Saturday, November 29, 2008

Hitchcock's "Vertigo"



This month on the National Caricaturist Network forums, the subject for the drawing contest is "Hitchcock Films", as decided upon by last month's "B.B. King" contest winner, Vin Altamore. I was overjoyed at this choice of subject, as it gives a lot of scope as to whom we may draw based on whatever Hitchcock film we choose to portray. I really love the films of Alfred Hitchcock, and I had several favourites to choose between, including two starring Cary Grant: "North by Northwest" and "To Catch a Thief". However, my all time favourite is 1958's "Vertigo", starring Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak and, believe it or not, I'd never really drawn a finished caricature of Jimmy Stewart before, though I recall having done some rough sketches of him many years ago. I had, however, drawn a caricature of the alluring Kim Novak from the other film in which they had co-starred together, "Bell, Book and Candle", which you may view here.

There were actually a lot of creative decisions that went into preparing this image, long before the drawing was finalized. In watching the film again, I wanted to pick out one scene that would seem iconic, and the pivotal scene at the old California mission was just perfect in summing up the movie for me, more so than anything in San Francisco itself, where the bulk of the movie takes place. As you can see by the rough thumbnail sketch pictured at left, I wanted to combine several shots from that scene into one single image that would tell more of what was going on, so in addition to the desperate embrace that Jimmy Stewart has on Kim Novak, I wanted her eyes to be focused on the top of the foreboding bell tower. So I included a forced, 3-point perspective shot (not entirely successful) of the mission to create the suspense, and took it further by using the spinning vortex from the Saul Bass title animation as the backdrop, with the bell itself focused in the centre. Lastly, I had struggled with getting Kim Novak's caricature in this 3/4 view, as I wanted to show her hair at the back in the "Carlotta" bun, indicative of the subplot of her believing she's possessed by the spirit of the mad Spanish woman, Carlotta.

Though I've certainly seen "Vertigo" a number of times, it's amazing how it can continue to engage me with repeated viewings. When you see the film for the first time, there is the shock of the mystery being revealed in the last act, which of course you can never relive a second time. However, even when you know what is going on, it's such a pleasure to watch the characters' faces, as you are aware of what they know and what they don't know at any given time. While Jimmy Stewart was wonderful in anything he did, this may be Kim Novak's finest hour, as she was not always given such great roles to work with in her somewhat spotty career. (I personally liked her a lot co-starring with Frank Sinatra in "Pal Joey", but the critics were not as impressed, I'm afraid.)

I'm including here the trailer for "Vertigo", which will hopefully give the uninitiated a compelling reason to seek this film out. Bernard Herrmann's memorable and haunting score, which plays over this trailer, is just one of many reasons to see it. Also, in the second YouTube clip, some very clever fan of the film has taken it upon himself to revisit all of the major locations in San Francisco where "Vertigo" was filmed, as well as faithfully recreating some atmospheric shots like the pan across the inside of the arched doorways of the old California mission. One interesting note of trivia is that the infamous bell tower had actually been created for "Vertigo" as a matte painting, as the mission's own bell tower had burned down many years prior. That's why you're not going to see any such bell tower in the scenes shot by this film fan. I really encourage all of my readers to watch "Vertigo" if they've never seen it before, as it really is one of Hitchcock's finest works.



27 comments:

Deniseletter said...

Hi Peter,I follow your link to the Altamore's blog,to be sincere,I don't like all what he draws for example: Frida Kahlo's caricature.I dunno,I'm not an expert, but he missing something that is part of her personality for the sake to exaggerate the features,is her beauty.You did what few cartoonist do,that is to capture the likeness without loosing what is pretty and cute in every individual,many forget that:)

I saw other Hitchcock movies I like Psychosis and Rear Window,I like Jimmy Stewart acting and appearance.Vertigo has an captivating score indeed,as is Hitchcock trademark,its music move feelings and the story is intriguing.Is amazing to know the belltower had burned down and what you see is a painted background.You really accomplish to summarize their essence with one drawing.Good luck with the contest!

Vincenzo said...

You did an incredible job on this Pete! I appreciate your including the thought process behind creating it as well as the reference vids and interesting trivia...brilliant!!

All the best

Dominic Philibert said...

Cool!!!
I was watching the movie last night!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Hitchcock' a master!
Love your work!!!!

Thad said...

Oh very nice. One of the all time masterpieces.

I watched the other Stewart-Hitchcock classic "Rear Window" with my dad today (who had never seen it in its entirety before). I like it a lot, but it's got some contrivances that keeps it from being an ultimate favorite. I don't think any other film has as much atmosphere though, given what gets passed as a 'set' these days. Real is real.

Mitch K said...

Awesome awesome! I love the forced perspective. haha

I went to visit a pretty girl in Montreal, once. She showed me this film! Well, I only got to see half of it.. Should I finish watching it??

Pete Emslie said...

Mitch - You HAVE to watch "Vertigo" again from the very beginning, otherwise the mystery will not have the same impact as it unravels. It's a great film that you really should see properly.

Floyd Norman said...

No doubt, "Vertigo" is my favorite Hitchcock motion picture. I'm almost obsessed by the film, and on my many visits to San Francisco I have a continually need to visit the films locations.

Yeah, I'm a Geek.

Belle said...

Simply Stunning! I love it.

Pete Emslie said...

Hi Floyd!

Judging from the "Vertigo Revisited" clip from YouTube, it appears that the various locations have remained quite intact over the years. All of the apartment buildings sure seem to anyway.

ALVARO CERVANTES said...

Nice piece Pete!
p

Mel Maduro said...

Awesome Petey! I will admit though that it's a movie I still have to see. I'm a little movie deprived.

Howard Shum said...

Nice linework and caricatures!

Andrew Murray said...

Do you have any Jimmy Stewart drawings from Its a Wonderful Life, Pete?

"Merry Christmas movie house!"

Arun said...

Hi Pete,
another brilliant piece !!! :)

My personal Hitchcock favorites are 'Rear Window' and 'The Birds' ! If you already havent drawn them I would love to see caricatures of Grace Kelly and Tippi Hedren :) !!!

Stacey Chomiak said...

Pete, I LOVE this one! I too am Hitchcock-obsessed, and have watched Vertigo multiple times! I have to confess that his movies are among my most fav to put on in the background while I work. I also LOVE Rear Window....you just can't beat Jimmy Stewart! And of course Grace Kelly :)

Awesome work, as always!

Bill White said...

Beautiful piece!

I envy your students!

Aaron said...

Wow! That's pretty cool.

Chalky said...

I just love the way you draw people. Awesome work Pete, can't wait to see another post.

Cinebeats said...

I love this! Great illustration of two of my favorite Hitchcock stars in one of his greatest films.

Kim Novak is easily my favorite Hitchcock blond!

Charles DA COSTA said...

perfect likeness!I admire you work!!

Everybody's gotta be in a Gang said...

NIce one, Pete- nice color and composition- as well as the caricatures, of course. It is a great movie, and I actually haven't seen a Hitchcock film I didn't like (I've seen about 13 of his films...)

Pete Emslie said...

Hi Kimberly! Kim Novak's my favourite too. By the way, I saw that you made mention of my work over on your Cinebeats blog. Much thanks for that!

Thanks to all for your kind words on this "Vertigo" piece. I must say it was a really fun illustration to do and I'm hoping to do other caricatured movie scenes whenever I have the time to.

Davelandweb said...

Fantastic job of capturing so many cool elements of this Hitchcock classic. Excellent!

Niki said...

I just recently purchased "Vertigo"

John said...

Just found your blog. Excellent work! I added your blog as a link to my two blogs.
I write about films from the 30's through the 70's on http://twentyfourframes.wordpress.com/

and the second is self explanatory.

http://thehitchcockpapers.wordpress.com/wp-admin/

Jack Ruttan said...

You did a brilliant Kim Novak. That trailer was funny because it highlighted all of the dodgy special effects. The music is wonderful, though.

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