Art & Culture

Vertigo: the role of color in one of the most well-known Hitchcock’s films

One of the best movies by Alfred Hitchcock was highly underrated by its contemporaries. This hurt the director's feelings so much that he hid the tape in a safe which was discovered only after his death.
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1935 is considered to be the year when color cinema was first introduced — this was when the first full-length color film "Becky Sharp" by an American director Ruben Mamulyan was released. The color cinema technology — "Technicolor" which was used in this movie, paved the way for a new "color era" in the history of cinema.

However, it took another 30 years for it to become widespread. The 60s finally brought a massive transition to the color movie industry.

Alfred Hitchcock was one of the directors who began using color in his dialogue with the audience in the 60s. A vivid example of how the movie’s colors can influence viewer’s perception is the suspense "Vertigo"(1958). Hitchcock shot the movie on the pique of his career, during his most prolific period. This film was very personal and therefore especially important. Yet, we can only guess the reason for the audience's cold reaction  to Vertigo and why it almost failed at the box office. Hitchcock took it very hard.

Hidden cine-film

After Hitchcock’s feelings had been drastically hurt, he removed the cine-film from the studio and hid it in his safe. Back then he couldn’t think his film would get a rebirth.

Due to movie critics’ survey “Vertigo” was recognised the best movie of all times, squeezing out “Citizen Kane” for the first time in 50 years.

The cine-film of Vertigo was found after Hitchcock’s death. Due to the fact that film’s negative had faded a lot, the coloring of the movie had to be restored. It took more than a year because it was crucial to recover the initial color palette as it made the film what it was.

Blonde femme fatale in green

Already in the middle of the film there is no doubt that the main color of Vertigo is green, which Hitchcock had associated with his main female character. In the very first scene when Madeleine appears, we can easily find her among the crowd because she stands out in her emerald dress which contrasts with the red hue of the restaurant walls.

In this cutscene the director implies that her beauty is hard to take one’s eyes off. Since that very moment Scottie couldn’t get her out of his mind. Scottie is following Madeleine on the roads of San Francisco for almost half of the film. It was the green color of Madeleine’s Jaguar that helped him not to lose sight of her.

By the way, there’s an amazing story connected with this car. When experts began restoring the color palette of the Vertigo in the 90s, they asked Jaguar for a sample of the paint they used for the Jaguar Mk. VIII in 1957. Thus it became possible to select the shade of green that runs as a leitmotif throughout the movie.

Why did Hitchcock choose green?

The first reason is the psychology of color. Green is usually associated with something mysterious and sinister. These features are how Scottie sees Madeleine. The second reason is more technical. Hitchcock used special green filters in some scenes to add a foggy, slight blurring effect and a feeling of mysticism to the shot.

When Scotty took Madeleine to his house after her suicide attempt, the audience realizes he has a crush on her and can’t resist it. Here Scottie wears a green jumper and gives Madeleine his red robe. Obviously, the colors here were not chosen by chance. The fact that Scottie tries on the green color of his beloved one symbolizes their closeness. Scottie is no longer just an outside observer, he is trying to enter Madeleine’s life to solve her secret.

It is interesting how, in order to emphasize and highlight green, Hitchcock additionally introduces red. Green and red are located opposite to each other on the color circle. Together they form a harmonious pair and a strong contrast creating the so-called "contrast of complementary colors".

Red is the second important color in the film. It increases the feeling of tension and warns us about the upcoming trouble. It is obvious when Scottie has a nightmare after Madeleine’s death.

The green haze

Towards the film's culmination Scottie forces his new girlfriend Judy to transform into Madeleine — the girl has to try on the same clothes and go blond. When Judy finally appears as Madeleine, we see her through a veil of green glow which again creates a sense of mysticism.

At the end of the film, it is clear that the mysterious green haze enveloping Scottie was nothing more than a deception and a trap the hero fell into.

Collages: Lesya Pakharyna

The author:
Natasha Tsi

Interior designer, art and movie reviewer



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