Sunday, November 16, 2008

Vertigo Essay for Class

This is an essay on "Vertigo" that I had to write for class.

This essay looks at the narrative range and depth present during a short scene in Vertigo. I hope to first do some basic analysis of the scene and to link it to a parallel scene earlier in the film, showing how it gives the latter one additional meaning. Most importantly, by exploring the narrative depth and range used in the scene and how it works within the context of the film as a whole through its choices involving both range and depth, I hope to illustrate how essential narrative range and depth are to films and to audiences experience with them.

This brief scene in “Vertigo” comes near the end, just before the climax at the mission, as Scottie drives Judy to the place where Madeline “killed herself” earlier in the film. The scene starts out with an establishing shot showing the road that Scottie and Judy are driving through. Then there is a medium shot of them in the car with the camera placed in front. The framing of the shot shows Scottie and Judy cramped into the space of the frame, putting emphasis on the fact that Judy has no way out of this situation and has no choice in going wherever he takes her. An aspect of the mise-en-scene should be noted here concerning Judy’s outfit. Her plain black dress allows all of the attention concerning her outfit to go to the necklace that she is wearing. This is an important prop because it is Carlotta Valdes’ necklace, the object that proved to Scottie in the scene preceding this one that Judy was also Madeline. Through the mise-en-scene of the scene, Judy wears clothing that puts appropriate visual emphasis on the necklace that is so important to the narrative of the film.

After a couple of dialogue exchanges between the two, we see a point of view shot showing what Judy sees ahead as Scottie drives. There is a medium shot following it showing her reaction to the previous point of view shot. The next shot follows the same pattern as the previous two shots; a point of view shot and Judy’s reaction to it. This time the point of view shot shows the sky from Judy’s perspective. It is her realization following the point of view shots that prompt her to ask where Scottie is going. The scene then cuts to a close up of him as he looks over and smiles at her showing his satisfaction at knowing that for once he is in charge of what is going on. As he speaks, the scene cuts to a close up of Judy as she looks over and we see a profile view of Scottie though another point of view shot of what Judy sees as she looks over at him. The last shot of the scene shows Judy’s reaction to what Scottie says, a reaction of fear and dread and from there the scene ends as it dissolves into the next scene.

The amount of explicit narrative information we get from this scene is little. The dialogue is, for the most part, intentionally stiff and empty. Scottie and Judy’s exchanges only provide tension and not information. The only explicit information the audience gets in this scene is that Scottie has to do one more thing to be free of the past. Even though Scottie does not say where he is driving to, Hitchcock expects the audience to know by the end of the scene through many inferences and parallels to a previous scene in the film. The scene earlier in the film when Scottie is driving Madeline to the mission can be and is meant to be directly paralleled with the scene being discussed in this essay. The establishing shot in the first scene matches exactly with this later scene (except it is a different time of day). Hitchcock would expect the audience to recognize this shot from the earlier scene and to understand where Scottie is driving to even though it is not explicitly stated. The point of view shots during the first driving scene with Scottie and Madeline are also exactly the same as the ones with Scottie and Judy. Both scenes show narrative depth through the point of view shots from Judy’s perspective. The first point of view shot is when Judy looks at the road in front of them and the second is when she looks up at the sky; the same shots from the earlier scene. Her reactions as they drive with these two point of view shots track Judy’s gradual realization as to where they are going through our understanding that she is seeing precisely what she saw during their first trip.

The main difference between these two scenes is where narrative range is important. Madeline/Judy is the focus of both of these scenes. The first scene of Madeline and Scottie driving to the mission takes place when the film has restricted narrative. The audience only knows what Scottie knows and we only see events from his perspective, excluding a few minor exceptions. Despite the restricted narrative to Scottie at this point in the film, this first scene uses narrative depth in the car with Madeline by showing it from her perspective by using point of view .We see images from Madeline’s point of view and we see her reactions to them but we do not know what she is thinking at all. This is because the restricted narration prevents us from understanding her perspective even though the audience sees it this way. The reason that this scene is shown from Madeline’s perspective is so it can be directly paralleled to the scene when Scottie drives Judy later in the film.

By the time the scene involving Scottie driving Judy to the mission for the second time occurs, the film has changed its narrative restrictions. By this point in the film, the audience knows the basics of Judy’s side of the story and the narrative has become essentially unrestricted. Earlier in the film there is a game changing scene when the narrative switches from restricted to unrestricted. This is when Judy writes the letter to Scottie that she never sends. This is when the audience learns about the plot to set Scottie up, that Judy was Madeline and that Judy did actually fall in love with Scottie. The audience discovers this before Scottie does which changes our role in watching the film completely through the now unrestricted narrative. The audience goes from learning information when Scottie does within the restricted narration, to waiting to see when he learns what we already know within the unrestricted narration. While keeping the secret until the end of the film may have been more shocking, learning about Judy’s situation at that point of the film gives her a perspective and shows the unique suffering of both characters, giving everything much more emotional intensity.

This brief scene in Vertigo in which Scottie drives Judy to the mission is a scene that shows the way Hitchcock plays with narrative range. The film has unrestricted narrative after the scene when Judy writes the letter. For this driving scene, Hitchcock adds a layer of restricted narrative that involves the audience’s lack of knowledge of Scottie’s intentions. The previously established roles of the audience having information as Scottie receives it and the restricted narrative of Judy have been reversed for this scene. The narrative is unrestricted in the sense that we now have Judy’s perspective of events. The scene is restricted however in one important aspect. Although the audience can infer that Scottie is driving to the mission, neither Judy nor the audience knows what his plans are once they arrive there. By switching the ways in which the film was restricted and unrestricted for the majority of it, Hitchcock gets the most suspense out of the scene by keeping information from the audience and further allying us with Judy. This brings the scene further suspense and forces the audience to identify with Judy on a level that we had not before.

Now that we know the effect that the restricted narrative has on this scene, we can look at how the unrestricted narrative of the latter part of the film serves the scene. When Scottie drives Judy to the mission, he knows that Judy was Madeline. He still does not know the specifics but he has figured out the basic plot against him. If we were still learning information as he does, we would know that Madeline is Judy but nothing more. Seeing this scene from Judy’s perspective provides much more tension because even though she figures out where Scottie is driving to, she and the audience do not know what he has planned when they arrive. The narrative depth of the scene is what allows the audience to see Judy’s realization as to where Scottie is taking her. The two point of view shots let the audience into Judy’s mind by showing us what she sees. Using narrative depth for the scene through her perspective allows the film to convey important information without explicitly saying anything. Seeing this scene from Judy’s perspective also puts us into her situations; her tensions transfer to the audience and her anxiousness drives the emotional tone of the scene. This forces the audience to relate to Judy and to feel what she is feeling.

The scene in “Vertigo” when Scottie drives Judy to the mission says a lot about the form of the film as a whole and also within the specific scene. Although there is little explicit information in the scene, Hitchcock uses a parallel scene earlier in the film and narrative depth through the point of view shots involving Judy to convey her realization as to where Scottie is driving. While the narrative depth is important to the scene, the narrative range is important to the overall film. The switch to an unrestricted narrative towards the end of Vertigo is essential to the overall film because it gives Judy a voice and a character instead of her being a mystery to figure out as she is in most of the narrative. During this brief scene though, Hitchcock adds a layer of restricted narrative by not letting the audience in on what Scottie plans on doing once they arrive at the mission. This allows for a significantly greater amount of tension during the scene which would have been much less effective if the audience knew what Scottie was planning to do. Between the combination of the unrestricted narrative of Judy, the brief restricted narrative of Scottie and the narrative depth of the scene showing Judy’s perspective through her point of view shots, this forces the audience to relate to Judy by having them feel a sense of what she is going through and to increase the tension of the scene. By using this brief scene in “Vertigo”, this essay aimed to show how fundamentally narrative range and depth effect both the film itself and how largely the audience’s experience is effected by the use of narrative range and depth.

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