movies with dreams. So, why not focusing on the dreaming world in Hitchcock’s films?!

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Spellbound (1945)

“Good night and sweet dreams… which we’ll analyze at breakfast.” – Dr. Alex Brulov (Michael Chekhov), Spellbound

When one thinks of dreams in classic films, I’m pretty sure the first scene that comes to his or her mind is the one created by Salvador Dalí for Spellbound. Well, when Dali, the master of surrealism, accepts to direct a dream scene, you know it’s going to be a winning result. Dali’s painting themselves seem to be inspired by dreams or, at least by something that mysteriously poped-up of his mind for whatever reasons. I must admit, I didn’t do any dreams where the objects were weird and misshapen like in Dalí’s paintings, but the importance here is the symbolism of this dream.

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In the 40s, psychoanalyse was a subject that was very “en vogue”. With Spellbound, Hitchcock had for desired to direct the first movie on the subject. Like he explained to François Truffaut, he consulted famous psychoanalyst during the making of his film. The Master of Suspense also explained that he had for break the tradition of blurry and confused dreams that we usually see in movies. That’s why he wanted to work with Dalí. This one would create a visually very clear dream with clear and acute traits.

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So, in a movie about psychoanalyze, dreams are of a high importance. If I’m not mistaken, Dali’s sequence originally laste around 20 minutes, but it was cut to only a few. Not to mention that some of Dalí’s ideas were a bit difficult to shot as Hitchcock explained to Truffaut.  In a way, there’s something interesting about that. Have you ever heard that, even if your dreams sometimes seem to last forever, they only last a minute or a few seconds? In Spellbound, JB (Gregory Peck)’s dream is of a central importance since it helps Constance Peterson (Ingrid Bergman) and Professor Brulov (Michael Chekhov) to understand him and to help him regain his memory. It is said that dreams all have a meaning. Well, Spellbound‘s dream sequence is the perfect example of that.

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I feel that, in classic films, you had some of the most weirdly illustrated dreams. Of course, we all remember Spellbound’s dream for these curtains with painted eyes that are cut by a man with a giant pair of scissors. This is maybe the most iconic part of the sequence. Objects also have weird forms and proportions. For example, one can think of this crooked wheel or this giant table where a game of card is being interrupted by a man without a face. My personal favourite part of the dream is when Gregory Peck is running down a slope and followed by a pair of big wings (we only see their shadows). There’s something very beautiful in this shot that fits perfectly the dreaming world. Of course, we learn later in the film what is the meaning of all this.

 

Vertigo (1958)

“Only one is a wanderer; two together are always going somewhere. ” – Madeleine (Kim Novak), Vertigo

The scene designed by Dalí isn’t the only memorable dream sequence from an Hitchcock’s film. In 1958, Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart)’s nightmare had something truly terrifying. The mix between Bernard Herrmann’s score and the flashy colours create a haunting moment. Interestingly, Vertigo was the first film to use computer graphics, these being designed by Saul Bass. Those weren’t only used in the opening titles but also in the nightmare scene. The script doesn’t try to reveal the “meaning” of this dream like it is the case with Spellbound. However, the symbols are clear enough to understand that it reflects a part of Scottie’s life that begins to haunt him more and more.

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Vertigo‘s dream sequence is also the proof that this film used Technicolor to its full potential. I must admit, the first time I saw this scene, I felt slightly uncomfortable, but I think it is meant to be. What particularly frightened me is this moment when Scottie advances toward’s Carolotta’s tomb where a hole has been dug to put a coffin. I was only expecting to see Carolotta’s rotten corpse lying there, but, luckily, there wasn’t anything of the sort. I remember my sister coming in the living room right during this dream sequence and saying “Ah, that’s scary!” before leaving. But once you are more “used to it” you find it somehow fascinating. I love the short moment were Galvin Elster, Carlotta Valdes and Scottie are next to a window and the first two just stare at Scottie with a very cold look. The nightmare scene is also in perfect harmony with the music and, therefore, there’s something very choreographical about it.

 

Rebecca (1940)

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” – Mrs. DeWinter (Joan Fontaine), Rebecca

It’s with this iconic sentence that Daphné DuMaurier introduced her most acclaimed novel, Rebecca. Of course, Hitchcock had to use it in his Oscar-winning film. “I” De Winter (Joan Fontaine)’s dream evokes the memory she has of Manderley, the place where she used to live with her husband Max DeWinter (Laurence Olivier). In her dream, Manderley is burnt and now a desolate place. This is also a vision of reality and the rest of the film is a long flashback that will help us understand the mystery and the fatal faith of this rich domain.

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This dream scene at the beginning that introduces the film is filmed in a subjective point of view. It is seen through the narrator’s eyes, the second Mrs. DeWinter. Joan Fontaine’s enchanting and smooth voice adds a certain tranquility to the sad vision of the abandoned place. It’s interesting how this dream that is so calm is abruptly interrupted by a crash of waves in the following scene. This sequence wasn’t directed by Dalí, but we still can admire its beautiful black and white cinematography that gives it a vision of poetry.

 

Marnie (1964)

“You Freud, me Jane? “ – Marnie Edgar (Tippi Hedren), Marnie

Just like Spellbound, Marnie has psychoanalysis as a central subject. The main character, Marnie, is a cleptomaniac and also has a phobia of the colour red. Interestingly, in opposition to the previous movies, we actually never see Marnie’s dreams. We only see her dreaming. It is obvious that those are nightmares. To highlight her fear of red, these scenes are filmed with a red flashy lightning which makes the dream even more threatening than it already is. But what is the symbolism or this red that Marnie is so afraid of? The Devil? Violence? Blood? Marnie’s dreams always start with something knocking and the furious first notes of Bernard Herrmann’s score. Marnie constantly evokes her mother in her dreams and it seems that she is associated with some bad memories. Just like Spellbound, these dreams will help us to discover the truth about the title character. However, here the subject of psychoanalyse wasn’t as developed as it was with Spellbound.

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These are, I would say, the essential Hitchcock’s dream scenes. However, one can observe that some of his scenes, although they portrait reality and not a dream, are almost filmed like a dream because of the light, the colours, the blurry image, the way it is shot, etc. A few examples would be the weird trial scene in Dial M for Murder (Margot Wendice is living a real nightmare); the flashback scene in I Confess (which has a very clear and white image); when Margaret Lockwood’s faint in The Lady Vanishes; in Vertigo when Judy comes out of the bathroom metamorphosed into Madeleine, etc. François Truffaut even said to Hitchcock that, for him, many of his films, such as Vertigo and Notorious, looked like filmed dreams.

Dream scenes in movies give the occasion to the film crew to explore a different way to illustrate something. Of course, all dreams are different so, according to each movie director, a dream scene can be very different. We observe that Hitchcock’s dream scenes are mostly nightmare or, in Rebecca‘s case, the vision of something sad. Most of the time, these reflect the past of a character, a trouble hidden in his or her subconscious or a difficult situation.

Which Hitchcock’s dream scene fascinates you the most?

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Source:

– Truffaut, François. Hitchcock/Truffaut. Gallimard. 1993.

 

 

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Hitchcock’s Dangerous Waters

Hitchcock’s films have been analyzed through various subjects. They are recognizable for having common points, both in their narrative and technical aspects. We know Hitchcock liked cool blondes, “wrong men”, murders, stairs, trains, cameos, etc. But a subject that isn’t talked much about is the importance of water in his films. I was thinking about this recently and, generally, water in Hitchcock’s film is associated with danger or, at least, to something not positive.

I had the idea of writing about this as, yesterday, in class, we were talking about two Lucia Puenzo’s movies, XXY and The Fish Child. In both movies, water is associated with something calm, something not menacing and beautiful. And then I thought, “Oh not like in Hitchcock’s films!” Because Hitchcock obviously always comes to my mind…

How is the element water used in Hitchcock’s films? That’s what I’ll explore today through 17 of his films. I might reveal some spoilers, so be careful. There are movies I might not be discussing if I haven’t seen them already.

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MURDER:

Generally, water is associated with murder in Hitchcock movies. What always first comes to our mind when we think about Hitchcock movies is the famous shower scene from Psycho. Here, we could also associate this shower to vulnerability. Marion Crane is trapped like a mouse. There’s no way she can get out and save herself.  Why did the murderer decide to kill her in the shower? Let’s precise that Hitchcock did not invent that original murder, but Robert Bloch in his book of the same name. But anyway, why the shower? My theories are that it is a place where the victim becomes highly vulnerable like I previously said, but also where the blood is easier to wash. I’ve always liked this scene when Norman Bates cleans the blood in the bathtub after the murder. It’s all washed very quickly and easily. He doesn’t have to scrub during hours.

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Psycho, yes, is the first film we’ll think about when we mention water and murder while discussing Hitchcock’s films, but it’s certainly not the only one. A movie where water is absolutely like hell is the not so often talked about Jamaica Inn. Based on the novel of the same name by Daphné Du Maurier, it takes place on the Cornwall coast. Without going into the whole movie plot, the main problematic involves a bunch of criminals who provoke shipwrecks by turning off the light of the lighthouse on the coast. As a result, the boats dart on the rocky coast and sink. The survivors are then killed by the men and are abandoned in the water like the boats and the rest of the already dead crew. The criminals then steal the boats from their possessions. Unlike Psycho, this involves mass murder. The concept is very interesting, although I’ve always thought those men were going through a lot to reach their goal… Jamaica Inn is a very dark film. Water here is not only associated with murder, but also to barbarism. Poor Mary Yellen’s uncle is one of them. He and the other men are people with no manners and no consideration. They are more like beasts than humans, unlike [spoiler] Norman Bates, who remains a someone with manners despite his wrong actions (of course, we only discover at the end that HE is the murderer). [end of spoiler]. But of course, here we’re comparing someone with a mental case to common thieves with no common sense.

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Then, there is Saboteur. Here, it’s not complicated, one of Frank Fry’s hideous sabotage plans consist in the explosion of a boat. The struggle between Fry and Kane in the truck where the detonator remains among the most stressful scenes in Hitchcock’s filmography. Will Kane succeed to stop Fry from pushing the detonator? Unfortunately, no. The boat explodes under the eyes of terrified people. Here, what we associate with water is simply the boat. No need to explain why. One of the most memorable shots of the film is when Fry, sat in a car, sees the boat lying on its side in the water, and does this creepy criminal smile. By the way, Norman Lloyd, the oldest Hollywood actor will turn 102 years old next November 8! Very soon! 🙂

The last movie we’ll talk about is Strangers on a Train. Here, it concerns Miriam’s murder. Remember, Bruno Anthony kills her on the Lovers Island at the amusement park. The island is obviously surrounded by water, which allows the murderer to escape in his boat and go back on the solid ground. Here, the victim is not directly killed in the water like in Jamaica Inn or Psycho, but her murder takes place next to a watercourse.

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AFTER THE MURDER…

Sometimes, the victim in Hitchcock’s film would not necessarily have been murdered in  the water, but would be found in a watercourse, simply because that’s where the murderer decided to get rid of her. This refers to the famous cliché that murderers get rid of their victims by throwing them in a lake, a river, the sea, etc. Once again, water is associated to something creepy. I mean, who would like to go swim in a bay where a corpse has been found?

The first film we’ll think about is Young and Innocent. It’s poor Robert who discovers the dead body of actress Christine Clay while he’s walking on the beach. First, we see a hand appearing among the waves (kind of creepy) and then the whole corpse. But the presence of a belt as well let us know that she didn’t drown, but had been murdered by strangulation.

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Then there is Rebecca. During the whole movie, we think Rebecca died in a boat accident until we learn that she, in fact, died in her little house by the sea. [spoiler] In the novel she is killed by her husband Max the Winter, but in the film, she dies by falling and hurting her head (always in the presence of Max). But in both cases, Max decides to get rid of the corpse by putting it in the sailing ship and arranges for it to sink, so people would believe in an accident.[end of spoiler]. The ocean is menacing in Rebecca. This one seems always in movement, never calm and highly impressive. [spoiler] Rebecca’s boat and the corpse are found in the stressful climax of the film. [end of spoiler] If you have read Daphné du Maurier’s novel, it describes how, even if the west wing’s rooms give a beautiful view of the sea, the east wing’s rooms are more peaceful having a view on the garden. Precisely because there’s something, yes, beautiful, but also menacing and violent about the ocean, especially on windy nights.

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In To Catch a Thief, water is first associated with something casual and pleasant when France and John swim in the Mediterranean on a sunny day, until [spoiler] Foussard is killed. He is knocked out on the head and falls into the sea from a high cliff. We remember his inert face, with the eyes open, when he is found. Quite a shock for the poor guy…[end of spoiler]

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We then get back to Psycho, where water becomes important, not only during the shower scene, but also in those sequences where Norman Bates gets rid of the victim’s cars. And where does he put them? In the dirty pond! Clever. Here, water is used to hide something. Marion Crane’s car is fished out at the end of the film. We know her body is in the trunk of the car, but we’re thankful those details are not shown to us. Hugh!

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To wrap up on this category, the last film we should mention in Frenzy. At the beginning, one of the victims of the “necktie murderer” is found in the Thames under the terrified reactions of the Londoners. Mind the river.

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Murderers seem not to have understood something: even if you throw a body in the water, it will always come back to the surface… Better bury him!

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SUICIDE

A delicate subject, suicide has not been as much present as murder in Hitchcock movies, but it’s there. The first film that comes to our mind when we think about suicide in Hitchcock films is Vertigo. Remember, Scottie follows Madeleine (well, that’s what he thinks…) and, when they arrived next to the Golden Gate (the story takes place in San Francisco), she throws herself in the San Francisco Bay. Ironically, the Golden Gate is known as the bridge where the biggest amount of suicides was committed in North America. The second one is the Jacques Cartier Bridge in Montreal where I live (…). Anyway, Madeleine creates an association between her and water by choosing this way of killing herself. Luckily, Scottie manages to rescue her. Poor Kim Novak, she really couldn’t swim. Hitchcock could be harsh on his actresses…

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Chloé from the mediocre film The Skin Game does the same and kill herself by falling into a pool. To be honest, I don’t really know why. It’s not a very good film, so I kind of forgot about it.

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Finally, Hitchcock’s early silent film The Manxman also contains a suicide scene when Kate elegantly throws herself in the water. Her wedding life was not going too well…

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A beautiful dramatical shot

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BOATS

Water also becomes dangerous when you are on a boat and this one sinks… This was used at its full potential in Hitchcock’s Lifeboat. After a boat as been sunk by the German army, its survivors find themselves surviving on a lifeboat, for an undetermined period. What will happen to them? They are lost, forever alone in this huge ocean. But “water” here is also a synonym of “hope”. They hope for rain, as they practically have nothing to drink. This Hitchcock’s film, where all the action takes place on the ocean is one of his most thrilling.

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There’s also an important scene in Rich and Strange that involves a boat sinking. That’s what happens to Emily and Fred at the end of their cruise. The poor ones think they are at the end of their life, but, luckily, they are saved by another boat. We remember when they are locked up in their room and the water starts coming through the door. It seems to be the end, but, when they wake up, Fred and Emily realizes they are not dead. That would have been too dramatic for such a film.

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OTHER

There are four more films I briefly want to mention that are also related to water in Hitchcock’s films.

First, there’s Sabotage. In this film, the two saboteurs have a secret meeting in an aquarium. It’s indeed a very special place to have a meeting. Of course, it’s a calm place, there are not too many people and the fish cannot really hear them… This is a very special scene in the film. Shot in an interesting visual way.

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Second, The Birds takes place in Bodega Bay. The bay is part of the pacific ocean and it’s in this little Californian town that aggressive birds will attack people. Once again, the menace is happening next to a watercourse. We see a lot of seagulls in The Birds, which birds that NORMALLY live by the sea (if there’s not a McDonald around…)

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Third, Roger Thornhill almost falls from a cliff when he is driving his car, drunk. Vandamm and his gang hoped to kill him this way, but, obviously, Thornhill manages to save his skin. Well, it would have been too weird if Cary Grant would have died in the first minutes of the film, no?…

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Finally, water becomes associated with danger at the end of Number 17, when the train, that goes at a very high speed, falls into the sea. The film is not a very good one, but that’s a moment we don’t forget. And, as much as the water is menacing for the train, by falling into it, the train also becomes a menace for the water as it pollutes it. Yes, we must have an environmental conscience, even when we watch Hitchcock’s movies! 😉

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There are some movies that I might not have mentioned that also use water as an object of fear and danger. I think there’s a plane that crashes in the ocean in Foreign Correspondent, no? But I preferred not to develop on the subject as I haven’t seen the film yet and didn’t want to say anything that could be wrong.

Well,  as always, there’s always so much to say about one specific subject in a Hitchcock film! I hope this was interesting!

See you! 🙂

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The Favourite Sister: Jean Simmons as Barbara Leslie in Until they Sail

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During the whole month of August, TCM has a special event called “Summer Under the Stars”: one day, one star. Movies starring this star are broadcast on the channel from the morning until the night. Unfortunately, I don’t have TCM on my television… but that doesn’t prevent me to participate to the 2016 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon hosted by Kristen from the inspirational blog Journeys in Classic Film. For this blogathon, each participant chooses a topic related to one star on the schedule. Today, on August 30, TCM is honouring Jean Simmons’s career. As she is an actress I absolutely adore, I had to choose her as a topic for my entry. I will more precisely talk about her performance and her character in the underrated 1957’s Until they Sail.
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Promotional banner for Jean Simmons day on TCM
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Until they Sail isn’t Robert Wise’s most well-known film, but it remains a secret hidden gem and proves, once again, his versatility as a movie director. I mean, the man could direct every type of movies: science fiction (The Day the Earth Stood Still), noirs (Born to Kill), dramas (Until they sail), musicals (West Side Story, The Sound of Music), horror (The Haunting), etc. I believe, he and Michael Curtiz were among the most versatile movie directors in Hollywood.
But let’s get back to our main movie. Until they Sail certainly has a stellar cast, not only including Jean Simmons, but also Joan Fontaine (Jean and Joan in the same film: that’s just idealistic for me!), Paul Newman, Piper Laurie, Sandra Dee (in her first feature), Charles Drake and Wally Cassell.
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All the actors are brilliant, but today, we’ll focus on the angelic Jean Simmons.
Until They Sail takes place in Christchurch, New-Zealand during the World War II. The men from the town have left to go fight on the front. Barbara Leslie Forbes (Jean Simmons) and her sisters Anne (Joan Fontaine), Delia (Piper Laurie) and Evelyn (Sandra Dee) are on their own having previously lost their parents and having a brother, Kit, left with the army. The city is now a women’s one and seems quite empty with this absence of male figures. But the Leslie sisters manage as best they can to continue their life normally. However, Delia, who has just been married and is unhappy with it, moves to Wellington to work in the navy. The fear of the war is always felt in the sisters’ hearts, especially when they are thinking about what may happen to their relative, especially to Kit and Barbara’s husband, Mark. This lack of men doesn’t last long when American marines arrive to Christchurch. Anne will meet Capt. Richard Bates (Charles Drake) and will fall in love with him, and Barbara will make the acquaintance of Capt. Jack Harding (Paul Newman) during a visit to her sister in Wellington. They’ll soon realise that love in wartime is not an easy thing to manage.
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Until they Sail was based on a story by James A. Michener and written by Robert Anderson. The movie is not known as the most famous one for any of the actors and unfortunately wasn’t a commercial success on its release. However, it can be considered a worthy one and deserves more recognition. Any fan of Simmons/Fontaine/Dee/Laurie or Newman has to make sure not to miss it. It’s a movie that makes you think. For once, it shows you how the civilians, mostly women, used to live during the war. We never see the men on the front. If we see soldiers, it will always be on the civilian side where there’s no battle. The battle that is presented to us here, is the temptation by the women not to feel too lonely and try to live as normally as possible.
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Jean Simmons and Joan Fontaine are the two main reasons why I first watched this film. They are two actresses I simply adore. So, the idea of seeing them in the same film was nothing but very appealing to me. And I was not disappointed! I also love Paul Newman, and it allowed me to discover the forever sweet Sandra Dee and Pipe Laurie, who also turns out to be a fine actress (more often remember for the role of the crazy mother in Brian de Palma’s Carrie).
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Joan Fontaine and Jean Simmons playing with young Sandra Dee on the set of the film
In the movie, it’s Jean Simmons who has the leading role. The film is mainly focused on her and the story is seen through her eyes. All the four sisters have an interesting personality: Anne is the serious one, Evelyn is the sweet and innocent one, Delia is the rebellious one and Barbara is the wise one.
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A sweet picture of the four sisters
Barbara is the first sister to be introduced to us. What we first hear are her thoughts. Jean Simmons’s voice is one I could recognize everywhere. It’s clear, melodious and well articulated. She certainly had one of the loveliest voices in Hollywood. Actually, her voice makes me think of Audrey Hepburn’s one. We can notice something quite special during the film about this voice: even when Barbara is emotive, she manages to speak as clearly as possible. I honestly think Jean Simmons would have made an awesome diction teacher!
Barbara is a real friend for her sisters. She is compassionate and probably is the one who thinks the more about her sisters. She tries to understand their problems and help them the best she can by giving them wise advice. She comforts them, share her goodwill with them and sometimes tries too hard to understand what is impossible to understand.
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Even if she’s not the older sister (Anne is), it’s easy to say that she kind of play the role of the strong mother.
The problem is, Barbara doesn’t think enough about herself. She has too much to handle concerning her sisters and neglect herself. Of course, she can count on them too, but her fear of losing her strength insists her to stay aside. She worries about everybody, her sisters, the faith of the men who are at war and forget to be happy. Concerning that, the real inspiration would be Evelyn who, despite the fact of being conscious of the events, still manages to enjoy herself in the moroseness of Christchurch.
Barbara doesn’t easily get angry, but when she does, the main reason is “the war”. She is angry because of the war (which is totally understandable). She’s also an honest person, but will never tell the truth to someone in a way to hurt them. She is too kind for that. She’s calm, but she can explode. Is she resisting too much? In a memorable scene, she gives a passionate kiss to Capt. Jack Harding. This moment is intense and it looks like Barbara is releasing herself from something. Maybe she’s looking for someone she can count on to forget her loneliness. In a previous scene, she looks at her sister Anne and Capt. Richard Bate kissing each other. Her melancholic look makes us guess she’d like to have someone for her too, and that she’s probably missing her husband who is on the front. We certainly feel sorry for her.
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Barbara often looks serious, sad and lost in her thoughts. We guess she’s suffering from a high feeling of loneliness. She often has this melancholic look in her face and we wonder what she’s thinking about. However, she can be happy too, and that’s how Jean Simmons shows us her facility of moving from one emotion to another. She can move from sadness to joy in no time. Those moments of joy allow us to admire Jean Simmons’s smile who is one of the most glorious smiles ever.
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Jean Simmons is an actress who never needed to overact to make us understand what her character is feeling and to reach us. She’s an actress who can express a lot of things only with her gaze and subtle facial expressions. There’s this moment  [spoiler] when her character Babara announces the death of brother Kit to her sister Delia. [end of spoiler] Here, she simply breaks our heart, but she doesn’t have to do much for it. It’s just the way her eyes are looking at Delia and the way she chooses to speak. This is not that much felt in the tone of her voice, but more in the rhythm of her talk. The way she simply says “Delia, Kit’s dead” is enough to make us understand the feeling of sadness that is omnipresent in the house.
She’ll also make us have tears in her eyes in this scene when she [spoiler] receives a telegram announcing the death of her husband Mark. She doesn’t even look at the letter, but simply goes away quietly in her bedroom while her sisters are looking at her and feeling sorry for her. Then, one she is alone, she bursts into tears. We don’t see Jean’s face at this moment, but only hear her cries and that’s enough for us to understand her suffering. [End of spoiler]
Jean Simmons certainly was a very natural actress and also managed to make a great teamwork with every actor of the cast. We are looking forward to the moments with her and Paul Newman as they are those where Barbara kind of expresses her true side, the weaknesses she tries to hide to her sisters so they’ll see her as a strong person. Those moments between the two actors are not exactly love scenes like the ones we see in typical classic Hollywood films. There’s something kind of “modern” and more realistic about them. It’s not a Cinderella story. She gets along well with him, but on what level?
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Jean and Paul having fun on the set of the film
Jean Simmons is often a synonym of tenderness and this is pretty well expressed in this film by the way she behaves, the way she talks and the words she chooses to express herself. Her tenderness shines through the final moment of the film and her wisdom, in her final lines:
“As they say, to understand is to forgive. Or is it, to understand is not to forgive? I can never remember. “
This simply represents perfectly the nature of Barbara Leslie.
Until they Sail is a film that deserves more recognition. It has a fabulous cast and the story is sad, but beautiful in its own rights. If you haven’t seen it yet, I first invite you to watch the trailer:
I want to thank Kristen for once again having hosted this amazing blogathon! Make sure to take a look at the other entries:
And to those who have the chance to have TCM, consider the luck you have to watch Jean Simmons films all day lol.
See you!
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Jean leaving MGM studios where the movie was shot. A true star!

A Vertigo Analysis

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About two years ago, I wrote a Vertigo analysis for school, got a 96% and was very proud of it. Today, I’ve decided to translate it and publish it on my blog so I could share it with you. Of course, this is only my own interpretation of the film and we can all find a different meaning in it. Anyway, I think it’s really one of the most interesting films to analyze. There’s so much to say!

This article contains many spoilers [in other words, don’t read it if you haven’t seen the film].

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Vertigo is an American movie directed by the great Alfred Hitchcock and it was released in 1958. Even if he was recognized for his talent before, it’s from 1954 that Hitchcock started to be known as “The Master of Suspense”. If the cinema of the 40’s was marked by the golden age of Film Noir, this genre will always be present in the 50’s, but in a less important way. The cinema of the 50’s is mainly marked by some superproductions, especially because of the invention of Cinemascope. This is, sometimes, unprofitable for the studios, due to the expensive cost of these new technologies. Can we talk of Vertigo as a super production? This Technicolor film entirely shot in VistaVision was not a success, nor a commercial failure. As Hitchcock says in his interview with François Truffaut (Hitchcock/Truffaut), the film “couvrira ses frais” (covered its cost).

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But let’s get back to this film’s movie director. Alfred Hitchcock was born in London on August 13, 1899. During is career as a movie maker, this kind of reserved man will direct more than 50 films. Some of them will became quite important in the history of cinema: according to the BFI, The 39 Steps is the fourth best British film of all times; Rear Window is often considered to be his best film; we hesitate between Citizen Kane (Orson Welles) and Vertigo as the best film of all times. However, Psycho and The Birds remain his most well-known ones. Nominated six times for the Best Director Oscar (Rebecca, Suspicion, Lifeboat, Spellbound, Rear Window, Psycho), Alfred Hitchcock will be snubbed by the AMPAS and will unfortunately never win one of those golden statuettes. This cold blond lover will die on April 29, 1980.

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Before we’ll explore Vertigo more deeply, let’s now see what it is about. After an incident that happened during a nocturne police chase, Scottie (James Stewart), a policeman subject to acrophobia, retires from the profession. However, a relation, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), has a project for him: follow his wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak), who seems to be possessed by her ancestor Carlota Valdes’s spirit. After saving her from drowning, Scottie falls in love with Madeleine. However, she later commits suicide by jumping from a church window (important to notice that Carlotta Valdes had also killed herself). Scottie, aghast, is comforted by the truly good person in this story: his friend Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes). Later, Scottie meets Judy, who share a troubling resemblance with Madeleine. Becoming fascinated by her, he transforms her as the Madeleine he had once loved so deeply. We later learn that Judy IS Madeleine (or well, a false Madeleine) and that all this story was created to hide the murder of the real Madeleine (committed by Galvin) in a suicide.

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Let’s now explore the notion of aesthetic genre. Vertigo is first known as a Film Noir. First, this film takes place in a western city (San Francisco). However, it doesn’t include a Humphrey Bogart looks alike private detective, but a retired policeman. Scottie still remains a a very complex and ambiguous character. This is especially due to his acrophobia, which will be an obstacle for him all alone the film. Scottie is also ambiguous because of his “status”: even if Gavin is the evil one in the story, do we consider Scottie as a good or bad man? Of course, he is a hero when he saves Madeleine from drowning, but we seize a certain monstrosity in him during the second part of the film, when he reshapes Judy in the image of a dead person.

This film is also considered to be a Film Noir as it includes a femme fatale. Here, we are talking about Madeleine (or Judy as Madeleine). Judy will only have one signification for the protagonist when she’ll be Madeleine again. The femme fatale causes the loss of the private detective in the Film Noir. Manipulative, but in love, Judy/Madeleine will provoke Scottie’s emotive loss, but also her own loss (her death). There is also a fantastic and mysterious side in Vertigo due to its ghostly style: Carlota Valdes (a dead one) seems to possess Madeleine’s spirit. When Judy comes out of the bathroom transformed as Madeleine, there is a sort of ghostly halo around her. But we’ll come back to that later. Of course, we understand, at the end, that this ghost story was invented by Gavin to enforce a sinisterly diabolic project. However, the illusion of fantastic is given to us during the entire film, even at the end when the nun suddenly appears up the stairs like a ghost.

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What can we say about the meaning, the sense of Vertigo? If we go in the concrete and real dimension of this film, its sense is, according to me, the failure of manipulations: manipulations with bad intentions that, if we think about it, are finally unworthy if we analyze the film well. First, Gavin and Judy/false-Madeleine manipulate Scottie to conceal the murder of Galvin’s wife (the real Madeleine) with a suicide, but, ultimately, Gavin will have to run away from the country and Judy will finally really die. The other manipulation will be the one proceed by Scottie on Judy: he recreates on her the image of a dead one, so he can really love her. We can notice that, before Judy becomes Madeleine, Scottie doesn’t really seems to be in love with her. But this will only lead Judy to her loss and Scottie to his. Even after Madeleine’s death, Judy continues to manipulate Scottie by playing the game. Substantially, everybody is wrong in this situation (except Midge, but we’ll come back to her). Those thoughtless manipulations will bring Scottie to his mental loss, Madeleine and Judy’s to their physical loss and to the loss of confidence in Gavin.

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To understand better the meaning of Vertigo, we will now analyse some important elements of the film. We’ll start by analyzing the places. If we begin with Gavin’s office, we can notice that this one as a classic look. The wooden furniture and its order give it an important and prestigious look. If we observe this office in a superficial way, it gives us the following message: Gavin is an ordinary and respected man, and nobody would have any suspicion about him. This allows Gavin to have the perfect image to manipulate Scottie. But the order in this office, that’s the key point: a man who is able to keep is office as clean, would be able to make a clean murder. What I mean by that is that, when Gavin kills his wife, everything is perfectly done. Even Judy says so in her letter that she will finally not give to Scottie. A perfect murder, until a jewel spoils everything…

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Ernie’s would be another interesting location to analyze. It is the story’s fetish restaurant. When Scottie first goes there, it’s to observe Madeleine for the first time. We are then only at the beginning of the film and Scottie doesn’t have any doubts about anything. The ambiance seems good, the ladies’ dresses fit with the restaurant’s red tapestry. It’s a very colourful moment. On the other side, when Scottie returns at Ernie’s after Madeleine’s death, the ambiance is much more sad, much more grey. This introduces us to the most dramatic part of the film, the one where everything is said.

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Next, in the film, Madeleine visits many places to put Scottie on the wrong track: in the flower market, she buys a bouquet that looks like Carlotta Valdes’ one; at the cemetery, she pays a visit to Carlotta’s grave; at the museum, she observes a portrait of Carlotta Valdes; she goes to the hotel and Scottie learns that this hotel was Carlotta’s old house; the Golden Gate and the Spanish mission would be Madeleine’s suicide’s points: Carlotta possesses her and orders her to die. All those places will bring Scottie in a trap and give him the illusion that Madeleine is really possessed by her ancestor.

We often see roads in this film. These can represent the path traced in advance for the characters: Scottie will ride on it until he loses his mind and Judy will ride on it until she dies. If Scottie and Judy knows how to drive, it’s because they are in perfect control of the car, but there is always a chance for a bad maneuver and an accident. That’s what happen with all those characters’ manipulations.

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Let’s conclude this analysis of the places by focusing on Midge’s house. On one hand, her office is quite messy, but, on the other hand, her kitchen is not. If her kitchen is well organized, it’s because Judy knows how to “cook” her mind. She is the most reasoned one in this story. She is the first one not to believe that Madeleine and Carlotta’s story. However, when the time comes to act, she can do it in a reckless way (we can think of the painting scene): that’s why her working place is in a mess.

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We can now analyse some of Vertigo‘s camera shots. During the introduction, we see a close up of a woman’s face, but it’s impossible to say exactly who it is: Madeleine? Judy? Carlotta Valdes? This confusion is the same one in Scottie’s head: Is he really with Madeleine or with Carlotta? Is he with Judy or Madeleine?

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At the museum, we see a close up of Madeleine’s flower bouquet and then of Carlotta’s bouquet; a close-up of Madeleine’s bun and then one of Carlotta’s. Those elements are identical and create an association between Madeleine and Carlotta. The camera accentuates their importance by making close-ups. The situation is the same when we see this close-up of Carlotta’s necklace on Judy’s neck: this object is important because it reveals the truth to Scottie.

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When Scottie does this “stepladder challenge”, we see him in a low angle shot. This gives him importance and he seems to control the situation. But not long after, a subjective shot (Scottie’s vision) shows us a high angle shot of the street. Scottie gets dizzy and collapses. We’ll later see a similar shot in the church at the Spanish mission. Those shots can symbolize Scottie’s fall: by having been manipulated by both Gavin and Judy, but also by having himself manipulated Judy to recreate Madeleine’s image on her.

Another significant shot would be the close-up of Madeleine and Scottie’s faces when they are in the car just after he saved her from the waters. They are face to face for the first time. Madeleine is unconscious and Scottie tries to wake-up her. This is how a real relation between them starts. This, in a way, will make it easier for Judy to manipulate Scottie, because she will be in direct contact with him, but, in another way, this will become an obstacle for her because she will fall in love with Scottie and visa versa (than wasn’t planned in Gavin’s perfect murder).

We’ll end this part with the last shot. It is a full shot of Scottie coming out of the church’s window and looking down the roof where Judy fell. This shot focus on the fact that the vertigo, which has always been a barrier for Scottie, is now gone. This vertigo also was a form of manipulation, because it prevented Scottie to go further. Once more, this manipulation is a failure because Scottie, shaken by the events, manages to defeat it.

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We’ll continue this analysis by mentioning some significant camera movements. One of the most important in Vertigo is the dolly zoom (also known as “Vertigo effect”), this movement where we have the feeling that the image moves away and gets closer at the same time. In the film, it is used to express Scottie’s giddiness. Just like gags in burlesque comedies, those movements are included in the film in a way to stop the story. Once more, we’re back to the idea of Scottie being manipulated by his dizziness. It first prevents him to climb on the footstool, but, more dramatically, to save Madeleine, the REAL Madeleine.

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Another interesting camera movement happens when Scottie kisses “for the first” time Judy transformed as Madeleine under his desires. We could describe this movement as a “rotational travelling”. Indeed, Scottie kisses Judy, and the camera revolves around them, and then a new setting appears (the stable at the mission where Madeleine gave the clue to Scottie that she was going to kill herself). This camera shot, mixed with the music, adds a lot of deep emotions to the situation. This rotation couldn’t also symbolise the turning point in those characters’ life? It is, indeed, not a long time after this scene, that Scottie sees Carlotta’s famous necklace in Judy’s neck. It is also an emotional turn, because Judy wasn’t in love with Judy, but with Madeleine.

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Let’s continue with some interesting lightings used in Vertigo. The lighting in this film adds a lot of meaning, a lot of signification to the situation. Here are some examples: when Scottie goes to the cemetery, the natural light seems fuzzy, foggy and ghostly. The same lighting is used in a more important way when Judy comes out of the bathroom completely transformed as Madeleine. From Scottie’s perspective, she comes from the dead. At the cemetery, this fuzzy lighting adds some mystery to Madeleine, who seems to be more and more unreal, possessed by a ghost. This is, once more, a manipulation tool, because this lighting gives a false illusion about Madeleine’s (or Judy) real identity. It doesn’t only fool Scottie, but also the spectators.

In the film’s introduction, the lighting is sort of red, and that’s also the case in Scottie’s dream. What does it mean? Red is the color of love, but in Vertigo‘s case, it can be more deeply associated to the “passion”: the crazy love passion Scottie has for Madeleine. This color also symbolizes the present. This is a clue concerning the conspiracy (Madeleine is not really possessed by Carlotta), but it also is a way to warn for Scottie: wouldn’t that be better if he’ll learn to live in the present time? It’s by being haunted by his past that he’ll get mad and take possession of Judy.

The music would be another interesting element to explore. This one was brilliantly  composed by Hitchcock’s fetish composer: Bernard Hermann. The music is mainly here to point out the film’s atmosphere: the one felt by Scottie, but also the one felt by us. What we generally hear in this film is a mysterious and worrisome music, proper to  Hitchockian’s cinema. This one is here to accentuate the suspense in the situation. What will happen to Madeleine? How all this will end? This music takes more importance when Scottie follows Madeleine to those diverse places associated to Carlotta Valdes (the cemetery, the museum, the flower’s market, etc.). During the more dramatic moments, the music becomes more vigorous and more orchestral. We can think of Madeleine’s suicide attempt (next to the Golden Gate), to the chase in the church’s stairs, to the kiss next the rough sea, etc. Let’s remember that Scottie doesn’t like music or, at least, classical music. At the beginning, when he is at Midge’s place, he asks her to stop the music. After Madeleine’s death, the doctor suggests him to start music-therapy, but, according to Midge, this doesn’t really seem to work. After all these past emotions, Scottie probably needs some silent peace.

Let’s continue with some elements/items that are important to make us understand the sense of Vertigo. First of all, the color green appears many times in the film: Madeleine’s green dress, Judy’s green clothes, the green neons in the Empire Hotel, the green tapestry in the hotel, etc. Even if it is a calming color, green can be associated to the death, to the mildew (that’s what happen to a dead body after a certain time): Madeleine is possessed by a dead lady. The green is also a symbol of infidelity: Gavin’s infidelity towards his wife, but also towards Scottie; Scottie’s infidelity towards himself (will he be happy with Madeleine? Is he doing the right thing by recreating Madeleine’s image on Judy?). Green confuses the  situations.

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Then, many items and situations make us do a connection with the notion of death, which is one of the main themes of Vertigo. We can think of those mortuary items having purposes of falseness (the objects associated to Carlotta): the grave, the bouquet, the necklace, Madeleine’s suicide attempt, Madeleine’s dream, etc. We can also associate this notion of death to something that haunts Scottie and the film’s atmosphere: Scottie’s dream, Judy’s black dress at the end of the film (black is a death symbol), the church at the mission, the nun who looks like a ghost, Scottie’s necrophilia.

Another element that is proper to many Hitchcock’s films (Psyscho, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Shadow of a Doubt) are the stairs. In Vertigo, those stairs are an obstacle for Scottie. Scottie’s dizziness created by the church’s stairs prevents him to reach his goal. Gavin then takes the occasion to kill the real Madeleine without being seen (only by Judy).

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Finally, two objects give us the truth about Gavin’s diabolic conspiracy: first, Judy’s letter, which only she and the spectators know the existence (we then wonder what will be Scottie’s reaction) and Carlotta’s necklace (that Judy will imprudently wear). It’s this last element that will reveal the truth to Scottie. So, Scottie understands that he has been manipulated, but the spectators also were, because, during the entire film, we thought Madeleine was really possessed, just like Scottie thought so.

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We’ll conclude this part by analyzing the characters and their importance in the story. John “Scottie” Ferguson is the protagonist. He suffers from vertigo (here, the title “Vertigo” becomes isotopic), but he also suffers from a big naivety. It’s because of those two elements that he will be a victim of Gavin’s setup. After Madeleine’s death, Scottie becomes sort of a necrophile and, a manipulator too, if we consider his influence on Judy. Scottie succeeds to control his dizziness at the end of the film when he climbs all the stairs in the church. We could associate Scottie to the color blue (blue eyes, blue pyjamas, blue car…). This color is a symbol of fidelity. Scottie, faithful to his feelings for Madeleine, will resurrect her. He is also loyal to his desire to overcome his acrophobia and will succeed it at the end.

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As she writes in her letter, Judy Barton (or the false Madeleine) is the tool in Gavin’s plan. She’s the one who will lead Scottie in a world of deceits: she manipulates him, especially when she pretends that she didn’t go to certain places during her day. We can notice that the brunette Judy often looks at herself in a mirror. What does it mean? Maybe she’s trying to find her real identity, this identity she’s loosing by playing a role. Those last moments of observation happen before she takes Madeleine’s appearance one more time (for Scottie): Judy will die as Madeleine. The real Judy is forgotten at the end of the film, especially by Scottie.

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In this story, Marjorie Wood (Midge), a underclothes designer, is the only truly good person. She’s a friend and a confidante for Scottie, but also a mother. Many clues in the film give us this impression, first by this quote: “It’s a brassiere! You know about those things, you’re a big boy now.” when Scottie observes the aeronautical bra. She talks to him just like a mother talks to her little boy to make him learn new things. She’s the only character who really takes care of Scottie and to know him well (after Madeleine’s death, the doctor suggests him to do music-therapy, but Midge knows it won’t work, because Scottie is not really a music lover). Finally, she’s the only character who doesn’t manipulate another one and, as a result, she’s the only character who remains rational in this situation.

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Lastly, Gavin Elster is the ultimate manipulator in this story. He gives a false impression of friendship to Scottie, an a false impression of being a man we can trust. Gavin being a shipbuilder, we can make a connection with his evil project: build, with Judy, a lie that Scottie’s naivety will unfortunately believe.

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Sooner in the text I was mentioning that Vertigo was generally associated to the Film Noir  aesthetic, but that it also includes a part of fantastic. How does that contribute to the atmosphere and the film’s meaning? Let’s start with the Film Noir dimension. This one brings tension in the film, particularly in the relations between the characters. As to the meaning of the film (the failure of manipulations), this Film Noir dimension is much more evident in the second part of the film, after Madeleine’s death, when the spectator understands that the “femme fatale” (Judy or “false Madeleine”) will provoke the loss of a policeman (Scottie) by manipulating him. We also discover a certain ambiguity concerning Scottie, especially when he’s trying to recreate Madeleine’s image on Judy. Is he good or bad? Well, he is, for sure, a victim. Concerning the fantastic dimension of Vertigo (or we should say this “illusion of fantastic”), this one creates an atmosphere of confusion and anxiety. Carlotta Valdes’s story grabs our attention and we want to know what will happen to Madeleine/Judy, but also to Scottie. Of course, this illusion is created by Gavin and Judy, who make a FALSE impression of madness around Madeleine, which will bring Scottie in a REAL madness.

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We will continue this Vertigo analysis by understanding how the film is presented to us. Here, the objective of this film is not only to show us something in a static way, but also to tell us a story, thanks to a variety of camera movements and camera shots. It’s an ideological editing that contributes to the evolution of the story and its characters. For instance, after Madeleine has run away to the church, it’s by only three camera shots that we understand that she’s about to kill herself: a long shot of Madeleine running to the church, a low angle shot of the bell tower (where she will kill herself) and a medium close-up of a terrified Scottie looking at the bell tower. The offscreen dimension becomes important here.

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Finally, what can we say about Vertigo’s narrator? The film is mainly seen through Scottie’s point of view. Many subjective camera shots make us understand that: the subjective shots of Scottie following Madeleine in his car, the shot of the dead Madeleine on the church’s roof (we previously saw Scottie looking at the window, so we know he’s the one looking at her), a close-up of Carlotta’s necklace in Judy’s neck (that’s when Scottie understands the real meaning of this adventure), the Vertigo zooms expressing Scottie’s dizziness, etc. This allows us to explore the character’s psychology and then try to understand the reasons that encourage Scottie to be a “manipulated manipulator”.

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Of course, there’s also a mega-narration in this film, which gives us a more objective vision of Scottie and the other characters. This one is expressed at some moments in the film, but is stronger in the parts with Midge, when we are in a not too dramatic atmosphere, closer to reality. We can think of this long shot, at the beginning, when we see Scottie and Midge discussing in her apartment, or this shot of Midge trying to console Scottie at the hospital. We can finally say that Midge and Gavin Elster are not seen through Scottie’s point of view, because they don’t upset his journey. Of course, Gavin’s false kindness is only an illusion and Scottie will guess it, but too late, as this one has already left the country. Madeleine/Judy creates the greatest emotions in Scottie, and she’s the one who will be seen through a subjective point of view (Scottie’s one).

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The End

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