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A Touristic View of the #1 film, "Vertigo"

Updated on November 19, 2014

A Touristic View of Vertigo

Vertigo, a 1958 film by Alfred Hitchcock, is one of the apex works of art in the film industry. Why do so many people admire this film? Hitchcock’s incredible attention to inexplicably small details and use of visual motifs is something worth admiring. One of the most captivating elements involved in this movie is the ability for Hitchcock to make the audience involved. This paper will explain how Hitchcock indulges the viewer in a touristic gaze through many different shots and techniques.

Throughout Vertigo, Scotty is following Madaleine around the city. The camera takes a numerous amount of point of view shots while this sequence occurs. These shots force us to see what Scotty is looking at an engage in the watching of Madaleine. As we watch Madaleine, we realize she goes to a lot of different places. We know this because we a given a point of view establishing shot every time she goes to another place. Before she jumps in the water we see the Golden Gate Bridge, before she goes into the hotel we see the whole hotel, before she goes into the museum to look at a painting we see a shot of the museum, and so on. These shots are given during an entire sequence of following Madaleine. It is almost as if, instead of watching Madaleine, we are simply visiting these spots as a tourist. This is increased by the catalyst effect of having the shots we see them through be point of view shots. It is as if the viewer is Scotty or is sitting in the car right next to him.

One of the most interesting scenes where this touristic feeling is present is when Scotty and Madaleine leave town to approach the San Juan Bautista Mission. In the scene leading up to the mission we watch Scotty and Madaleine drive down the highway in a few different shots. These shots help set the scene for the long drive to where they are headed. Then, once they arrive at the mission, we have an establishing shot of the tower followed by a panning shot of the arches under the mission. In the next few shots we watch Madaleine and Scotty discuss Madaleine’s dream and the features she saw in it. These are replaced by the views around them. It makes us feel as if we have moved away from a picture and moved into the real thing. It is as if we are actually at the mission as a viewer. Scotty said the fake grey horse explains the horse in her dream. This fake horse is significant because it reminds us of the often disappointing realization when you reach reality. Often as a tourist, places show their best parts rather than showing you how it really is. I believe this horse is given the same meaning.

One more shot seen a few times throughout the film is when Scotty looks down and his Acrophobia sets in. The floor below moves away from us. This shot gives the viewer a sense of space. Again, this space gives the viewer another element of being there and seeing what Scotty is seeing. These elements contribute to the film’s thematic structure by engaging the viewer as part of the film. When we feel like we are seeing through the eyes of Scotty, we are forced to relate to him. This forced relation makes us have to make sense of all that is happening to him and all the things he does, good or bad.

So, this film provides many different point of view shots and establishing shots that help the viewer become a tourist in the film. This is something that Hitchcock intentionally put into his film and is one of the multiple reasons of why it is such and incredible to film to be admired. His attention to detail and involvement of the audience in Scotty’s actions is something difficult to do in cinema, but his genius expertise and attention to detail allows him to do it perfectly in this film.


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