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Narrative Essay, 6 pages (1400 words)

Narrative report on ‘vertigo’ assignment

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Assignment 1: Narrative report on Vertigo Establishing the difference between the story and the plot allows one to determine the effect each element has on the understanding and interpretation of the piece. It also provides a way of tracking the continuation of events and the relationship between seemingly isolated moments in time. Film Art clearly defines both story and plot but acknowledges that there is a significant overlap between the two functions and allows a flow within the film.

The plot is the presentation of the events, in chronological order and includes the events that are seen, inferred and assumed by the viewer as opposed to the story. The story refers to the way in which the plot is presented, the ‘ personality’ imposed onto it by the ‘ storyteller and the way in which it is interpreted by the viewer, including all of the information that is inferred and assumed by the viewer.

In the film Vertigo the distinction between story and plot allows the viewer to interpret the presented information in a way that makes the ‘ story’ feasible, whilst at the beginning it appears that the film will run in chronological order, it becomes clear eventually due to inferences that the viewer makes there is more to the story than the plot lets on initially. Vertigo creates suspense by playing with the order in which information is released to the viewer; the amount of time spent creating the relationship between the characters ensures that the viewer understands the depth and intensity of the emotion.

This plays into the evolution of the story by introducing another layer to the interpretation, the loss and despair when Madeline dies is compounded later by the fact that it was not actually her that dies, nor was it her that Jonny-O really loved. This linking of events through the overlap of story and plot is a good example of how inferred and assumed information can make or break the interpretation of events.

Opening with the title sequence that fetishizes an attractive woman’s face, and the opening rooftop chase scene where Scottie’s prior guilt, acrophobia, and vertigo are established the viewer is instantly plunged in to the depths of the protagonists’ consciousness and is allowed to experience the apparent sensation of the namesake, Vertigo. The opening scene introduces us to the person we later learn is John ‘ Scottie’ Ferguson, something that does not lay out until much later in the film relates to the demonstration of the debilitating extent of Johns inability to act in the face of heights, once with the police officer and then with his love whom he cant stop because of his fear. The opening scene builds on the credits by creating the expectation of suspense and thrill and mystery shrouding the true identity and relation of characters and setting up the disposableness of characters in the film, this adds to the complexity of Madeline’s disease as the audience cant tell whether, or more when, she will die.

The rooftop chase creates an expectation of dark drama, which moves into the scene with Midge in a light filled room where Scottie appears to be in control of his fear and the relationship between the two characters is established, whilst not technically part of the opening scene it instantly makes the viewer question whether their interpretation of the initial segment of the film was correct, already one is questioning their ability to pick the direction of the film.

In a sense, the closing scene is the exact opposite of the opening scene, scotty and Judy/Madeline are scaling the very stairs that rendered him incapable and led to the loss of his true love, but now he appears to forcing Judy to the top, to prove that he has overcome his fear. In the opening scene Scotty regurgitates a doctors prognosis that the very thing that caused his disease will be the thing to fix it, another equal or greater trauma that causes him to confront this issue. In the closing scene it appears that Scottie has come full circle in his character development.

In the final scene it is Judy’s death that ends the film, as you discover in the middle of the film it was all a sham and a set-up one may suggest that the seeming continuum created by the spiral in the opening credits is a metaphor depicting the protagonists’ ‘ full circle’ evolution throughout the film. The range of the story as it develops is relatively restricted; we are only to see the sequence of events through one character until approximately two thirds of the way through, aside from the odd person who makes a face as if to say ‘ are you crazy? cementing the story that Scotty is both seeing and telling. The narrative is told from Scotties perspective, so much so, that when Midge tries to help ‘ shed some light’ on the peculiarities, Scotty implies she is merely interfering, that she wouldn’t understand, immediately persecutes her and in doing so, eliminates any additional information or perspective being cast. This single vision continues until after Madeline’s death, where Scotty is admitted to the psychiatric hospital and then begins to search for her.

When Scotty first sees Madeline/Judy it is the first time we start to see the sequence of events from another perspective, Judy allows us into the flat and after Scotty leaves, she confesses on paper the whole story, this then gives the viewer significantly more information than the characters, this is how Hitchcock prefers to create suspense in his films, he is quoted in a conversation with Francois Truffaut: “…The conclusion is that whenever possible the audience must be informed” (P. 95 Film Art) Which thus engages the viewer in a different way, allowing them to infer more, whether right or wrong is just part of the film experience.

By opening up the range it allows the story to develop, there are fresh interpretations that provide insight into the actual intentions of seemingly minor scenarios and which ultimately allow Scotty to see the ‘ truth’, the necklace that provides the missing link between the two parallel narratives is something that is not fixated on by Scotty but noticeable in the way that Madeline lingers on it in the relevant scenes, it is this element that distinguishes the film as a ‘ mixed and fluctuating’ but primarily ‘ restricted’ range.

Early on in the film the viewer is asked to entertain the idea of supernatural beings and the story continues to exploit this through its middle, the ability to remain objective about Madeline’s state of mind is made difficult by the marred perception of the events we ascertain from Scotties’ inner interpretation clouded by love. This engages the concept of hindsight, in flashbacks that Scotty has once the penny has dropped, he is able to see objectively for the first time as he no longer sees a pretty, albeit troubled, woman who needs his help, the emotion is withdrawn and his ability to see the truth unfolds.

Many of the shots taken whilst Scotty is trailing Madeline in the first half of the movie are limited in the characters point-of-view, whilst this information is all the viewer knows at that point in time it is quite a specific use of perceptual subjectivity. It is not until the end when Scotty is piecing it all together the viewer becomes privy to the version of the final events as remembered by the character allowing for a “ flashback sequence” and the concept of mental subjectivity is utilized.

Character development is slow to start, all of the cards are lain on the table from the beginning, a causal moment of significance for the development of Scottie’s character is the court case of Madeline’s death, the Judges harsh words and critical appraisal of his disposition motivate the decline in his mental state, the blame and the guilt becoming to much to bare. It is not until this happens that Scotty is able to start to rebuild and rehabilitate, it is this demise and personal interrogation that allows the character to establish what it was he was initially searching for and ultimately confront Judy

The most poignant illustration of causality with regard to narrative transformation relates to the scene in which Judy produces the necklace. As Scotty says, it was her one mistake. This is the trigger for Scotty to start to see what the viewer has seen and provides for the moment of most significant narrative progression and thus character development, it is the moment the viewer has been waiting for and the effects are grand, the response to the recognition of causality begins the end of the film.

Bibliography: Vertigo, 1958, Motion Picture, USA, Director Alfred Hitchcock Bordwell, David & Thompson, Kristin, 2010 Film Art McGraw-Hill, New York. Study Guide CMM117 Introduction to Screen Analysis, School of Humanities, Arts, Education & Law, Griffith University, Brisbane. Schneider, Dan 2009, http://www. noripcord. com/reviews/film/vertigo

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