Great Title Sequences #1: Vertigo

Great Title Sequences #1

Vertigo, 1958, Alfred Hitchcock

We start with the grandaddy of all title sequences, the Saul Bass-designed credits for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. So good they have us hooked even before they begin. In the darkness we hear the first strains of Bernard Herrmann’s music, instantly invoking that state of heightened dreaming that is cinema. Then the Paramount logo appears, in black and white, from which a huge V looms towards us, for all the world like a plunging scissors, becoming the centre of the word VistaVision (rarely can a brand name have seemed so ominous). Already, even before the titles have started, we’re enveloped in the uneasy dream-mood of the film to come.

This is no accident. As Bass explained, ’my initial thoughts about what a title can do was to set mood and the prime underlying core of the film’s story, to express the story in some metaphorical way. I saw the title as a way of conditioning the audience, so that when the film actually began, viewers would already have an emotional resonance with it.’

So the titles proper begin. The camera roams across a woman’s face, from the pallor of her cheek to her pursed lips, from both eyes looking askance to a close-up of one, liquid-dark. Feminine allure and mystery established we enter the spiraling world of that eye. ’Design is thinking made visual,’ Bass declared, and somehow this sequence seems more than just visually striking. It’s metaphor and hypnosis, endlessly mysterious and suggestive. When it ends our emotional resonance is truly primed for what’s to come.

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