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

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The single most powerful image in the title sequence of Vertigo for me has to be at the beginning when the camera focuses on the single eye (clearly, there is some level of panic in those eyes), the entire frame of the eye turns red, and that panicked expression briefly becomes one of terror.  Wow!!  I'm frightened before the film even starts.  

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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.  


As someone who has experienced vertigo, the changes in the spirals that seemingly are coming towards me or moving away gives me a very real feeling of falling.  As many times as I've seen this film, it's surprising that I've not focused on that feeling before now.  Maybe I have and I just don't remember it.  The jarring music also seems to increase in volume and then fade slightly, until the bass wind section comes in with a thud.  Mystery and some sort of violence are what I expect to see after this opening.


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


The most powerful image of that opening was the credit, "Directed by Alfred Hitchcock".  It seems to abruptly come straight out of the woman's eye.  The other credits have been shown, and this stands out as it is all by itself.  The eye is in a blood red wash of light.  Very cool.


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


OMG, these guys are perfect together!  Pure genius.  The music and video seem to weave in and out, not exactly in cadence, but off just enough to be interesting.  It's similar to when you hear an impromptu jazz improvisation.  It is supposed to work you up, not send you sleep.


I honestly cannot imagine any other composer doing these titles.  Maybe Tiomkin could do something close, but he's not as innovative as Hermann.  Plus, with Tiomkin, I'd still have High Noon in my head.

In reference to your #3 response, I completely agree!!  The music and the visual effects work perfectly, circling and weaving in and out.  Pure genius!!

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Thanks to the contributor who mentioned the spirograph - I remembered seeing images like this as a kid when I saw the opening credit sequence of "Vertigo" & found the images fascinating. Now I remember my own experience of that little machine. Even so, the opening sequence, both visually and musically - and also together - set a tone of something stressful for the action to come.


Moving beyond the opening sequence, "Vertigo" is a movie of "high anxiety" - literally. This is where Hitchcock moves beyond the outward experience of the cliffhanger to the inward one. I haven't yet found when he first used the motif of someone hanging from a great height, but it ends with death in "Saboteur" (1942) There's one in "Rear Window" (1954) where the character falls and is injured. Yet another in "To Catch a Thief" (1955) when again, the evil-doer hangs from a roof. How many other of Hitchcock's movies have such a cliffhanger? What was their chronological sequence? Just another fascinating fact to research about H! 


"Vertigo" of 1958 takes a huge step beyond the external experience of the cliffhanger to the internal experience of it - moving into the effect on the psyche of the individual who was hanging over the "cliff." The movie starts with the cliffhanger instead of ending with it and deals several times with the most likely effect of such a predicament - i.e. death. Interestingly, the protagonist in "Vertigo" is not only experiencing the damaging effect on his psyche of having hung off a "cliff," but also seeing the experience from the outside as well, several times. Also interestingly, in "North By Northwest" (1959) H. returns to the concluding cliffhanger, but makes a very positive transition from the horror to happiness. A delightful resolution - but as in "Vertigo," leaving unanswered the question: how did the character get out of the predicament s/he was in? Of course, it's a film, a story; and in effect it doesn't matter because film moves on fast and the director ensures his focus is the audience's focus, at least for the first viewing. However, in "Vertigo," an interesting unanswered question is how Scottie got himself out of his own predicament at the start of the movie! It leaves a lot for the imagination to come up with after the movie ends. 


My further reading tells me that an alternative ending was made for this movie - see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vertigo_(film) - which reflected the concerns of the censors of the time - they didn't want viewers to come away thinking that someone could get away with murder. 

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1. We know the film will be about a woman, love, vertigo from the title. Perhaps less about the obsession that James Stewart will feel towards Novak.


2. The most powerful image is when we see the spiral which appears soon after the title Vertigo appears in the eye. It draws you in and makes you feel quite queasy and mesmerised at the same time!


3. The dramatic repetitive music echoes the repetitive turning of the spiral and reminded me a bit of the song "The windmills of your mind" or in French of "les moulins de mon coeur" in its endless repetitive sound. A light-hearted score would not have been as effective in making the audience feel uneasy and ready for the thrills to come.

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I love this kind of opening! This is a classic one! I think this is the best way o open a psychological thriller! The eyes, the spiral, the music makes your mind go crazy! There's a lot of mystery here!

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Daily Dose #15: Lissajous Figures, Title Design Sequence of Vertigo (1954)


I really like the subject of this Daily Dose. It’s a very creative assignment to focus on a title sequence to extract the meaning from it. I looked at the link to the Saul Bass website and was surprised by the familiarity I had with the posters and their look. It’s a signature design style that in my mind really stands in for edgy, new, sophisticated works of art. I have seen the style almost more on the covers of paperbacks than on movie posters. I think of James Baldwin, Nelson Algren, Hubert Selby and others, a moderness that really played in the heyday of the 60’s and continues to feel modern.


I love that reduction down to very simple geometric shapes, like jazz, modern art and poetry, the short stories of Hemingway, or Carver. I really like the poster for The Magnificent Seven, a favorite movie of mine, but I don’t remember ever seeing this one, five hash marks with a line through, and two below, in the bright red heavy brush strokes of Japanese Shodo, on a white background. It says so much, so simply.


That said, I have mixed feelings about Vertigo in general, some of it present in this title sequence. I too saw it when I was younger, and didn’t care for it that much. I have seen it several times more recently, and though I find it growing on me, and I do love the San Francisco, Northern California 50s travelogue of it, I’m with Dr. Gehring when he says, I don’t even think it’s the best Hitchcock, let alone the best movie of all time. I don’t get how it replaces Citizen Kane. But I will admit it is an interesting film and fertile ground for discussion and repeated viewings.


I find the computer graphics of the title sequence kind of hokey and artificial. They remind me of that kid’s art tool, the Spirograph, some of us used to make interesting mathematical art shapes. And the dream sequence later on, with the tinted, disembodied James Stewart head, and the funky animation of flowers, not convincing or effective.


I do like the Bernard Hermann score, which reminds me of Rimsky Korsakov’s Scheherazade, with its impression of the rising and falling of the ocean swell in Sinbad’s voyages by crescendo and decrescendo, and the gentle sway of Herman’s score creating a dream-like vertigo, like the car sequence Marty describes.

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1.) The title of this film began with the eye and face shots of a woman. Even now, I am confused that the woman who appeared in the title sequence was Kim Novak as I thought that it was some other woman. By seeing the spiral images twirling on and on, one can make out that this film will be a psychological thriller with heart racing background score.


2.) I believe that it is the spiral image (or the Lissajous figures) which played the important part in the opening sequence. It is that this moving image captures our attention and makes one believe in his/her delirium tremens which happens within their minds. This sequence was indeed successful in conveying the effect.


3.) Without the music of Mr. Hermann and the visual effects of Mr. Bass, I believed that this film would have been a dry desert. It is that as it seems that Mr.Hitchcock knew how to choose his collaborators at the right place and at the right time.



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