Arts & Entertainment

Scene Discussion: Vertigo

Martin Scorsese

Lesson time 2:12 min

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.

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


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.

About the Instructor

Martin Scorsese drew his first storyboard when he was eight. Today he’s a legendary director whose films from Mean Streets to The Wolf of Wall Street have shaped movie history. In his first-ever online film class, the Oscar winner teaches his approach, from storytelling to editing to working with actors. He deconstructs films and breaks down his craft, changing how you make and watch movies.

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Martin Scorsese

In 30 lessons, learn the art of film from the director of Goodfellas, The Departed, and Taxi Driver.

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