From Martin Scorsese's MasterClass

Scene Discussion: Vertigo

Martin discusses color and background action in this scene from Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. Learn how point-of-view shots and specific angles contribute to the emotional power of the scene.

Topics include: Scene From Vertigo (1958) Directed By Alfred Hitchcock

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Martin discusses color and background action in this scene from Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. Learn how point-of-view shots and specific angles contribute to the emotional power of the scene.

Topics include: Scene From Vertigo (1958) Directed By Alfred Hitchcock

Martin Scorsese

Teaches Filmmaking

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So this is the Ernie scene in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, where he first sees Madeleine. That's Stuart's move, as he moves away, which makes him vulnerable. Camera pulls back, and it's the entire restaurant. There's no music, just the sound of the people in the restaurant. The use of red, but you begin to notice a color that stands out, and that's the green-- the folds of her dress, actually. The background action is very important. People are being sent across the frame to a table. And suddenly, our focus is on her. And we don't see her face yet, but she's a figure. And the angle on Stewart looking at her from the side-- of his right-- where he's looking over her. Here is his point of view. Again, framed and reframed in red around her-- angle over his shoulder. She comes forward now. And here's the key moment. She comes into this beautiful lighting. And the profile and the actual color of the wall starts to change. Notice the close-up on him has changed, over his shoulder-- certainly makes it the most vulnerable. She slips out of that frame in that two-shot, as she walks out, but she feels like a ghost of some kind. Maybe that has a lot to do with the nature of the dress she's wearing. But particularly in that shot, she floats away. He's already in love with a person who's died. Now mind you, when I first saw this film, at the Capitol Theater in New York-- in VistaVision by the way-- we felt in the emotional power of the scene, but we didn't understand. I mean we didn't know it was done-- we didn't understand how and why. It had a sense maybe with the music. We sense that the color got more intense. But it really has to do with her face and the angle on James Stewart.

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Comments

EK T.

Another set of interesting observations. I like the way he always relates each film with his personal experience as a film goer as well as a film maker.

Desiree

Thinking back to the whole movie I also feel Hitchcock made green the color the otherwordly & dangerous — the eerie— and red the color of what’s real, what’s passionate or lusty. There’s her otherworldly, out of the ordinary beauty & luminosity in that scene with her green stole, and that beautiful red color flare just as she turn towards Scottie, not too look at him, but through him. She’s so close he could touch her, and she’s never been more real, hence the red walls flare up and the music swells again. Marty’s not wrong she is angelic, but she also seems somehow dangerous too because of it. She has, even in that beauty, a dark and a light side. You can see it in that moment, looking towards the light in profile, and then to the back in the shadow, but by then Scottie’s had to turn away… He never sees her in the shadow. Just like her, he has a shadow side, and it’s one he’s not aware of either. An obsessive, cruel side that comes out more and more in the film.

Desiree

This is one of my top 5 favorite movies, and yet, I’ve never dared to tear it apart. In fact, I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I’ve never once wondered why he chose the red and green until seeing Marty talk about it. I noticed it, I just never thought about why. This is a movie about tension, about push and pull. Being drawn to something and needing to resist it. What better colors to illustrate the point then the colors of stop and go. In this scene Scottie is following her, and let’s admit, he is so very drawn to her, and yet, he needs to keep his distance. He’s craning to see her with his body turned away from her. After all, She can’t find out that he’s there.

Lisa R.

I love that last part of the scene where she moves past the mirror on her way out. There are two of her. A twin? It’s a wonderful way to continue the theme of the doppelgänger. Wow. I love this MasterClass.

Mia S.

"This is the scene where he first sees Madeleine. That's Stuart's move, as he moves away, which makes him vulnerable - camera pulls back and it's the entire restaurant. There's no music, just the sound of the people. The use of red... but you begin to notice a color that stands out, and that's the green - the folds of her dress, actually. The background action is very important, people are being sent across the frame to a table. And suddenly, our focus is on her. We don't see her face yet, but she's a figure. And the angle on Stewart looking at her from the side - his right, where he's looking over her. Here's his point of view - again, framed and reframed in red around her. Angle over his shoulder, she comes forward now, and here's the key moment: she comes into this beautiful lighting. And the profile and the actual color of the wall starts to change. Notice the close-up on his has changed, over his shoulder - certainly makes it the most vulnerable. She slips out of that frame in that two-shot as she walks out, but she feels like a ghost of some kind. Maybe that has a lot to do with the nature of the dress she's wearing, but particularly in that shot, she floats away. He's already in love with a person who's died. Now mind you, when I first saw this film in VistaVision, we felt the emotional power of the scene, but we didn't understand - we didn't know how and why. Had a sense maybe with the music, we sense that the color got more intense, but it really has to do with her face and the angle on James Stewart."

T S.

Very much appreciate Mr Scorsese's review of these scenes, but would be far more useful if he went into greater depth. Why is the action of the background characters important? Is there a specific purpose of the red and green contrast, or could the dress have been another jewel-tone color? Why does the color darken, rather than develop more contrast or shadow? The observation of her floating away like a ghost was a great insight, but I am left with more questions about this scene than answers

Vivian

Wow, that was a very RED background with a bright GREEN contrast. I assume if you are not color blinded, the movie will work out perfectly for you. I do like the POV shot and how she really floats through the scenes. It's mysterious and makes you want to keep watching more...

Wendy R.

The first thing that struck me was the red color of the walls. Not even considering the color of the dress, it was red to indicate the high emotional pitch of the film. Scorsese did not mention that, only how much her green dress showed up with red walls in the background. Spielberg also utilized this singular use of color with a Jewish child wearing red in the b&wOscar-winner, "Schindler's List".

William J.

Hitchcock is a master of horror no doubt! Wow, that scene was so smooth. The color corrections and lighting were just right.

Brad H.

Hitchcock nailed shot composition with his films in a way that was so far ahead of it's time. The use of color in this grabs you and pulls you in especially with the use of camera movement throughout the restaurant right up to her green dress. I have to try something like this with the movement and use of color.