By OGT Blog Squad Volunteer, Stacia Woycheck
Hello, Old Greenbelt Theatre fans! I’m back after the hectic four-week crash course called, “Moving your job online ASAP”. In our current “stay at home” status, like you, I’m catching up on all of the things I “didn’t have time” to do before (minus the housekeeping), that’s still going undone!
I have to be honest, before I started blogging for OGT, I only knew Alfred Hitchcock from my sneaky escapades of childhood—when I stayed up past my bedtime to watch “ Alfred Hitchcock Presents”. After a few Hitchcock films though, I have a new appreciation for his skillful use of the camera, music and settings. Without further adieu, good evening, ladies and gentleman. I present—Vertigo.
This weekend I dove into the Hitchcock classic, the 1958 film Vertigo. It is a vibrant color film that takes your attention hostage for just a touch over two hours. Jimmy Stewart stars as John “Scottie” Ferguson, a retired detective, who as a result of a traumatic crime chase across the roofs of San Francisco, suffers from acrophobia. Galvin Elster (Tom Helmore) is an old college friend who talks Scottie into coming out of retirement to follow his wife, Madeleine. Madeleine, played by the striking Kim Novak, in her husband’s opinion, has been exhibiting concerning behavior—he suspects she is in danger. Although Scottie is uncertain, he agrees and is hired to follow Madeleine.
I’m a sucker for film settings that allow me to connect to another place and time. Hitchcock uses 1950s San Francisco to build yet another character in this film. As he begins his pursuit of Madeleine, the scenes are shot with the viewer in the passenger seat—riding along with Scottie as he careens down the steep streets with panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay. We follow Madeleine to Podesta Baldocchi, a flower shop, and the McKittrick Hotel, where she vanishes into thin air. The most mysterious location of all was shot in the Legion Hall at the Fine Arts Museum. In this scene, Madeleine stares unwavering at a portrait of a beautiful woman titled, Portrait of Carlotta. Our chase of Madeliene continues on to a cemetery where she pays respects to the grave holder, Carlotta Valdes. Who is Carlotta Valdes? And why is Madeleine entranced by her?
We continue to follow Madeleine to Fort Point and as we gain a magical view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Madeleine desperately throws herself into the water. Luckily, Scottie is not as phased by the bridge as we are—he heroically dives in to save her. The next day, Scottie follows her and now the two have a connection. They spend the day at Muir Woods where we are picnicking with the sequoias. They visit Cypress Point where we drive with them along the beautiful coastline.
As Madeleine and Scottie’s admiration for each other grows, they end up at Mission San Juan Bautista where Madeleine races to climb the bell tower. As Scottie runs after her, the dolly effect is used, a technique where the zoom lens moves toward the subject as the camera angle moves away. This technique, originated in Vertigo, produces an effect allowing the viewer to experience Scottie’s disorienting vertigo. Frozen ascending the bell tower, he is paralyzed—unable to save her. This time Madeleine’s journey abruptly ends.
Hitchcock is a mix master using music to accentuate tension and create suspense in his films. The music paired with the bell tower climb moves to a riveting and shocking crescendo. Scottie is now tortured by Madeleine’s suicide. Cinematically, his depression and guilt is portrayed brilliantly in a sequence of images, colors and music spinning wildly on the screen. You can feel, see and hear his emotional angst. Will he recover? The plot thickens after Scottie is released from a mental ward and becomes obsessed with “everything Madeleine”. As he retraces all of the San Francisco sights she visited, he stumbles upon Judy Barton, a Madeleine Elster look-alike. Or is she?
For an additional challenge, try to spot Hitchcock as he makes his traditional cameo. You never know where he’ll turn up.
Since you’ve got the time (and who wants to clean the house?), watch Vertigo and then tune in to OGT’s Flick of the Week film discussion on Sunday, May 3 at 2:00 pm. Trust me, it will keep you on the edge of your couch.
**STAFF NOTE: Stacia will be leading the film discussion on Sunday, May 3, along with fellow OGT volunteer and Hitchcock fan, Tammy Hurley.
Stacia’s love of old movies began as a child, when her mother would take her to the matinee to see classics like Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, and The African Queen. She fast became a Humphrey Bogart and Old Hollywood fan. Her favorite class as an undergraduate student was Film Appreciation. She loves the charm of the Old Greenbelt Theater and volunteers to spread the word. She loves to spend time with her husband, play with her dog, and travel (when she isn’t traveling, she is planning her next trip).