I saw Vertigo on 70mm last Tuesday night. The experience has updated some feelings I’ve had for years, as well as changed some. It reminded me of how much the plot of the Observer Effect is inspired by it. I should also probably note that I was introduced to Vertigo through the film 12 Monkeys, in a scene where Bruce Willis and Madeline Stowe are watching it in a theater; they’re on the run, putting on their new disguises. Stowe’s character says that every time she sees it, it feels like a completely new film. In the scene they are watching, Scottie and Madeline are in the California Redwood forest and Madeline walks over to a cross-section of a tree that is over 2000 years old. She says that she doesn’t want to die, then points out lines in the tree stump that mark the birth and death of her great grandmother, who she is now embodying. She says (to the tree), “here I was born… and there I died. It was only a moment for you. You took no notice.” To me this is one of the great lines because she is humbled by the power of time, the unfathomable nature of eternity, and she is existing simultaneously in the past, which is marked on the tree, and her present. The tree is a Redwood, an evergreen.
The dominant color in Vertigo is green, and many of the less dominant but still startling colors throughout the film often act as a backdrop that creates a distinct contrast. Red, grey, etc.
It isn’t just Hitchcock and co. that connected green with reincarnation and eternal life. There are such associations in many cultures and religious iconography. The color green in Japanese culture signifies eternal life.The Egyptian God Osiris, who was depicted with green skin signifying his own reincarnation, was king in the afterlife:
Though he was king in the land of the dead, Egyptians considered him “King of the Living,” in reference to the afterlife as a blessed state of being:
There is an interesting connection to Vertigo here, as the character Madeline is enticed by her own death. She is obsessed with it; compelled and frightened at the same time. The persona she is taking on is a being from the land of the dead, and it’s as if she is trying to get back.
Film is reincarnation. Vertigo takes this idea further and contains characters that exist in the past and their own present simultaneously. In reality, they are both in their past and in our present because of the nature of film. The picture is self reflexive of its medium while representative of our own dual natures in time, unable to completely escape our pasts while clinging to the present (and vice versa). The characters in Vertigo make choices that dramatically vary their past / present relationships; Judy creates a calculated and false connection to the past by becoming Madeline’s great grandmother when she was her age, while Scottie later forces Judy to become Madeline, at first ignorant to the fact that she faked her death, that he never met the real Madeline and actually fell in love with Judy… while she was Madeline. I know, it gets crazy. Both characters enforce a diabolical connection to the past with the intent for it to materialize in the present. It is this gradually changing relationship to the past, to reincarnation, that the color green represents at key moments in the film.
Many films that achieve greatness utilize elements of the medium to reflect its inescapable nature as a thing that exists both in the past and present, and how that relates to the relationship we have to the past and present as we live out our lives.
I am writing about Vertigo because it partly inspired the plot of my film, but also as an example of the use of color on film, how it can represent a state of being or a desire within a character and take on a strong narrative presence not unlike a character itself. As I build the world of my film, the electronically saturated environment of my character and how that makes his perspective unique, I have to create a color scheme. So far, things are quite blue. More on that later.