A series of posts examining briefly each of the essays in the collection

Haunted by Haunted by Vertigo

Haunted by Vertigo: Then and Now
Edited by Sidney Gottlieb and Donal Martin
John Libbey Publishing
Indiana University Press

Haunted by Vertigo is a first rate collection of essays sampling each of the areas that appear to have the most modern interest currently in Hitchcock’s Vertigo. I imagine every reader will find something of interest, something to nod in approval of, something to tsk tsk at and more than a few aha’s wish I had thought of that’s.

Sidney Gottlieb serves as introductory guide and contributes his own essay. Hitchcock readers will know Gottlieb as the current shepherd of the Hitchcock Annual and his two collections of Hitchcock’s writings.

First up is Mark W. Padilla’s essay that makes connections between Vertigo and the myth of Io and Argos. Padilla uses Ovids rendering of the classic myth of sexual longing, jealousy and retribution. He makes several excellent points, but I found the connections something of a stretch. His points are no doubt accurate, but I had hard time wrapping my head around the cow imagery. (although it is ironic that the improvised news sequence after Gavin Elster’s radio broadcast arrest by Vertigo restorers Harris and Katz in the unused alternate ending countries with censorship issues mentions a stolen cow—perhaps the duo caught subliminal Io images during their work).

Padilla is right to try break new ground mythic readings and like any good essays provokes as manny questions as he answers. There are only so many ways to split the Pygmalion and Orpheus and Eurydice connections—and Padilla breaks free from the predictable readings like the bull in zen tales and opens new doors of possible enlightenment

Unique in Padilla’s approach is his consideration of connections between the myth in Hitchcock’s use of color and costume.


Padilla writes,

For example, the odd purple hue of the suit that Scottie regularly wears is significant, as if the garish colors that signal his vertigo downfall has leaked onto his body. This parallel of heightened color and heightened emotion is evident particularly in the nightmare sequence, designed by John Ferren, the artist also of the Carlotta painting (in which the subject wears a purple dress). During this striking depiction of Scottie’s nervous breakdown, the intense- color scheme includes an animated sequence of a bouquet of flowers becoming undone. Here one may be reminded of Burkert’s term “dissolution”, for Scottie’s psyche undergoes a trauma that will require a long hospital stay to heal.

Haunted by Vertigo, pg 33

I am color blind but can generally see Technicolor. I had never noticed the purple hue coming from Scottie’s suit. I took another look and indeed Padilla is right. A little hard for me to catch, but once purple sheen pops it becomes quite noticeable. The purple from his suit matches the purple dress that Judy wears on their first date and the odd purple she inhabits in the green neon of the hotel’s sign later in that same sequence.

I discuss Hitchcock’s use of color in Vertigo in my book on the film’s making. In the dream sequence Hitchcock and the American artist John Ferren made very specific color choices:

One of the typical aspects of any film production is how unpredictable the sequence of events can be. Working in the interest of economy, production teams often treat the most important sequences as undertakings distinct from the bulk of a film’s production-as was true of a number of Vertigo’s most celebrated visual effects.

An instructive example is Vertigo’s animated nightmare sequence, which began its production phase in August of 1957, before principal photography began. The director had turned to the art world before, most memorably with the dream sequence designed by Salvador Dali in Spellbound. Now he invited contemporary artist John Ferren to design the dream.

A fan of Ferren’s work, Hitchcock had first commissioned the artist for another particularly personal project, The Trouble with Harry; for this dark comedy—like Vertigo, only recently recognized as one of the director’s best—Ferren contributed the paintings John Forsythe’s character has painted, and he gave the actor some lessons in technique. The Ferrens became friendly with the Hitchcock’s and Colemans during these years, John’s widow, Rae, recalls; they relocated permanently to Long Island, New York, after completing the design work for Vertigo.

On August twenty-seventh, Ferren submitted his sketch for the night mare; it was adapted with few changes at a meeting a few days later attended by Hitchcock, Coleman, Ferren, Hal Pereira (Paramount’s lead art director), John Fulton, Doc Erickson, and Henry Bumstead.

Subject: Sketch for scene #215 “From Among the Dead”

Central Idea: The scene is played nearly exactly as written with no addition of sets, or vistas or landscapes. There is imposed on the entire sequence a Color Throb or Pulsation. This is a rhythmed beat of colored light which swells from and recedes to darkness.

This pulsation is rhythmed to begin at a normal heart beat and gradually increase to a flutter in the final sequence where it stops and is held in the glare of the final revelation. The color changes in hue from indigo blue through the spectrum as the sequence progresses, in psychological and emotional cohesion with each scene, ending in pure white and black at the end.

With the exception of the inquest section, Scottie’s head, Carlotta’s, the nosegay, the necklace, the falling body etc. are kept at dead center of the screen. This increases the hypnotic effect, centers the spectators [sic] attention and makes the apparent reality unreal.

COLOR SCORING FOR SEQUENCE 215

As Scottie rolls restlessly the camera watches and then catches him completely full face, asleep but finally expressionless and static, like a still. The face is dead center the screen, framed by the pillow only, which is a gray white expanse covering the screen and showing no borders. There should be a minimum of color (all grays) in this shot. The natural color changes to indigo blue (blue purple) Scottie’s face remains unmoved and unchanged but the pillow background becomes a pure color area.

As this is being affected the color pulsation begins. This is color rising out of black and receding with a defined and calculated rhythm. The initial rhythm should be that of the normal heart beat or throb. Scottie’s eyes open and stare intensely but with no facial expression. (He is in the dream world.)

Superimpose Carlotta’s portrait head on Scottie’s in same dead center position. There is no decor of any sort around the heads, just the pulsating color. Do not show picture frame. Color changes to adulterated blue. Pan to flowers–or rather lift picture so that flowers rise to dead center position.

This sequence should be slow and deliberate—in silence, or a drum heart [sic] beat—with only the rhythmic color pulsation.


Slightly faster beat. Color changes from blue green slowly to yellow green. The flowers come alive, grow and fade, become florescent [sic], change color, start whirling in a dizzy maze-like pinwheels-and enlarge rapidly to cover screen.

Quick break-Shock transition to final scene of inquest. Exact decor as in original sequence, but the illumination very clear and detailed, like a still, with the actors motionless. Color has changed to clear orange (like cellophane over entire scene). The pulsation is there but is toned down and unobtrusive, although there is a slow imperceptible building up of tempo. Play scene as written.

Pan to necklace (is it a Lavelliere [sic] type? It should be red) which grows to fit the original size of Scottie’s head in the first sequence. Superimpose Scottie’s head with eyes still open but now, with an inquiring expression. Color beat now becomes red. Return to heavy pulsation with light on his face only. His body becomes discernible, profiled by some light behind.

We are next aware that he is walking. Camera retreats as he advances al ways keeping Scottie’s head dead center, showing he’s in graveyard. Break to black screen for a few seconds—no beat. Quick shot of Scottie’s face looking down, pure white on black background.

A dark red beat starts on face. Reverse shot of grave. The same red beat on the ground, the pit grows larger. Scottie falls. Faster beat. The pit takes over entire screen as strips of color on what would be the sides of the grave appear [around] Scottie’s windblown head.

These strips stream back in Disney fashion, giving the illusion of terrific speed. The scream starts. The strips begin, colored deep red. At the same time there is a mustard color (dirty yellow) pulsation on Scottie’s face. The receding red strips change through purple to dark steel blue as the face color changes from mustard yellow to sharp acid green yellow. (These are deliberate dissonant colors.)

The yellow becomes brighter loosing [sic] its green tinge as the pulsation tempo increases. The yellow face enlarges, takes over the screen, blurs unrecognizably. Reverse angle showing Scottie falling as a pure, unshadowed, black, profiled mass from the Dolores Mission [actually San Juan Bautista] which is shown briefly in the clear yellow light.

The roof background toward which Scottie is falling turns deep black red which comes up from darkness to a blinding white light at the moment of impact. Scottie’s body, still dead center of the screen, should be pure black on a pure white background at the final moment.

The color beat now increased to a fast flutter which stops and holds just before the moment of impact, during which time the scream increases to its final volume. In the notes to the September fourth meeting,

Ferren included footnotes explaining that the color changes reflected the viewer’s psychological shifts, not Scottie’s. “The duration of each color scene [acts] to permit the spectator to absorb the effect,” Ferren wrote. Ferren’s strength as an artist was with color: His work found its most frequent home in Abstract Expressionism (although his work was sometimes called not abstract enough), and his work hangs today in the Metropolitan Museum of Art , the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim and Whitney museums, and the Los Angeles County Museum.

According to a 1979 retrospective catalog, his turn to explosive, expressive color was triggered by an early visit to a Matisse exhibition. “Treatment of color in the paintings … embodies this expansiveness of light-a light that not only pervades the work itself, but envelops the viewer. Such a treatment has many European antecedents (Delaunay and Klee [another Hitchcock favorite] come readily to mind), but the driving force behind it in Ferren’s work can be traced to a … sense of Taoist tranquility. The restraint of that light contrasts with his vivid, highly energized drawing, or with the sensual, audacious, often strident and demanding color that explodes in the works”-as, indeed, it does on-screen in Vertigo. There are no surviving records that outline when the dream sequence was filmed.

Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic

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