Friday, February 26, 2010

The Influence of Alfred Hitchcock

About a year ago, I took a film class dedicated to Hitchcock and we talked a lot about motifs that would show up in his films. Some motifs commonly found in a Hitchcock film include the following: the color red, death, the innocent man/woman, role playing, the cool blonde, staircases, and cameos. Hitchcock's constant use of these motifs has seemed to have influenced other directors into incorporating them into their films as well.

One director in particular who has been influenced by Hitchcock, and thus has included some of Hitchcock's motifs in his films, is M. Night Shyamalan. While Shyamalan is not nearly as good as Hitchcock, having had only one movie that I've enjoyed, it is clear that he was very influenced by Hitch when he made The Sixth Sense (1999).

To show how much Hitch has influenced Shyamalan, I am going to compare motifs used in Vertigo (1958) to those used in The Sixth Sense. I am going to emphasize on the following motifs: (1) the color red, (2) death, and (3) role-playing. Do not read anything below if you have not yet seen either of these movies!!! There will be spoilers!!!

Hitch used the color red constantly throughout Vertigo. It was used to represent caution and danger for Scottie (James Stewart) as he starts following and gradually obsessing over the impostor Madeline (Kim Novak).

The first time that Scottie sees Madeline; they are in a restaurant that is decorated in red. Scottie sits and watches Madeline, mesmerized by her beauty and completely unaware that he is being set up by her and Elster, who is just using both of them to cover up evidence that he committed the murder of his wife.  The color red continues to follow Scottie as he follows Madeline around the windy roads of San Francisco; flashing at him while he is driving. Of course, Scottie doesn't care to notice this at all! His passionate obsession is too deep.

Also, Scottie witnesses flashes of red during the nightmare sequence (video included below) that occurs after he witnesses what he believes to be Madeline's suicide off the bell tower. This nightmare ultimately puts him into extreme shock, which causes him to be put into a mental institution for a little while until he recovers.

In each of these instances, the color red was used as a warning signal, warning Scottie that Madeline is not who she appears to be and not who he thinks she is at all. First of all, she is not Elster's (Tom Helmore) wife Madeline, who Scottie was told to follow. She is actually Elster's mistress who is covering for his murder of the real Madeline by having her role-play her and seduce Scottie. Also, the impostor Madeline is not suicidal nor does she has a mental disorder that convinces her that she is a dead ancestor named Carlotta. These are just more lies that Scottie was told about her by Elster. Lastly, the impostor Madeline's real name is Judy and she tries to hide from Scottie instead of telling him the truth about herself and the murder in general. Once she finally decides to admit the truth, it is too late.

Like Hitch, M. Night Shyamalan used the color red as a motif constantly throughout his film, The Sixth Sense. He used it mainly in order to indicate the presence of death.

At the beginning of the film, when Cole (Haley Joel Osment) first meets Malcolm (Bruce Willis), Cole  hurriedly walks past several red staircases, and runs into a church with a red door. Malcolm follows him inside for their first meeting.

In the middle of the film, Cole is wearing a red sweater at a boy's birthday party. At the party, he notices a red balloon and watches as it floats up to the top of a spiral red-carpeted staircase. He becomes entranced by the balloon, and follows it all the way to the top of platform of the staircase. Once there, he stops due to fear once he realizes that there is an angry dead spirit locked inside a trapdoor at the top of the staircase.

Another example is Cole's bedroom, for it is decorated with a lot of red, such as the red tent. One night, Cole encounters a murdered girl who was poisoned to death. She comes inside the tent in order to tell him that her stepmother was the one who was responsible for her death and asks him to inform her father for her, so that her sister doesn't have to face the same fate as she did. She knows that Cole is the only one that she can go to in order to ensure her sister's safety.

Vertigo: Scottie's Nightmare


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