Life is a tragedy when seen close up, but a comedy in long shot. – Charlie Chaplan


As a class, it is clear that we have come to the consensus that Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo is a movie to be seen two or more times in order to comprehend what’s going on. So, in order to more fully grasp the terrific artwork of Hitchcock, I sat down last week and watched Vertigo four times. I have come to the conclusion that Hitchcock wants his audience to participate and act as detectives. There are clues in the dialogue, tone, and costuming throughout the film that foreshadow the many twisted events of Vertigo. Another device that Hitchcock used in this way was the close-up. The camera tells us secrets that the story doesn’t. Close-ups are used as a foreshadowing mechanism throughout the film.

My focus in this blog stems from the FTC essay “The Close Up” by Bela Balasz. Charlie Chaplan once said, “Life is a tragedy when seen close up, but a comedy in long shot.” This quote is relevant to Hitchcock’s work with Vertigo in that each close-up he uses is strategically placed to heighten emotion and invoke feelings of desperation. The movie must be viewed more than once in order to make all of the connections, but upon viewing it for the second time, audience members experience that “lightbulb moment” when they realize that all the clues were there, they just weren’t watching carefully enough the first time.

Balasz says, “Close-ups are often dramatic revelations of what is really happening under the surface of appearances” (315). Vertigo begins with a close-up montage of a woman’s face, a face which we later come to associate with Kim Novak’s character, Madeleine (or is it Judy?!). The camera first focuses on the bottom left section of the woman’s face (pictured above). Why are we shown only half of her face? Well, she’s hiding something of course. We later find out that this woman is playing the role of two women. The darkness on the right side of the shot will soon be filled with a close-up of her lips. So, she is covering up the darkness – not allowing anyone to see into it – just like she never allows Scottie to see the real her (Judy). She keeps that woman in the dark.

The close-up of her lips is intruiging because we see them move slightly. The movement of the lips seems to stem from her swallowing with anxiety or quivering with nervousness. Also, when one’s mouth is shut, secrets can’t be told. Judy (as both Madeleine and herself) has a secret that she must not tell – she must keep her mouth shut.

We are then shown a close-up of her eyes. At first they’re still, then they look left and right. Her glancing towards the left and right may signal the feeling that she’s being watched. Also, it signals her nervousness that she will be caught in disguise. Next we’re shown a close-up of her left eye. Her eyelashes widen in order to give her a “deer in headlights” sort of expression. This foreshadows the expression her eyes will have at the end of the film when she has been caught. On page 315, Balasz says, “Good close-ups are lyrical; it is the heart, not the eye, that has perceived them.” This is an interesting quote to put with this close-up of Novak’s eye because we are being told to look deeper than the surface in order to find out what’s real.

When the opening credits are complete, we view a close-up of an unidentifiable bar. We are left hanging (pun intended) for a moment before being shown what this bar is. Then two hands reach up and tightly grasp onto it, revealing that it’s a ladder on a rooftop. The following scene plays out as this man is running from the law. In the end, Scottie, one of the officers, is dangling from the roof as he watches his partner fall to his death. The close-up that began this scene foreshadows the ending of the film when Judy leaps to her death. The abrubt entrance of the hands into the screen is startling to the audience, much like the nun ascending the bell tower stairs is frightening for Judy. These two scenes are bookends. They complement one another and tie the movie together. It’s rather interesting that Hitchcock ties his film together with a close-up. The smallest detail (even though it’s the largest thing seen) has the ability to tie together an entire piece of art.

When we are first introduced to Madeleine, she poses for a profile close-up shot (pictured below).


We are not yet aware that she is purposely doing this, but a closer look at her slow movements and deliberate glances prove otherwise. Also, this shot foreshadows a few shots of Judy when we first meet her. She notices Scottie standing in front of a flower shop window, and she cleverly poses in the same manner. This is a clue that these two women are one in the same. Also, Hitchcock frames Judy in another shot a few minutes later (pictured below), giving the audience one last chance to make the connection on their own before being told that these two women are the same woman.


Another close-up shot that we see is of a bouquet of flowers sitting on the museum bench as Madeleine sits beside them staring at the picture of Carlotta. This is foreshadowing that the flowers will become a symbol of Madeleine for Scottie. Later in the film he sees a woman who looks much like her (Judy) in front of a flower shop. This scene begins as we fade out from Scottie after he went up to a woman in the museum. The woman was sitting in the same location that Madeleine was sitting in when he watched her at the museum. He walks up to this stranger and realizes that she isn’t Madeleine. The movie then dissolves to a close-up of a bouquet of flowers – a bouquet that strongly resembles the flowers that Madeleine used to carry. The camera tracks back to reveal Scottie staring at this bouquet. It then cuts to a character we will come to know as Judy. She walks towards him and we see her profile in a close-up, the same shot previously discussed that connects her profile to Madeleine’s.

After Hitchcock shows us the bouquet as a foreshadowing mechanism, he does the same thing with Madelein’s hair. Throughout the film, her hair stays in one style: an oddly twisted bun (a sign of Vertigo in itself).


Her hair becomes the last physical attribute that Scottie must change about Judy in order to create a new Madeleine. She never changed her hairstyle, a clue that this is the main trait that embodies Madeleine (or Judy’s version of Madeleine). Even when her hair was wet and down at Scottie’s apartment, she asks for her pins in order to put it back up. Balasz says, “If the close-up lifts some object or some part of an object out of its surroundings, we nevertheless perceive it as existing in space” (316). An isolated image would lose its meaning if we did not connect it with some human being. The isolated image of Madeleine’s hair presents a mystery because we are looking at her back. This adds a sort of mystery to her, as if we don’t exactly know who we will see when she turns around, Madeleine or Judy?

One scene in the film takes us to the Redwood forests. Scottie is explaining to Madeleine the longevity of the trees lives and she becomes uncomfortable. Hitchcock frames a close-up of Madeleine’s gloved hand as she points to a cutaway of a Redwood tree and describes how it makes her feel. Note that she is wearing gloves to hide her true skin. Madeleine says, “Here I was born, and here I died. It was only a moment for you. You took no notice.” In this scene she is torn between her two identities. This close-up of her gloved (hidden) hand mixed with the dialogue tells us that she was born and will soon die (her character, that is). She existed an entire lifetime, and it was only a moment for Scottie. This image mixed with dialogue foreshadows her impending death, both as Madeleine and as herself. She will never be able to be herself with Scottie because he will always want Madeleine. Accordingly, her love for him will allow her to give up her identity as Judy in order to be with him.
The last close-up I’d like to discuss occurs while Scottie is having a nervous breakdown. We see a collaboration of shots, one being a shot of the painting of Carlotta. The camera then tracks to a close-up of her necklace. This foreshadows the unraveling of the mystery for Scottie. He finally realizes that Judy and Madeleine are indeed the same person when Judy asks him to clasp the necklace for her in one of the final scenes of the film. These shots are also accompanied by a red flashing light over the screen. This is a warning sign that the necklace will bring danger to the one who wears it in the end.

So, it is clear to me that Hitchcock used close-ups as clues for his detectives sitting in the audience. As Balasz says, “The close-up has not only widened our vision of life, it has also deepend it” (314). We are told by the close-up of the eyes in the opening credit sequence to watch this movie with wide eyes, paying attention to the smallest details. Hitchcock makes this easy for us by framing the smallest details in close-up shots. However, the difficulty in a film like Vertigo is that we may not notice these things until our second viewing. But perhaps I shouldn’t call that the difficulty of Vertigo, for Hitchcock’s ability to give you the answers without your realization of it is the beauty of the film.

Now onto my comments of other blogs:

Robyn’s blog interested me because she goes into such depth when thinking about the many people that these characters represent, or don’t represent for that matter. She says that Johnny falls in love with Mr. Elster’s wife, Madeleine, but in actuality he has never met this woman. To take things further he’s falls in love with Judy’s representation of Madeleine, so he falls in love with Judy. But this can’t be true because he’s never met Judy either. Perhaps Judy never existed at all. This is a great post that shows a lot of in depth analysis of the characters. I feel that Judy did exist at one point, but has been lost in her transformation into Madeleine and back to Judy. Judy even needs to prove it to herself that she exists when she is first visited by Scottie. She keeps repeating who she is and where she’s from, even though Scottie doesn’t ask her too. She then proceeds to get her license and once again prove that she is, or was, or wishes she still was, Judy.

Shayden’s blog has the interesting theory that Scottie’s vertigo is a cover up for the emotions that he feels in trying situations. To a certain extent I can buy this. At the start of the movie he seems light-hearted about his vertigo when he jokes with Midge about a pencil falling off of his desk, causing his vertigo to kick in. Plus he’s always saying how much he loves to just wander, an enjoyment he couldn’t do much while working so many hours. His vertigo allows him to take a lot of time off from work and relax until he fully recovers. However, I don’t see this as a valid argument because of Hitchcock’s constant reminders to the audience that Scottie’s vertigo is a serious injury. Whenever he is faced with heights he becomes dizzy and the film shows us the beginning shot when his partner fell to his death or the shot as he looks down the stairs while he’s chasing Madeleine. Scottie’s vertigo is legitimate.

Mary Carolyn’s blog brings up the point that Midge presents herself as willing to be molded by painting herself in the portrait of Carlotta. This is a very perceptive thought, but I feel there may be more to it than this. It is my feeling that Midge has a very dry sense of humor, one of those humors that only a few people get. I believe when Mary Carolyn said that perhaps there’s a deeper sarcasm to Midge that only Scottie understands that she was really onto something. These are two characters that have apparently been through a lot together. They were friends, then lovers, then back to friends. In order to stay together as friends after all of that says something about their personalities – they click. She gets him and he gets her. So, I feel that Scottie understands she may have been trying to be sarcastic, but perhaps she took it one step too far. Scottie even says something along the lines of, “Oh now Midge, you’ve just gone too far” with his facial expressions.

I got to thinking about the concept of the MacGuffin after class – trying to figure out examples of this to help me better understand it. So, to help others understand, I have a few to offer. If anyone else has any MacGuffin’s that may help our classmates understand this concept, POST THEM!

Casablanca – the “letters of transit”

Pulp Fiction – the briefcase

Psycho – stolen money

The Maltest Falcon – the black bird statuette

Reality Bites – Lelaina’s video recordings turned ‘sitcom’

Now & Then – Chrissy’s pregnancy

I look forward to seeing the ones you guys come up with!!

Today we were faced with the question, “Can love of the highest kind be anything but deadly? Love of anything: a person, job, idea, etc.” I got to thinking what a horrifying question this is. It can be paralelled with the question, “How far are you willing to go to get the one thing you really want.” I’m afraid what some people would answer. It’s questions like these that show the darkest sides of people.

I’m always home, I’m uncool just posted on the debate about whether all artists are mentally ill or not, or have some sort of substance abuse problem. This is a question I often ponder. Perhaps not so much to the point of mental illness, but I have always felt that there is a certain something in the English major – like a quirk. A certain something that helps them to see things through a different window than others.

Watching the news last night they released the name and major of the killer at Tech. As you all know by now, he was an English major. According to some news sources, the cause of this may have been domestic in nature, perhaps even a love triangle. So this may be an example of loving to the point of death. Perhaps the love of something so great causes one to not want others to have the ability to experience that love. So, they do anything to keep it all to themselves.

The irony of it all: Love, the many splendid thing supposed to keep us together, may not lift us up where we belong. Perhaps love isn’t all we need, especially if experiencing love at such a great level causes deadly desires.

Slightly outdated in its trick photography, yes; however, costume desginers for the film adaptation of Portrait of Jennie did a fantastic job of rushing Jennie through her childhood years, throwing her into her teenage years and portraying her as a young adult. It’s easy for a novel to paint these pictures, for half the battle is left to the readers. They must help the author create characters by seeing them in their minds. Also, it’s easy to quickly age characters when they only exist in your mind. Bravo, costume//make-up designers for Portrait of Jennie. Never once did I doubt her aging process.


Jennie as a young girl.


Jennie as a teen


Jennie as a budding adult.

After writing my last post I had this thought: it’s interesting that a portrait, the likeness of someone, can cause the viewer to create his own portrait, verbal description, of the one stuck in the photograph.

Sort of how Matthews keeps saying that the girl in the photograph reminds him of a different time – it reminds him of something. He’s recreating her in his mind.

I feel it’s safe to say that most of of us have agreed that art and love transcend time. Since our debate takes into consideration three ideas – art —> time —> love – it’s entirely possible that time can somehow transcend itself. After all, it’s surrounded by things that transcend time. We speak of great art and great love as if they never die. They surpass the idea of time by becoming timeless – no matter when the artist or the lover dies, their stories/pictures/paintings will live on. Why? Because they’re beauty affected people so much that it will be discussed for generations to come.

To put time in between art and love perhaps suggests that time itself never dies. Isn’t that what most of Portrait of Jennie is dealing with. In many passages we see Nathan telling us that yesterdays were once tomorrows, today will one day be yesterday, and tomorrow will eventually be today. To be timeless, something must be eternal, everlasting. This is the basic idea of time. It is entirely possible that all great loves and all great works of art will one day finally be forgotten. But the idea of time, that is something that can’t be escaped. Time will go on, even when love dies and art fades. ALL yesterdays will be remembered as once being todays.
Perhaps Nathan is trying to grab at something deeper than a silly love story about the struggling artist. His message seems to more powerfully strike at the notion that no matter how badly we may want to, we can never control time. This causes me to believe that the relationship between Jennie and Nathan was completely made up in Nathan’s mind. Now this may seem odd, but stay with me – let your mind juggle some plot points with me. What if the novel ended where it began? That in itself proves that time transcends itself because the novel gives us future events before we see how they began.

Okay, so Eben was a struggling artist constantly searching for his inspiration – constantly creating works that lacked a muse. One day he reads the obituary of a girl who died in a storm, at the location he used to live at. So, he researchers her, becomes a apart of her. He recreates her. One day walking home, after being refused of most of his artwork, he finds her. Schizophanic, perhaps – the creation of a nonexistent scenario in ones mind. He becomes inspired. He takes his mind back to many yesterdays in order to become a part of Jennie’s life, watch her grow.

Time becomes timeless for all todays (when Eben exists) became yesterdays (when Jennie existed).

Just as today became yesterday, yesterdays can also become today. Eben’s mind is living in a time where Jennie used to exist, but those around him are living in today – a day where Jennie doesn’t exist (physically, atleast). Time becomes something that can exist despite its passing. One’s mind can take one wherever he wants to go. Eben chose to go back in time and recreate Jennie.

I hope this makes sense to atleast one person. If not, it’s still fun to think about.

“There is one thing about distance: that no matter how far away it is, it can be reached. It is over there, beyond the Jersey hills – one can drive to it – it is north, among the pines, or eastward to the sea. It is never yesterday, or tomorrow. That is another, and a cruler distance; there is no way to get there.”

This is one of the most breathtaking paragraphs in this novel (pg. 75) that seems to describe Jennie better than any other paragraph or line. Our woman being painted, Jennie, is slipping through time. However, she is also stuck in time – a time in which she doesn’t belong, a time some years after her actual life occurred.

The thought of distance always having the ability to be reached is beautiful, especially when that distance is keeping two lovers apart. A car or a train or a plane can always minimize that distance. “It can be reached.” Time, however, is a cruel distance that a human has no power over. How our time is spent is what one must make full use of.  And when a point in time is finally reached, it never lasts long enough to fully satisfy the longing you felt while waiting for that moment.

Portrait of Jennie plays with physical distance and distance as it relates to time.  These two characters, a struggling male artist in need of a muse and a soul lost in the sands of time, meet and give eachother what they need to go on in life.  For Jennie, Eben was a friend and love figure to her as she grew up without her parents.  He seemed to give her the strength to go on, much like she gave him the strength to paint.  Physical distance challenged them, but they always overcame that for Jennie always found her way back to him.  However, time was the factor always getting in their way.   She aged quickly through the novel, experiencing yesterday’s and tomorrow’s quicker that Eben.  Time made Eben miss Jennie.  Because of this longing for her, he realised something deeper – one can never be without someone when their memory is with you.  No distance and no yesterday or tomorrow can keep you away from that which you truly desire.

This is what a portrait does – it serves as a memory of a certain someone.  No distance or time can keep you away from the memories a portrait provokes.  A portrait stops time -it has no distance.  Accordingly, a portrait makes some moment in time live forever.

After concluding that reverting back to square one in Fast, Cheap and Out of Control may have something to do with reverting back to focusing on human relationships, I went back to Gates of Heaven in search of the same theme. An unlikely place to look considering Gates is about pet cemetaries and a human beings relationship with a pet, but just as I suspected I found that Gates was also a cry for human relationships to be rebuilt and made stronger.

When one man was interviewed on how he felt about his pet dog, this was his answer:

“People don’t trust one another…I can know you very well, but when I turn my back I don’t know you. Not truly. I can turn my back on my little dog and I know he’s back there. He’s my little friend. He’s not gonna jump on me or bite me or anything like that. But, human beings cannot be this way.”

Morris shows a picture of one of the pets and then cuts to a shot of the son of the man who owns the pet cemetary. This continuity shows that pets aren’t only treated as children, they are children. Pets have taken the place of humans in many cases. Some people take this to an extreme. True, my family dog sleeps with my parents in their king sized bed and wears dresses to holiday events, but her presence in our family hasn’t hindered any of my family members relationships with the outside world or the other family members. However, it’s easy to see how many people are quite happy living a secluded life with their pets. People are cruel, as this man states. They will stab you in the back in a flash whereas your pet will stand by you. Your pet knows loyalty, one of the key componants to a fully functioning relationship.

Much like Fast, Gates also has a cry for the redemption of human relationships.

What does square one mean? This is a question we have been discussing recently in class. Curious as to what the world thinks of square one, I googled it. According to Google, there was a television series called Square One from 1987-1992. It aimed to help the math crisis among American schoolchildren, teaching them fundamental math equations and mathmatical modeling. Also, there is a type of vodka called Square One Vodka. They say that they’re Vodka is the first certified 100% organic American Vodka. Organic – of or pertaining to the basic structure of a thing. The free dictionary defines square one either as the starting point or the situation in which you begin an endeavor and to which you return if your efforts fail. Looking at these uses of the phrase “square one,” it seems that this means something like getting back to basics.
Errol Morris puts a great emphasis on “square one” in Fast, Cheap & Out of Control. Fast interviews four men who seemingly have nothing in common: Dave Hoover the wild animal trainer, George Mendoca the topiary gardner, Ray Mendez the mole rat specialist, and Rodney Brooks the robot designer. As the movie plays out, the audience sees that each one of these men is attempting to leave their mark on the world. All in very different ways.

However, despite their difference in opinions and difference in lifestyles, Morris finds clever and interesting ways to connect these four men together. Towards the beginning of the film, Rodney Brooks discusses evolution. He says, “evolution just didn’t pop out with a person fully formed…humans have evolved from simpler systems over time.” As Brooks is speaking, Morris is showing his audience footage from old circuses, then clips from old Clyde Beatty movies, then finally shots from Dave Hoover’s circus. Later in the film Ray Mendez says that humans are “constantly trying to find themselves in another social animal.” As he says this, Morris shows his audience a shot from the circus where horses are doing a routine in which they are mimicked by their human trainers. So, four different people, four different dreams, all brought together in one movie, a film in which Morris focused greatly on the other, square one, and life even after death.

Out of these four extrememly different ways of life, Morris makes and interesting meditation on human control over nature, the enivironment, and other life forms. He goes so far to say that humans desire to control everything in this world of increaing information and technology will eventually lead to the extinction of the human race at their very own hands. This is where it’s important to discuss “square one.”

Square one would take us back to a time where things were very fundamental. How far back, Morris leaves unknown. But his point is clear, the fast, cheap and out of control lifestyles of people today will be their very own downfall in the future – a downfall that could come quickly due to our fast way of life.

Square one – back to the basics, a fundamental way of living. Morris isn’t asking for the human race to revert back to living in caves, but perhaps his film is a strong commentary on our social interactions with one another as human beings by studying the interactions that these four men have with green animals, robots, circus animals, and naked mole rats. Morris intertwines these four interviews in such a way that reminds the viewer that to truly know ourselves, we must know others, or how others perceive us by the things that we do. Rodney Brooks explains that we all know our own conciousness, but not the conciousness of others or animals. Conciousness comes as a packages deal. The mechanism by which we try to know another is the same mechanism by which we try to know ourselves. Like the movie states, “I know you are, you know I am.” A way for someone to be known after death is through the interactions of others – someone may be remembered for accomplishments that will still be discussed years down the line. These four men will be remembered after death for their accomplishments. They may not be remembered worldwide, but in their sectors of work, their names will live on.

So, one definiton for square one in Fast, Cheap & Out of Control may be reverting back to a way of life that is hugely based on human relationships. People don’t truly know themselves anymore because they don’t truly know one another. We can look at a naked mole rat or elephants or horses and see how they interact to see how we as humans interact. The elephants in the circus are always shown chained together as they walk around the stage. Those chains force them to work together, to know each other in order to attain some higher goal that is bigger than what one elephant can accomplish by himself.

So, strive to get ahead in technology and science, but not to the point where the real brains, the human brains, become extinct. After all, as George Mendoca says, there’s nothing like the old sheers – so great for details that can’t be done with electric sheers.

Crumb (1994 Terry Zwigoff)

Posted above is a clip from the 1994 documentary entitled Crumb.  Crumb is a documentary about the comic Robert Crumb and his family.  This clip is from a scene when he is discussing transforming the comic Ghostworld into a film (sidenote: not a bad film.  I would recommend renting it for a few laughs.  Stars the now superstar Scarlett Johansson, Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi).  Crumb’s association with the film Ghost World is that he drew a painting used in the film.
What’s interesting about this is the split screen of comicbook images, scenes from the film Ghost world, scenes from the production of Ghostworld and interviews of Crumb and others associated with Crumb.

Many of the articles we have been reading discuss art through different mediums.  We begin with the drawing, move to the photograph, to the moving image, then the scripted moving image to the unscripted moving image.  This split screen documentary combines all of these by showing a cartoon drawing in the bottom right hand corner, while an image from the lifelike version is shown in the top left hand corner.  Top right shows the production crew creating movie magic while bottom right explains the transition from comic book to film with unscripted dialogue.   This continues throughout the entire clip.  One is directly faced with the contrasting images of fiction 1 (the comic book) to fiction 2 (realism in the film Ghost World)  to non-fiction (documentary interviews with those associated in the making of the comic/film).

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