Vertigo’s signature shot cost nearly $20,000

Time was spent on Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”. Discarded as dull and average by Critics in 1958“Vertigo” has been named best movie of all time by Sight & Sound in 2012. Experimental films can take a while to receive proper acclaim, and “Vertigo” is certainly one of Hitchcock’s more experimental films. He even invented a whole new shot for it.

In the film’s opening, Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) is hanging from a skyscraper and watching stories down the alley below. When he did, the shot was distorted and the buildings on the opposite side of the alley seemed to stretch out. The effect is achieved by mounting the camera on the dolly line and then zooming in on the lens while moving the dolly line backwards. As a result, the subject of the image remains in focus while the background of the frame is distorted. While this camera trick is most accurately called the “zoom dolly”, it is also sometimes referred to as the “Vertigo effect” in its truest origin.

The scene is used a few more times throughout the film to convey Scottie’s dizziness to the audience. That’s not to say the footage isn’t easy to create; It takes some creative thinking and a pretty penny to create the Vertigo effect.

Zoom dolly

In the famous François Truffaut “Hitchcock / Truffaut” In the book, two directors of the same name discuss the origin of the zoom dolly. Hitchcock revealed that he first got the idea for the scene while filming “Rebecca.” As Hitchcock explains:

“When Joan Fontaine fainted during the ‘Rebecca’ inquest, I wanted to show how she felt things were moving away from her before she was toppled. I always remember one night at the Chelsea Arts Ball at Chelsea. Albert Hall in London when I was terribly drunk and I had the feeling that everything was leaving me. I tried to put that in ‘Rebecca’, but they couldn’t. You see, the perspective had to be fixed. back, while the angle of view is changed as it stretches vertically.”

According to Hitchcock, he held on to the idea for the scene but couldn’t come up with a solution until “Vertigo”. In that scene, the second unit cameraman Irmin Roberts came up with the zoom + dolly combo, while Hitchock may drop the price from the original cost estimate. Hitchcock recounts:

“They told me it would cost $50,000. When I asked why, they said, ‘Because to put the camera at the top of the stairs, we had to have a big piece of equipment to lift it, counterbalance it. it and hold it up. space.’ I said, ‘There are no characters in this scene; it’s simply a perspective. Why can’t we just make a miniature of the stairs and put it on its side, then turn around by dragging. We can use shot tracking and flat-launch on the ground.’ So that’s how we did it, and it cost us only nineteen thousand dollars.”

Considering how impressive the footage was, that $19,000 was well spent.

Long term impact

The most famous dolly zoom to track from “Vertigo” is in “Jaws” by Steven Spielberg. Here, it happens during the film’s second shark attack, when young Alex Kintner (Jeffrey Voorhees) is killed a few yards from shore. When Sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider) sees the attack, the scene cuts across with a medium close-up of him sitting down. That’s when Spielberg and his cinematographer Bill Butler did the dolly zoom.

The effect here is even more pronounced than in “Vertigo” because there is a human subject (Brody) in the center of the frame, who remains static even when the image around him is distorted. Brody may still be, but his mind is moving at a mile a minute. All of that is reflected in the contrast between his still face and the blurred background. John Williams’ scores compliment the moment, as it jumps from the shark’s “dun dun” theme to the more intense Bernard Herrmann-esque string note.

Martin Scorsesewho gave high praise about “Dizzy” several times, used the slower-paced dolly zoom in “Goodfellas”. Near the end of the film, a nervous Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) meets Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) at a diner, while also suspecting his old friend wants to silence him. Scorsese and DP Michael Ballhaus start with a moderately wide-framed center shot of two men sitting at opposite ends of the stall, then slowly zoom in as the dolly tracks every inch, creating ” subtle “Vertigo” effect that lasts past 30 seconds. The irony: a film famous for its lightning-fast camera movement and whirling style takes one of the most daring, mechanically elaborate shots ever and plays it for the sake of flair. .

Hitchcock used the zoom dolly specifically when he conceived it, but his successors Spielberg and Scorsese have proven there are different ways to use it. Vertigo’s signature shot cost nearly $20,000

Fry Electronics Team

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