Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose #15: Lissajous Figures (Title Design Sequence from Vertigo)

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Today's Daily Dose is Saul Bass's opening title design sequence from Vertigo. The music used in the titles was composed by another favorite Hitchcock collaborator, Bernard Herrmann. A third collaborator on this sequence was early computer animation and avant-garde filmmaker John Whitney. Together, the three create one of the most iconic title designs in all of cinema history. 

 

Watch the sequence over at the Canvas course and then discuss why it is such a powerful way to open what many consider to be one of Hitchcock's masterpieces, Vertigo

 

Here are three questions to get the conversation started:

 

1.     Describe what you think this film will be about simply from the sounds and images in these opening credits. Even if you have seen the film, try to focus on these sounds and images themselves and “the story” (or if not "the story," then the mood and atmosphere they are establishing) that this sequence is communicating to the audience. 
 

2.     In your own estimation, what is the single most powerful image in this title sequence? Defend your answer.
 

3.     How do Saul Bass’ images and Bernard Herrmann’s score work together? How different would this sequence be with a different musical score? 

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Can I ask Dr. Edwards, what your  intial impression of VERTIGO was when watching in your 20s? You didn't expand on that in the video lecture. I'm still in my very late 20s and it does seem to me that the movie does strike me a bit different than it did at first, though I'd have trouble articulating it. Perhaps some of it is being more romantically experienced than I was when I first saw it in high school as well as knowing more about the plot and seeing this film a few times later than when I first saw it when I was 16 or so.

 

1. First, that the, presumably, woman is fixed and trapped. The camera moves over her, stopped on her mouth as it purses and freezes on the first title credit (a male name), then scans her, almost as though she appears unwilling, then it zeroes in on her eyes first to the rightt hen the left  and stops. To me, this viewpoint, locks one into someone looking from afar. The title credit of "in Alfred Hitchcock's" flashes before the camera moves further into the eye as the eyelids expand and signal fear and the color changes to red (blood, passion, etc.), before somewhat settling...and then the spirals ensue. 

 

2. Very tough to pick just one. I'll stick with what most jumped out at me before, it's that first green/teal spiral after the first pink spiral in the eye is enlarged to engulf the frame. I'm not sure if it's the most impactful visual, but it always stood out for me, even early on, in terms of continuing to burrow into the eye, spiraling in, zeroing in on a subject of interest, the female gaze and the woman's eye, and just continuing to focus, obsess if you will, which ends up as key to Scotty's character and the film. How much is a fetish? What more is there to a fetish beyond looking at the thing? How about obsession? All things I think about when trying to grapple with VERTIGO.

 

3. The spiraling circling together is so heavily re-enforced, it's difficult to imagine a stronger score to emphasized more of how circling and repeated and fixating also kept burrowing deeper, particularly the trance-like effect in certain moments.

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This is one of Alfred Hitchcock's most powerful, deep, and stunningly beautiful films (in widescreen 70 mm VistaVision) - it is a film noir that functions on multiple levels. At the time of the film's release, it was not a box-office hit, but has since been regarded as one of the greatest films ever made. The work is a mesmerizing romantic suspense/thriller about a macabre, doomed romance - a desperate love for an illusion.

It is an intense psychological study of a desperate, insecure man's twisted psyche (****) and loss of equilibrium. It follows the troubled man's obsessive search to end his vertigo (and deaths that result from his 'falling in love' affliction). Hitchcock's work was a masterful study of romantic longing, identity, voyeurism, treachery and death. It also told about female victimization and degrading manipulation, the feminine "ideal," and the protagonist's fatal sexual obsession for a cool-blonde heroine. Hitchcock was noted for films with voyeuristic themes, and this one could be construed as part of a 'trilogy' of films with that preoccupation:

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This is a Hitchcock film, so the audience has some idea of what to expect, but the opening credits by Saul Bass makes it even more so. You really don't know what kind of film this will be. Moving from the lower left of the face, then to the lips, up along the nose, then the eyes, is something that could be expected, but the music sends a chill up your spine and the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, it is jarring, They will not be getting this on the top 100 hits Billboard. “The bump in the night” starts right off.

 

The colorization as the close up of the right eye and the images coming from that eye, spinning, growing larger. We know it from Universal and B horror films, but this is different from what to expect from Hitchcock, this is a mad doctor idea from horror genre, While we expect the unexpected from Hitchcock, this is almost too much. The psychological issues will be great in this film, no matter where we are going. To use something for music as they did in Shadow of a Doubt would confuse, but in no was as the music of Bernard Herrmann does.

 

Interesting that in Shadow of a Doubt the waltz scene at the beginning and end and the photograph with the date 1888 puts it in the time frame of the real killer, the movie was based on, Earl Leonard Nelson, who did his crimes in the 1920's, while the movie is set in 1945 Santa Rosa, surprisingly untouched by war.

 

This is a interesting link to Nerdwriter about how Hitchcock blocked out the first scene in Vertigo, that sets up everything for the rest of the movie. It is worth watching about 10 minutes. Watch on a BIG screen, if you can.

 

 

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DAILY DOSE #15 (Vertigo).

 

QUESY VIRTUAL:

1. The minor arpeggio and sharp discordant brass accents along with the fade into hypnotic spirals suggest this will be a psychological thriller.

2. The zoom to the tearing eye when the screen turns red with the sharp brass suggests despair and murder.

3. While the graphics suggests psychological disorientation, the music creates an air of suspense, tension and disharmony.

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If I had never seen "Vertigo," I would think the film is about a period between two deaths. The obvious reason for this is that the opening sequence specifies that the story is based on a French story called "D'Entre des Morts." (Between the Deaths). I would think that the tale was about two deaths because the spiraling graphics always manifest in two rings linked to each other.

 

The most powerful image is of the constant spiraling, which begins as an eye and results in two linked rings. As stated before, this image is a clue to the meaning of the French story title upon which the film is based. The eye belongs to a woman who apparently has witnessed two deaths linked to each other. The film is principally about a period of time between the first death (Madeleine) and the second death (Judy).

 

The score punctuates the eye spiraling into two linked rings by constant changes from loud to soft, staccato to fluid, bass to woodwinds, melodic to cacophonous, etc. A more traditional, romantic or melodramatic score would not work with the graphics although an atonal composition could point up the condition of vertigo, as flatly stated by the film's title.

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Cats out of the bag. I've never viewed this film. I will reflect with knowledge of films thus far and fresh eyes.

 

The music and images are chilling, worrisome, anxious, is someone watching me, hands over my eyes and peek atmosphere. It's like haunted houses, I dislike them but the thrill finds me there occasionally.

 

This intro says Beware Thriller Ahead!!! Someone is watching and they are crawling into your thoughts. I hope I make it through the film. And I'll have to watch it no lights... The scenes in lecture have toned it down but the opening credits are really powerful and eerie.

 

Single most powerful image is the black with white lines still shot of eye before our journey out of the mind where more spirals begin leading us out through the pupil and window to the soul. This tells me that whatever is going to happen will be a journey to the depths and back where vertigo lives. There is no substitute for the works of this sequence. Hands down best I have ever had the pleasure of being part.

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  1. Describe what you think this film will be about simply from the sounds and images in these opening credits. Even if you have seen the film, try to focus on these sounds and images themselves and “the story” (or if not "the story," the mood and atmosphere they are establishing) that this sequence is communicating to the audience.                            I felt inner turmoil both of an individual and as an individual and others.  Sometimes floating and sometimes falling. A sense of a drawn out drama but definitely a psychological/trauma/drama.  Also duality.  The interweaving of two forms. 
  2. In your own estimation, what is the single most powerful image in this title sequence? Defend your answer.  When the spirals switch to the eye.  The burrowing image.  I think it is shocking.  Maybe because I am squeamish about eyes - however, we just spent a period of time floating in space.  Then we are burrowing in an eye.  I also think that it takes the viewer from a slightly comfortable/uncomfortable space into an inner space that is more troubled.  
  3. How do Saul Bass’ images and Bernard Herrmann’s score work together? How different would this sequence be with a different musical score?      They help to make the viewing somewhat dreamlike and then troubled.  The music reinforces that the pleasant shapes are doing more and there is drama and trouble.  When we go to the eye the music is more troubled.  I can't imagine any other music.  It might be hard to get that same sense of turmoil. 

I really found it difficult to get through the first viewing of this movie.  It took me many years to watch it again and then I bought it and watch it once or twice a year now.  Hitchcock really is the Jimmy Stewart character.  Making over women and trying to conquer them.  He can't have a woman then he'll drive her to jump.  Creepy.  It is beautifully filmed.  I guess it would be nice if we could fit people into what we would like to mold them into sometimes.   

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1.     Describe what you think this film will be about simply from the sounds and images in these opening credits. Even if you have seen the film, try to focus on these sounds and images themselves and “the story” (or if not "the story," then the mood and atmosphere they are establishing) that this sequence is communicating to the audience. 

       ​The music is one of dizzying repartition and is critical extension of the title Vertigo.  We start with a woman's face in extreme close-up, delving into he facial features, red lips, smooth skin and cheeks, and finally her piercing eyes searching back and forth and then looking straight ahead. Zooming in further we are regaled with spinning and swirling geometric shapes; computer-aided images that mesmerize hand hypnotize the viewer, adding to the vertigo theme. It also conveys an air of mystery or uncertainty of what is to come. Are we to take this story at face value or will it be the workings of a dream or psychosis-based mind? We must be on our toes to discern the story (and thereby) the director's true intent.
 

2.     In your own estimation, what is the single most powerful image in this title sequence? Defend your answer.
             I personally like the intertwined pen-wheel spirals that feed on themselves to form a donut-shaped unending spiral of textures and color (mostly in green hues). They remind me of a drawing toy popular when I was a youngster, the Spirograph. It used a combination of solid wheels within geared wheels to allow you to draw unique intricate spiral  shapes using multiple colored pens. It had both symmetry and an evolving pattern that grew and changed as your spun the pens round and round.

 

 

3.     How do Saul Bass’ images and Bernard Herrmann’s score work together? How different would this sequence be with a different musical score? 

             For me the single most important element in this opening is the musical score. It evokes the confusion and dizzy dance of the title. Certainly all the beautifully revolving geometric shapes are intensely augmenting the effect of having vertigo and a sense of not knowing truth from the swirling  illusions of the mind caught in the trap of a fear of heights. But without the musical score the images would have to work much harder to convey what music can do without pictures. It is a blending that works most spectacularly and rewardingly.

 

SPOILER ALERT .....

 

...Now on a more personal note, I do not find the Vertigo is the grand master of the Hitchcock collection of films. It certainly has the many intense elements of a Hitchcock film used effectively, strong visual styling and musical score, sets and locations that become characters themselves. The street of San Francisco convey strongly the dizzy feel of the movie title. The Art museum and the Spanish Missions are wonderfully rich, lavish settings, that draw us in. The use of color and form in clothing and local (eg, the view from Fort Point underneath the Golden Gate bridge and the Redwood Forest are all magnificent). 

However other elements just don't work for me. For example, I don't think Jimmy Stewart is the right choice for our lens into the story. He seems too old and a mis-fit for someone so obsessed with a woman that he ignores all other factors around him. Stewart has certainly played heightened emotionally charged characters before most effectively, But his obsessions in Vertigo seem out of place (to me). And that is not to say he could not be paired with Kim Novak  since their chemistry in a movie like Bell, Book and Candle was exceptional. 

Another factor in the movie was how the hell did he get down off the roof without falling himself in the opening sequences? His only helper, a  fellow police office falls to his death, so how'd he do it?  I know we are not suppose to look too logically at the Hitchcock story, but this is a real show-stopper for me -- It ruins the "buying into" the story.

But I think my most disrupting factor in the movie is that in the end his obsession gets the young woman killed.  She plays along with his ever increasing obsession to replicate her as a makeover of the dead woman, killed by he husband. Stewart changes her hair, the clothes she wears, her demeanor, and all the while it causes Kim Novak's shop-girl character more dread. She is being pushed against her will to change, building up a intense fear and confusion, which eventually gets her killed. Now some may say that she was involved in the wife's murder and so deservers her final end as punishment. But I always have a great anger when watching the climaxing scene that Stewart's character has gone too, too far. He was a police officer and as our story's "hero" it seems he let's the audience down by allowing Kim's character to die. Maybe this was Hitch's intent, to shake up the norm in story telling, but for me it fails. ...I just don't get it.

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(1) In the opening of Vertigo, the extreme close-ups of the individual parts of the female character’s face are very jarring and produce anxiety in me as the viewer.  Coloring the images in red conveys danger and/or death (as I associate the red with blood).  The score conveys a sense of urgency.  Based on the opening sequence, I would say that this film might be about a kidnapping, and the woman in the title sequence is the victim.

 

(2) The zoom in on the eye is the single most powerful image in my estimation.  When the image becomes red and her eye starts to blink and water, I feel panicky.  Then the spinning disc appears, and the effect is intensified.  The image is frightening and hypnotic.

 

(3) The combination of images and music in the title sequence of Vertigo effectively works together to create a sense of foreboding.  The sequence sparks the viewer’s curiosity certainly.  It is visually and aurally interesting.  With a different musical score, the mood could be changed, perhaps from ominous to forlorn.  With a melancholy score, for example, the viewer could get the impression that woman in the sequence is depressed rather than fearful.  A melancholy score in combination with the images (including the spinning discs) could convey anxiousness over someone else’s death rather than anxiousness over what I anticipate is her own impending death (which I predict based on the existing score).

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  1. Describe what you think this film will be about simply from the sounds and images in these opening credits. Even if you have seen the film, try to focus on these sounds and images themselves and “the story” (or if not "the story," the mood and atmosphere they are establishing) that this sequence is communicating to the audience. -- The title is Vertigo and the opening shots consist of a woman's face; and sequence comes out of her eye, which could indicate the chaos of her mind. Reality has been twisted and it's a question of who she is and what is going on in her head.

 

In your own estimation, what is the single most powerful image in this title sequence? Defend your answer. -- The eye. We watch the film as the film is watching us.

 

How do Saul Bass’ images and Bernard Herrmann’s score work together? How different would this sequence be with a different musical score? -- They spiral and twist into each other, creating an effect that the viewer has no escape from. Any other score that did not create the spirals would have allowed the viewer a means to step back from the film... and escape.

 

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The mood is so intense. Dizziness sets in, catching you off guard.

The swirling of the graphics puts you in a trance. The close up of the eye,

made me feel panicky, and fearful.

 

The intense red color, obviously reminds me of blood.

 

I believe this film will be one of mystery, intrigue, and murder.

 

The music is magnificently BOLD!

The music and the graphics work well together to make us feel like we have been swept

off our feet.

We know this film will definitely hold our attention.

 

The on location shooting lends authenticity and excitement to the film.

The uneasiness of San Francisco's roads. The swirling rings on the trees in the forest.

There are many Hitchcock touches, that are fun to watch for.

 

I have viewed this film many times and I always take away something new.

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Describe what you think this film will be about simply from the sounds and images in these opening credits. Even if you have seen the film, try to focus on these sounds and images themselves and “the story” (or if not "the story," the mood and atmosphere they are establishing) that this sequence is communicating to the audience.

 

With the repetitive creepy music accented with dramatic horns and the trippy visuals I would guess that the film would be a mystery and deal with hypnotism.

 

In your own estimation, what is the single most powerful image in this title sequence? Defend your answer.

 

I would say the image of the eye. It seems to be anxious in it's subtle movements or perhaps frightened.

 

How do Saul Bass’ images and Bernard Herrmann’s score work together? How different would this sequence be with a different musical score?

 

Match made in heaven. The hypnotic music & psychedelic images are perfect. With a different score this opening wouldn't be as effective.

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1.     Describe what you think this film will be about simply from the sounds and images in these opening credits. Even if you have seen the film, try to focus on these sounds and images themselves and “the story” (or if not "the story," then the mood and atmosphere they are establishing) that this sequence is communicating to the audience. 

This course has taught me that I have been watching opening credits in the wrong way! Previously, I would tolerantly watch the opening credits, impatient for the movie to begin, and just look for new (to me) typefaces and to see if any of the actors listed in small font at the end of the credits later moved up the ranks and became stars. I had never looked at the opening credits hoping to find some clues as to what the movie story would be about or noting what mood they were setting.

 

In this case, I watched Vertigo ​for the first time about two weeks ago. My memories of the opening credits are that I was surprised to see that Natalie Kalmus was not listed as the Technicolor Consultant (I had thought she was the consultant on ALL of the Technicolor films), and I wondered what the deaths would be, as one of the credits stated that the film was based on a French novel called Between the Deaths. But I had no expectations that the opening credits were there for any other reason than to credit the people involved in making the movie. I was not thinking about how opening credits might be used to establish a mood or to provide clues about the story.

 

After reading the lecture notes about how Saul Bass created the title credits with an intent to convey the dizziness of vertigo, I saw the opening credits entirely differently. I focused on whether the Lissajous curves gave me a feeling of vertigo and on how the close-up views of parts of Kim Novak's face (and the music) generated an ominous mood. From now on, I will watch opening credits in an entirely different way, although I suspect I will continue to look in vain for credits to the unsung heroes of the movies (the Foley artists) who always seem to be relegated to the bottom of the credits totem pole, even lower than the catering companies that provided food service during production.    
 

2.     In your own estimation, what is the single most powerful image in this title sequence? Defend your answer.

I suspect that most people will focus on the eyes of Kim Novak and the spiral in them or even the blood red color used. However, I am color-challenged, so I tend to ignore colors (even the ones I can see), and the spiral in Kim's eyes did not disturb me in the least. For me, the most powerful image(s) were the gigantic Lissajous curves that were shown starting about 2:25 and ending about 2:42. These spirals best conveyed the feeling of vertigo to me, and kudos to Saul Bass (and Alfred Hitchcock) for that accomplishment.    

 

3.     How do Saul Bass’ images and Bernard Herrmann’s score work together? How different would this sequence be with a different musical score? 

 

I tried imagining using the light-hearted music from the opening scenes of Rear Window ​in place of the score written by Bernard Hermann. That didn't work. Then I imagined the use of the Looney Tunes soundtrack. Ditto.

 

Bass' images and Hermann's score work perfectly together to convey a sense of dizziness and an ominous foreboding mood.  

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Describe what you think this film will be about simply from the sounds and images in these opening credits. Even if you have seen the film, try to focus on these sounds and images themselves and “the story” (or if not "the story," the mood and atmosphere they are establishing) that this sequence is communicating to the audience. 

 

          Just want to interject that this is my favorite Hitchcock film. What's not to like Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart being directed by Hitchcock and oh did I fail to mention San Francisco in the 1950s! WOW!!

 

           Based on the sounds and images I think that the story is going to be about a beautiful sophisticated woman who is psychologically troubled. The spinning graphics (evocative of hypnosis), the dissonant music and the emphasis on the woman's eye support this view.

                                                                             

                                                          

 

In your own estimation, what is the single most powerful image in this title sequence? Defend your answer.

​             

                I think that the experimental use of the computer graphics is cutting edge and exciting for the 1950s but to me the most powerful image is that of looking into the woman's eye just at the point where we see the "Directed by Alfred Hitchcock". It has always been said that "the eyes are the window into the soul / mind" and I think that this makes it the most powerful image as we begin the film.

                                                                       

                                                                        

 

How do Saul Bass’ images and Bernard Herrmann’s score work together? How different would this sequence be with a different musical score?

 

                                     The combination of Saul Bass' images and Bernard Herrmann's score play off each others strengths. The topsy turvy spinning world is brought forward by Bass' graphics and Herrmann's dissonant music adds to the spinning by never letting us grasp on to a mellow theme but rather jolts us with blaring brass instruments etc. whenever we try to settle down to the opening music. The opening is trying to prevent us from getting comfortable in our seats. I think that a different musical score would have caused friction between the graphics and the audio. A mellow little theme song running through just would not have fit in with the images that were appearing on the screen. What would have been worse would have been the introduction of a theme song with words over the opening. Hitchcock captured the psychological dilemma to come in this film by wisely selecting Bass and Herrmann help him create the opening to Vertigo​.

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Although I've always found Vertigo a bit too creepy and complicated for my taste, I have to admit that it's Hitchcock's most trademark film, along with Psycho. Even the opening credits are disturbing and add to the mood of the film. I'm a computer engineering student myself and I've studied Lissajous figures quite a bit, and I never imagined they could be used in such a subjective way to create distorting, formalistic images, and even dizziness. By watching this brilliant opening sequence, you know that what's gonna follow is not ordinary, and is probably going to play with your mind, even make you feel uneasy.

 

It's difficult to pick a single image as the most powerful, but if I had to I'd pick the last one, the human eye with this disturbing spiral figure in its center. Even the colors are disturbing in this one, and the way this figure is moving and the eye blinks is almost frightening.

 

Bernand Hermann's one of the most brilliant film composers of all time. His score there is perfect for the kind of film Vertigo is and is beautifully combined with the title sequence. Just like in Psycho two years later, and even later thrillers such as Jaws (another genius, John Williams, composed this one), it's a score fit for a thriller; disturbing, high-toned, it makes you feel you're gonna have a tremendous, terrifying expierence for the next two hours or so.

 

 

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1.  Describe what you think this film will be about simply from the sounds and images in these opening credits.  Even if you have seen the film, try to focus on these sounds and images themselves and “the story” (or if not "the story," the mood and atmosphere they are establishing) that this sequence is communicating to the audience.

 

If I had never seen a Hitchcock film before or if I knew nothing about his reputation, I would know that a great mystery, perhaps in the supernatural realm, was about to be presented to me even before the Vistavision credit is displayed with Bernard Herrmann’s mesmerizing score.   Herrmann’s strings are a collective ebb and flow of notes that seem as big as an ocean, perhaps as big as the universe.  The music engrosses the viewer even before the opening image of Saul Bass’ animated titles.

 

Bass opens with the stark close-up of the lower quarter of a woman’s face.  The circumspect use of color or absence of color immediately imparts a newspaper print quality with the overall sepia tone that gives a sense of the past, perhaps even a bit film noir.  (Even the Paramount logo with its usual blue sky with white floating clouds and blue-green mountain are in black and white to allow Bass’s color design to work most effectively.)  The woman’s face is photographed against a black background so that nothing else seems to exist in this universe except this person.  Hitchcock centers the woman’s mouth to present James Stewart’s credit.  The camera pans up to an extreme close-up of the woman’s eyes where Kim Novak’s credit is displayed.  As her credit displays, the woman’s eyes shift back and forth momentarily.  (I think that the woman in the titles may be Kim Novak.)  It is interesting that the Stewart credit appears over the mouth while the Novak credit appears over the eyes.  This may be indicative of the upcoming teacher/student or transformer/transformed relationship in the story.

 

Hitchcock’s camera moves to an extreme close-up on the woman’s right eye to present his director’s credit.  And, finally the camera shifts to an even more extreme close-up of the eye to present the film’s title.  During the shift to a tighter close-up, the frame goes from sepia to blood red, a color that signifies violence and death.  At this moment, Bass introduces his graphic spinning animated spirals, the first that begins in the woman’s iris.   The frame fades out with the woman’s face and blood red tone into the eternally spinning graphics.  (These figures must have been jolting to see for the first time since this was many decades before computer graphics.)

 

The color design for the graphics are mostly light blues, purples and greens that signify peace and stillness.  As the graphics spin transitioning over each other, Herrmann’s score strikes a sense of eternity and the vastness of the universe.   The title sequence ends on the close-up of the woman’s eye tinted in red with Hitchcock’s “directed by” credit.

 

The font used for the main actors and the director credits with its white stroke on the outer edge and transparent on the inside give a sense of doubles that we will see in the film.  

       

 

2.  In your own estimation, what is the single most powerful image in this title sequence? Defend your answer.

 

The extreme close-up of the woman’s right eye is the single most powerful image.  Even without the red tint, the eye is, as it has been called before, the window to the soul.  It is though we are going to be presented with the most naked of truths.

  

 

3.  How do Saul Bass’ images and Bernard Herrmann’s score work together? How different would this sequence be with a different musical score?

 

The tempo of Bass’s title design matches the ebb and flow quality of Herrmann’s score.  It would be interesting to know how Bass and Herrmann worked together.  Which came first?  Did one artist adjust his work to conform with the other artist’s work?

 

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1. Describe what you think this film will be about simply from the sounds and images in these opening credits. Even if you have seen the film, try to focus on these sounds and images themselves and “the story” (or if not "the story," the mood and atmosphere they are establishing) that this sequence is communicating to the audience. 

 

From the sounds and images you can tell several things about the film. First, it seems as though both faces and minds will be important. The music is very mysterious, a repetitive melody with crescendo. The abstract shapes that spin and spiral also add a level of mystery to the title sequence. 

 

2. In your own estimation, what is the single most powerful image in this title sequence? Defend your answer.

 

In my opinion, there are two powerful images, and I can't decide between them! The first is when Kim Novak's name appears on the screen; the face looks left and right before looking back to center again. The second occurs around the 2:20 mark. The green spiral, then the yellow spiral, get closer and closer, until you feel like you are falling through the center. Then the yellow one spins back into the eye.

 

3. How do Saul Bass’ images and Bernard Herrmann’s score work together? How different would this sequence be with a different musical score?

 

I honestly couldn't imagine this title sequence with a different score. The images of Saul Bass's are mesmerizing, and Bernard Herrmann's accompanying score is also mesmerizing. You are almost in a trance watching and listening to this title sequence. 

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Describe what you think this film will be about simply from the sounds and images in these opening credits. Even if you have seen the film, try to focus on these sounds and images themselves and “the story” (or if not "the story," the mood and atmosphere they are establishing) that this sequence is communicating to the audience. 

 

Vertigo is my second favorite Hitchcock film. It is very obvious from the opening credits that the film will be a psychological thriller. The close-up of the face and then the eye with the morbid red light filtration ads the feeling of fear and trepidation and danger. The hypnotic kaleidoscopic mesmerizing Saul Bass graphics create a hypnotic effect of obsession, a nightmarish dream state.  It tells the viewer that there will be illusion between what is reality and what is not in this film. Bernard Herrmann's score is pure genius.  The minimalist tonal cell motif of the ascending/descending augmented chord is relentless.  It picks up in tempo as the credits finish, creating a fabulous frenzy hypnotic effect.  Bernard Herrmann is by far my favorite Hitchcock composer.  This score is only second to Psycho for me.  I think Herrmann is the most brilliant composer of film scores.  

 

I have had the pleasure to teaching Herrmann to college students as well as performing several of his works including his Concerto Macabre from the movie Hangover Square.  Bernard uses an vast range in orchestration in terms of harmonic color and range of instruments.  The harps playing the main theme underscored by extremely low basses  creates the demented feel.  

 

In your own estimation, what is the single most powerful image in this title  

sequence? Defend your answer.  

 

The most haunting and powerful image in sequence is the close up of the eye esp when the music punctuates and the filtration turns to blood red.   It evokes terror, obsession, hypnosis, mental illness.. basically that one shot sets up the whole movie to come. I like Hitchcock best when he really pushes the gamut into the surreal, bizarre.  That is why my favorites Hitchcock movies are:  Psycho, Vertigo, North by North West, and Spellbound. 

 

How do Saul Bass’ images and Bernard Herrmann’s score work together? How different would this sequence be with a different musical score?

 

To me the only reason the opening sequence is so effective is due to the genius of Bernard Herrmann's masterful musical score.  With another composer's score... this would not work well. Herrmann was the master of setting up the psychological mood of movies.  The opening motif (the arpeggiated augmented chord) is probably the most iconic motif in the history of film.. with maybe the exception of the minor 2nd motif of John William's score to Jaws)  The hypnotic harps, the menacing low strings and light punctuation of French Horns and brass enhance Saul Bass's iconic hypnotic credits. The spiraling kaleidoscopic patterns are continually reinforced as they become larger as the credits go on.. They pull the viewer into the screen. They overtake.  

 

On a side note:  Jimmy's obsession with the Kim Novak character borders on creepy obsession.  Wanting to possess her, making her over. Notice Kim dye job to blonde ... it mimicks Hitch's obsession with his leading actresses.  I love Kim in this movie and I even share a birthday with her.  

 

The whole movie is a hard watch .. but I believe that is what Hitch wanted. One doesn't know what is real and what might be fantasy in Jimmy's head.  It is weird, and creepy.  I have watched this movie many times.  I always find new things to focus on each time.  That is what makes this movie great. Same with Rear Window.... there is so much to see that one finds new things they missed upon more viewing.  
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All of the opening credits are happening inside of Kim Vovak's brain. The swirly things are making us dizzy. Kim Novak's face is beautiful. The last (most powerful) image is Hitchcock's name coming out of Novak's right eye.

 

Hitch is saying, "I am the seer here. I am inside of Madeleine. I control her. I am making Scotty insane. I am controlling you, too. I am hypnotizing everyone because I'm such a killer director."

 

Didn't Bergman copy Hitchcock with the extreme close-up of Liv Ullmann's face in 'Persona'?

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1.     Describe what you think this film will be about simply from the sounds and images in these opening credits. Even if you have seen the film, try to focus on these sounds and images themselves and “the story” (or if not "the story," then the mood and atmosphere they are establishing) that this sequence is communicating to the audience. 

       ​The music is one of dizzying repartition and is critical extension of the title Vertigo.  We start with a woman's face in extreme close-up, delving into he facial features, red lips, smooth skin and cheeks, and finally her piercing eyes searching back and forth and then looking straight ahead. Zooming in further we are regaled with spinning and swirling geometric shapes; computer-aided images that mesmerize hand hypnotize the viewer, adding to the vertigo theme. It also conveys an air of mystery or uncertainty of what is to come. Are we to take this story at face value or will it be the workings of a dream or psychosis-based mind? We must be on our toes to discern the story (and thereby) the director's true intent.

 

2.     In your own estimation, what is the single most powerful image in this title sequence? Defend your answer.

             I personally like the intertwined pen-wheel spirals that feed on themselves to form a donut-shaped unending spiral of textures and color (mostly in green hues). They remind me of a drawing toy popular when I was a youngster, the Spirograph. It used a combination of solid wheels within geared wheels to allow you to draw unique intricate spiral  shapes using multiple colored pens. It had both symmetry and an evolving pattern that grew and changed as your spun the pens round and round.

 

 

3.     How do Saul Bass’ images and Bernard Herrmann’s score work together? How different would this sequence be with a different musical score? 

             For me the single most important element in this opening is the musical score. It evokes the confusion and dizzy dance of the title. Certainly all the beautifully revolving geometric shapes are intensely augmenting the effect of having vertigo and a sense of not knowing truth from the swirling  illusions of the mind caught in the trap of a fear of heights. But without the musical score the images would have to work much harder to convey what music can do without pictures. It is a blending that works most spectacularly and rewardingly.

 

SPOILER ALERT .....

 

...Now on a more personal note, I do not find the Vertigo is the grand master of the Hitchcock collection of films. It certainly has the many intense elements of a Hitchcock film used effectively, strong visual styling and musical score, sets and locations that become characters themselves. The street of San Francisco convey strongly the dizzy feel of the movie title. The Art museum and the Spanish Missions are wonderfully rich, lavish settings, that draw us in. The use of color and form in clothing and local (eg, the view from Fort Point underneath the Golden Gate bridge and the Redwood Forest are all magnificent). 

However other elements just don't work for me. For example, I don't think Jimmy Stewart is the right choice for our lens into the story. He seems too old and a mis-fit for someone so obsessed with a woman that he ignores all other factors around him. Stewart has certainly played heightened emotionally charged characters before most effectively, But his obsessions in Vertigo seem out of place (to me). And that is not to say he could not be paired with Kim Novak  since their chemistry in a movie like Bell, Book and Candle was exceptional. 

Another factor in the movie was how the hell did he get down off the roof without falling himself in the opening sequences? His only helper, a  fellow police office falls to his death, so how'd he do it?  I know we are not suppose to look too logically at the Hitchcock story, but this is a real show-stopper for me -- It ruins the "buying into" the story.

But I think my most disrupting factor in the movie is that in the end his obsession gets the young woman killed.  She plays along with his ever increasing obsession to replicate her as a makeover of the dead woman, killed by he husband. Stewart changes her hair, the clothes she wears, her demeanor, and all the while it causes Kim Novak's shop-girl character more dread. She is being pushed against her will to change, building up a intense fear and confusion, which eventually gets her killed. Now some may say that she was involved in the wife's murder and so deservers her final end as punishment. But I always have a great anger when watching the climaxing scene that Stewart's character has gone too, too far. He was a police officer and as our story's "hero" it seems he let's the audience down, buy allowing Kim's character to die. Maybe this was Hitch's intent, to shake up the norm in story telling, but for me it fails. ...I just don't get it.

 

Hitch claimed in an interview that a bunch of dudes with a bed sheet ran out into the alley underneath Scotty allowing him to drop safely.

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1. Describe what you think this film will be about simply from the sounds and images in these opening credits. Even if you have seen the film, try to focus on these sounds and images themselves and “the story” (or if not "the story," the mood and atmosphere they are establishing) that this sequence is communicating to the audience. 

 

The music has a sympathetic romantic feeling about it, as well as caution, fear, and yet calm. The Lissajous figures are flower-like, which is also romantic (yet formulaic).

 

The swirling images pull you in as you focus on what’s at the center of them (the eye of the storm?). The loops change from small to large, narrow to full as you enter into them (so to speak). It’s as if you’re moving through a dark tunnel, plodding on and on, moving forward into darkness while obscure colored “lights” (swirls) twist and twirl around you. Where are you going? Who knows…

 

So, I think this film will be about a romance that is on very shaky ground. Things aren’t as they seem. There are challenges at every turn. Struggles to overcome. The fear of confronting the known and the unknown. Deceptions played out. The mystery involved in figuring it all out.

 

 

2. In your own estimation, what is the single most powerful image in this title sequence? Defend your answer.

 

I’m not sure I understand (yet) why there’s a close-up on Ms. Novak’s cheek, lips and nose. I understand the eye. I understand they are part of her entire face. I understand that we need to know the eye belongs to a woman, and so Hitch clues us in to that. I suppose we are focusing in on the fine details of this woman… rather than seeing her as a full, complete person… because she is going to be mentally picked apart (visually) by the man (Mr. Stewart). And there’s a whole dizzy world in her eye(s). Also… don’t want to overlook the idea that Stewart is attempting to put together his memories and thoughts about whether or not this woman is the woman he remembers by focusing in on her physical traits to summon up commonalities that confirm her identity in his mind.

 

But the single most powerful image… hmm

 

I guess, for me, it’s the shot of the woman’s two eyes when she looks left and right. It feels like we are all doctors examining her in a physical, compartmentalized, unemotional way. She looks left and right as if the doctor is checking her eyesight; as if looking both ways before crossing the street (looking out for danger); as if concerned and worried about what the doctor (or viewer) is thinking; etc. Also... it alludes to the idea that she may be two different women -- eyes are the windows of the soul... in this case: two different souls/two different women/two different states of mind...? When the swirl is superimposed over her eye, I wonder whether or not she knows what “I” am seeing in there. Is SHE hypnotizing me, or am I just seeing something inside her that isn’t real?

 

OH! And I just realized we've got a closeup on a woman's face again. No screaming. Lips closed. The strangeness is in that eye. Perhaps, because she is seen a different way by the man, she has lost her ability to use her own voice to speak up and be heard as herself?

 

 

3. How do Saul Bass’ images and Bernard Herrmann’s score work together? How different would this sequence be with a different musical score?

 

It feels like the swirls and dancing to/with the music -- as we are lulled into watching with a feeling that we can’t look away. It’s the same way we dance with our emotions toward others when we fall in love and are lulled into the blissful feeling of togetherness, with a (presumed) security and understanding of those people, which may or may not be accurate. Regardless, our love for them causes us to dive into our deeper emotions (throwing caution to the wind?) to take a chance on feeling something for someone.

 

The colors of the swirls change in temperature -- hot, lukewarm, warm, cold -- just like emotions that change as our relationships play out. The constant circling keeps us holding on (watching), while the changing shapes keep us interested (wanting to resolve conflict), while the act of the swirls moving from “at a distance” to “close by” mimic the way we move in and out of relationships, emotions, time spent with those we love, moving thoughts from the back of your head to the front, etc…

 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Side note #1:

The “V” in “VistaVision” feels like a dagger against the moody music… and is also fortuitously the first letter of “Vertigo”. The way it grows in size as it moves from far away to close up on the screen is reminiscent of the movement of the swirls.

 

Side note #2:

I watched this movie a couple of times over the years (years ago by now) and have never liked it. Was I paying full and complete attention to it? Probably not. But I have always remembered this as a movie I didn't like when I saw it. Please note: I ADORE Jimmy Stewart... just not in this movie.

 

Meanwhile (still many years ago) a young man I worked with and I were chatting about Hitchcock movies and he told me that Vertigo is his -- AND EVERY MAN's -- favorite Hitchcock movie. "Why?" I asked, half-interested in his response. According to this man, it's because: "Every man wants to be a woman's knight in shining armor." I completely disagreed with him because I didn't see the movie from his perspective at all. I also thought his perspective on men + relationships was skewed. He himself was not a gentleman and, therefore, not of interest to me romantically no matter how much of a "knight" he may have fancied himself. (Yes, he did ask me out... and I gracefully declined.) And yet, there was another man who told me something very similar about this movie a few years after the first guy. (I also declined to date him. Ha.)

 

Now, having heard Dr. Edwards say in the Lecture Video that, in his 20s, he saw this film in a different light than he does now gives me hope that I may, too, alter my perspective on it. We shall see!

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1) Vertigo is not one of my favorite Hitchcock movies for 2-reasons; First it is tediously slow and second I'm not a big fan of psychological thrillers.  That said, the opening credits set the tone of the movie for both action (which is slow) and music (which is intense).  Saul Bass sets the standard that other movie title designers follow with the use of color, animation, music, and the inclusion of one of the principal actress Kim Novak.  An example of other movies with "telling" credit sequences are the James Bond movies with the credits designed by Maurice Binder, who designed Dr. No, then many of the later 007 movies starting with Thunderball.  A similar circular (eye like) theme shows up in the credits of You Only Line Twice; go to YouTube to view some of these 007 sequences.

2) That stated the eye and the circular iris-like animation are the most compelling objects in the credits.

3) The music, coupled with the visual aspects of the sequence, makes the total package; the music being the primary lead.  View Vertigo's title sequence silent (music muted) and it falls flat; but listen to the music without the video aspect and the "thriller" feeling still comes through.  The title sequence is a complete package, just like the 007 title sequences.

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1.  At the outset of this movie the audience is ensnared into the story that is to follow. In a way we are being hypnotized at least that is the feeling I had while watching the title sequence. The eye, the spirals creating a feeling of uneasiness, off balance, things may not always be what they seem.  We are being invited into the character's nightmare.  This will not be a comedy, but then again I wouldn't put it past Hitchcock to try something like that.

 

2.  This title sequence is one of the most creative opening sequences that I can remember in my years of movie watching.   The image of the face starting with the mouth and ending with that powerful image of the eye.  The lips symbolic of lust, love, the eye of course being the mirror of the soul.  The image of the eye reacting in fear followed by the spiral as it exits and laters enters is the most powerful image but as the spirals change shapes and sizes and swirl about the credits the whole sequence is an exercise in creatvity.  It establishes the psychological nature of the story to follow.

 

3.  The music score and images worked so well together and are actually at cross purposes, as the spiral images have a dizziing effect an attempt to lull you into a trance. The softer creepy music, and bang, you're wakened, then thrown off balance again.  It is hard to imagine this sequence with any other music.  The changing tempo, rhythm, cadence, movement from loud to soft along with the images work so well to create a feeling of anxiety even before a line of dialogue's been spoken.

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  1. Describe what you think this film will be about simply from the sounds and images in these opening credits. Even if you have seen the film, try to focus on these sounds and images themselves and “the story” (or if not "the story," the mood and atmosphere they are establishing) that this sequence is communicating to the audience. I think it will involve this woman, and from the music and designs, it will have dreamlike sequences.

 

In your own estimation, what is the single most powerful image in this title sequence? Defend your answer.I like when HItchcock's credit as director comes up. The music is powerful at that point.

 

How do Saul Bass’ images and Bernard Herrmann’s score work together? How different would this sequence be with a different musical score? They are superb together. I can't imagine a better partnership.

 

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