Obsessed with Vertigo: New Life for Hitchcock's Masterpiece (1997) - transcript
Transcript for the documentary "Obsessed with Vertigo - New Life for Hitchcock's Masterpiece", based on the subtitle track from a DVD.
The following people appear in the transcript:
- Robert A Harris - restorer
- James C Katz - restorer
- Martin Scorsese - director
- Roddy McDowall - Narrator
- Herbert Coleman - associate producer
- Samuel Taylor - writer
- June Van Dyke - costume designer and assistant to Edith Head
- Kim Novak
- Barbara Bel Geddes
- C. O. "Doc" Erickson
- Henry Bumstead
- Patricia Hitchcock - Alfred Hitchcock's daughter
Robert A. Harris
- This is hallowed ground to movie buffs. In 1957, Alfred Hitchcock came to the Golden Gate Bridge to create one of the most extraordinary and memorable images in motion picture history. This is the place where Jimmy Stewart jumped into San Francisco Bay to save Kim Novak in "Vertigo".
James C. Katz
- When "Vertigo" was first released, it wasn't one of Hitchcock's greatest hits. But time does things to movies and the way we see them. Today, many people regard "Vertigo" as Hitchcock's masterpiece. But along the way it was almost lost to us forever.
- The first time I can remember seeing "Vertigo" was at its first release here in New York. And I saw it in its original Vista-Vision projection with Hitchcock's extraordinary use of color.
- Over the years, I kept being drawn and drawn to the picture like being drawn into a whirlpool of obsession. A very, very beautiful, comfortable, almost nightmarish obsession. And I think, for me, I found it fascinating years later when I looked back and realized that towards the end of the studio system such a highly personal movie could come out of that studio system with major stars.
- In 1951, Alfred Hitchcock came to San Francisco for the opening of "Strangers On A Train". The master of suspense always liked to show the audience a familiar setting, and then introduce an unexpected twist of malice. As he studied the visual splendor of the Golden Gate Bridge, Hitchcock was heard to remark that "San Francisco would be a good location for a murder mystery."
- He loved San Francisco. He felt it was a very glamorous city. He felt it was rather like an American Paris. That's how he described it. He felt it was very cosmopolitan, more so than any of the cities he had seen at that time.
- It would take six years before the romantic and mysterious images forming in Hitchcock's imagination would find their way to the screen. Working for Paramount in the 1950s, he made a string of remarkable movies beginning with "Rear Window" and culminating with "Vertigo". Universal Studios was Hitchcock's creative home for the final decades of his career. Here, "Vertigo" would be rescued from the ravages of time by Robert Harris and James Katz.
Robert A. Harris
- We chose "Vertigo" as a candidate for restoration for two reasons: Number one: It's a great film. It's one of the most important films ever made. Number two: The film elements themselves, both picture and sound, were in dire need of preservation.
James C. Katz
- "Vertigo" is also a film that audiences have not seen on the big screen for years; in fact, 12 years. It was last released theatrically in 1984, and the elements were poor, to say the least. You don't just start a restoration. You have to do a lot of research. We bring in elements from all over the world to one place where we can look at them and assess the quality of the picture and the sound and decide at a certain point, "Can we do this at all?" There are many films that are not possible to restore.
Robert A. Harris
- When we first opened the cans on "Vertigo", basically what we found was a faded negative. Virtually looked in many scenes as though the negative had been dragged on the floor before it had been printed, and we had differential shrinkage between the yellow, cyan and magenta separation masters, which really led us to restore the film in a totally different manner. Once a picture either has gotten to a point where it has not been preserved properly or it hasn't been preserved at all, then you need restoration. To preserve a film is a phone call, a purchase order, a lab order. To restore a film is a year to two years of work and major commitment.
- Universal would commit more than a million dollars to the restoration of "Vertigo".
- Alfred Hitchcock believed in what he called "pure cinema": pictures without words. Once he had a setting in mind, his next step was to find a story. The French novel, "...D'entre Les Morts", "From Among The Dead", would provide the foundation for "Vertigo". Hitchcock dispatched his long time associate producer Herbert Coleman to begin preparations in Northern California and to find a Spanish mission for the picture's climactic scenes. The landscape of California's pioneer past would stand in eerie visual counterpoint to the scenes of modern San Francisco.
- It was 1955, 41 years ago when I first walked onto this plaza and knew instantly that Mission Old San Juan Bautista would be the location Hitchcock wanted to use in our picture "Vertigo".
- In this haunting romantic thriller, Detective Scotty Ferguson falls in love with a woman mysteriously drawn to places from the past, a trail leading to a mission bell tower. The original bell tower of San Juan Bautista was destroyed in a fire long ago, so Hitchcock and his artists would conjure up a new one out of paint and plaster.
- The script had to be perfect before Hitchcock would begin production. With his wife Alma, he would spend months on story construction before hiring a screenwriter. Playwright Maxwell Anderson was the first writer engaged by Hitchcock and Coleman.
- And he turned in a screenplay called "Listen Darkling". And that will tell you the whole story. No one could figure out what it meant and the screenplay was exactly the same. So then we found another writer, Alec Coppel, who did a great improvement to "Listen Darkling", but still not satisfactory. So then we started searching and found Sam Taylor.
- Author of the play, "Sabrina Fair", filmed twice as "Sabrina", Samuel Taylor would spend a year working with Hitchcock on the "Vertigo" screenplay.
- In those first talks, we decided that the more emotion there was in the man, the stronger the picture would be. And he found without even thinking about it that he was making a picture that went much deeper than most of his pictures just because the basic story - not the plot - but the basic story had a true human emotion; this obsession of a man who, for the first time in his life, had fallen deeply in love.
- Hitchcock's frequent leading man, James Stewart, was perfect casting as the detective with a fear of heights. Hitchcock was enthralled with the young actress Vera Miles. He planned to use "Vertigo" to build her into a major star. In early 1957, she posed for these hair and costume tests as Madeleine. Vera Miles also modeled for this early version of the painting that features prominently in the story: the portrait of Carlotta.
- Then is when we started encountering delay after delay, starting with Hitch's problems with his gall bladder. An operation was necessary. Then when Hitch recovered and we were all set to go, Vera Miles announced that she was pregnant and couldn't do the film.
- Hitchcock was deeply disappointed, but he couldn't let go of his image of the cool, mysterious Madeleine. He finally chose Kim Novak as the incarnation of romantic fantasy in "Vertigo".
- As the two-year restoration progresses, Harris and Katz draw on state-of-the-art technical facilities at Universal and at laboratories throughout Hollywood. Restoring more than a thousand pieces of film negative and using original technicolor prints for reference, they experiment with modern film stocks and processing techniques to recreate the precise visual texture Hitchcock intended for every shot.
Robert A. Harris
- "Vertigo" was photographed in a Paramount process called "Vista-Vision", which was an extremely high-quality process which was normally reduction-printed to 35-millimeter.
James C. Katz
- Vista-Vision went through the camera from right to left. It was horizontal and it was a double-frame 35-millimeter image.
Robert A. Harris
- Rather than reduction-printing it, we're basically taking it across one to one and converting it to 70-millimeter. For the first time, people can now see "Vertigo" the way it was intended to be seen in large format.
- "Vertigo" began principal photography in San Francisco in September, 1957. During the 16 days of location shooting, Hitchcock's 45th feature was still titled "From Among The Dead".
- Director and star had the support of Hitchcock's devoted staff who emulated his British formality and quiet professionalism. Cinematographer Robert Burks carried out Hitchcock's color scheme of reds and greens and used fog filters to create a dreamlike atmosphere.
- The screenplay was followed religiously. Script supervisor Peggy Robertson made sure the shooting proceeded according to Hitchcock's meticulous preparations.
- Every picture I worked with him on was always storyboarded. And that would be one of the first requisites of his work.
- Hitch was the only director I've known who never looked through a camera. He didn't even stand close to the camera. He would say, "You've got a three-incher on then and you cut there." He'd tell them where they cut and he'd always be right. He just transformed himself into the camera eye.
- Jimmy Stewart as Scotty created one of his most brilliant and complex character portraits.
- I think Jimmy personified for my father every man, so that when people went to see a picture, they could put themselves in Jimmy's place. And especially in "Vertigo", he wanted the audiences to identify with Jimmy, which is what everybody did.
- Hitchcock molded Kim Novak into the strange, aloof Madeleine, and into Judy, her earthier reincarnation. In perhaps the finest performance of her career, Novak brought a startling, emotional intensity to her dual role.
- It excites me to work on dual personalities 'cause I think I have many myself. And I think that I was able to use so much of me in that movie. And working with Alfred Hitchcock... I adored working with him because... Well, at first I was feeling insecure because I kept saying, "Is this right? How do you want me to play this character?" And he said, "I hired you and that's who I want,: what you bring to this role. "But what I do expect from you is to stand where I want you to, wear what I want you to and speak in the rhythm that I want you to." And he worked a long time with me to try to get the right rhythm.
- Madeleine had the complication and the excitement and energy underneath. It was all very, very... held back on the outside. But underneath there were so many things going that I think that's part of what fascinated Jimmy Stewart, caused him a compulsion; to want her, to possess her.
- When he opens the door and that feeling of wanting to go to him and wanting to run away from him, wanting to... you know, all of these mixed conflicts all at one time. It was just really powerful.
- Scotty's friend Midge was played with great sympathy by the highly-acclaimed stage and screen actress Barbara Bel Geddes.
Barbara Bel Geddes
- Hitchcock was a wonderful director. I remember he came up to me that first day and it made me laugh so 'cause he said, "Now, Barbara, don't act. Don't act." And that's all he said to me. I remember the scene at the drawing board where Midge was talking and drawing at the same time and he'd say, "Barbara, look up," and I'd look up. And he'd say, "Now, look down," and I'd look down. He'd say, "Now, look left," and I'd look left. He'd say, "Cut! Very good, you see." So that was that.
- The most celebrated of Hollywood's costume designers, Edith Head, shared Hitchcock's fondness for the use of color to heighten the emotion.
June Van Dyke
- Edith loved working with Hitch, and "Vertigo" was a real challenge because he had very, very definite ideas about what he wanted Kim to wear, especially this grey suit. Now, Kim did not want to wear grey, but Hitch was absolutely definite about that. She had to wear grey. Grey is not really a blond's color and there was something off-putting about it, but that was the psychology of the whole thing.
- Edith and Hitch wanted this to be a very, very dramatic gown when she's seen at Ernie's. And it is absolutely sensational. When Kim makes her entrance, every eye is upon her because she's absolutely breathtaking. And then when she went to Jimmy Stewart's apartment, she wore this magnificent white coat. Hitch was very definite about the kind of costumes that he'd want and the colors. And, of course, white on a blonde is perfect. And it has a black chiffon scarf that goes through here and drapes down the back. And even that had a sense of mystery about it because the wind would catch this and mysteriously whip around her. It all had a very eerie effect to it. But that was Hitch's genius.
- The production moved back to Hollywood for two months of shooting at Paramount Studios. The art director was Henry Bumstead. This was one of four films he designed for Hitchcock.
- Everything is a set. Hitch liked working in the comfort of the stage, and he didn't like to shoot in real locations on interiors. He'd get the exterior. He was the master at that. Get all the meat on the exterior and then you would build the set on the stage where he could control the lighting and his actors.
- Bumstead designed more than 50 individual sets for "Vertigo", including the interior of the mission bell tower. Hitchcock himself was once a set designer. His original pencil sketch for the San Francisco Club was first transformed into a painting, and into Bumstead's richly textured set.
- Hitchcock drew these steps for Jimmy Stewart's dive into San Francisco Bay.
- The central metaphor of "Vertigo" was graphically rendered in Henry Bumstead's expressionistic set for the bell tower. Seventy feet high, the set gave Hitchcock's stars a real feeling of "Vertigo".
- The much-imitated "Vertigo" effect was achieved by a combination of zooming forward and tracking backward simultaneously. After much trial and error, filming on a full-size set proved impossible, so they used a large-scale model of a staircase. Turned on its side, it was filmed by special effects cameraman John Fulton to make the audience feel as dizzy as Jimmy Stewart.
- Legendary composer Bernard Herrmann contributed immensely to "Vertigo"'s emotional impact. His hypnotic, intensely romantic score is one of the most memorable in movie history. Hitchcock's favorite composer was the instrument of the director's innermost feelings.
- Saul Bass revolutionized the art of title design in the 1950s by using a single graphic image to capture a movie's mystique. Hitchcock's recurring spiral motif was abstracted by Bass to evoke the psychological vortex of "Vertigo". His main title sequence and poster have made that image an indelible part of our movie landscape.
- The last step in the two-year restoration process is putting picture together with sound. In the Hitchcock Theatre at Universal, Robert Harris and James Katz supervised the meticulous reconstruction of "Vertigo"'s soundtrack in six-channel DTS stereo.
Robert A. Harris
- Because it was a Paramount picture, one of the first places that we stopped to search for materials were the Paramount vaults. They opened them up to us. They were really wonderful. What we found were the original music recordings.
- Preservation was done at Universal and fortunately we were able to get about 90 percent of the sound off them.
- Because the original stereo music tracks are being used in the film for the first time, some of the sound effects had to be replaced. Many sounds were recreated by using the foley recording technique.
James C. Katz
- When you're dealing with a picture like "Vertigo", there's a tremendous following... Hitchcock following, "Vertigo" following. So we can't improvise on the foley, on the effects. We have to get them exactly right.
Robert A. Harris
- One really nice thing was that Hitchcock's original dubbing notes had survived and we were able to obtain them. This really gave us guidance as to how precisely to orient the foley and the effects and the dialogue and the music. Hitchcock's feeling always was that less is more, and we wanted to keep it in the spirit of the way that Hitchcock wanted the film to sound in 1958, but using modern technology.
James C. Katz
- When you're talking about restoration, you're talking about picture and sound. We may be working on a picture for months and then working on the sound for months, so we never see them together. That's one of the exciting things that happens when we finally are able to put the sound and picture together and see what it's really gonna look like.
- Triumphantly restored, Hitchcock's masterpiece returns to the screen. With breathtaking clarity of picture and sound, "Vertigo" has been given new life, its magnificent images no longer worn and faded.
- Thanks to this painstaking labor of love, the haunting vision of a master filmmaker will astonish and obsess movie audiences for generations to come.
Robert A. Harris
- Universal, in their own quiet way, is probably the studio that's in the forefront today of film preservation. When "Vertigo" is finally completed, we leave a new 65-millimeter preservation negative. We leave a 65-millimeter duplicating positive. We're leaving enough film so we can get "Vertigo" hopefully through at least the next 200 years.
James C. Katz
- Now what we're doing is releasing an enhanced version of the film and maintaining, I think, the spirit of the picture. And audiences who have seen "Vertigo" before will be thrilled with, we think, and accept, and yet we're putting up something that Alfred Hitchcock never saw and was never able to see when he made the film in 1958.
Robert A. Harris
- I'm a little jealous of people who are going to be seeing the film for the first time, because I'd love to know what that's like. And to see it in 70-millimeter and DTS, it should really be an incredible experience.
- I think Alfred Hitchcock adored this movie. I think he was obsessed with this movie. Perhaps he was with many of his others as well because that's the kind of director he was. But Hitch loved this movie more than any, I do believe so.
- I think he was pleased, and I know I was pleased, that over a period of time the reputation of the picture grew and scholars and critics began to talk of it as one of his most important pictures. Finally, people were saying it is really his most important picture. I know he was pleased about that.
- I think people today love his movies, even more than when they were brought out and that is because he made the movie for the audience. I think there are still things in the movie that I don't understand and probably other people don't, but I think that's good. I think that makes it fun and I think it's great then to go back and see it again and say, "Oh! Now I understand what that was supposed to mean".
- "Vertigo" somehow stands out, and I think it stands out because it was unabashedly personal. I think that's where the truth lies in the picture. That's why I think it sustains over the years. You don't know exactly... "Well, the person who made this feels this way." You can't put it into words, but there's something that's genuine about it and that is not just dealing with schematics or plot or whatever. That has a very strong heart behind it and a very, very troubling look at humanity, in a way. But it's something that's honest and true and has a great deal of psychological complexity and that's lasted over the years.