As one of the greatest directors working today, it’s unsurprising that Martin Scorcese has been so vocal about his love of the great Alfred Hitchcock. After all, Hitchcock did effectively lay the foundation for the modern cinema landscape, a landscape that Scorcese has been a key part of since the 1970s. With films like Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, and The Last Temptation Of Christ, Scorcese pioneered a new golden age of American cinema. His films looked back to the original golden era of the 1930s, whilst always keeping one eye fixed on the future. Although he has managed to leave a unique stamp on the face of cinema, Scorcese has always made it clear that Hitchcock has been a huge influence on his filmmaking, affecting his technical, narrative and directorial styles in a very profound way.
One of the films Scorcese has celebrated the most is Hitchcock’s 1958 psychological thriller, Vertigo. In an interview with BFI back in 2012, Scorcese described how the film made a huge impact on him when he was a teenager: “I went to a big screen at the Capitol Theatre with my friends who were 15 years old,” Scorcese began, “and even though the film was not received well at the time, we responded to the film very strongly. Didn’t know why. I couldn’t really tell why, couldn’t tell what was happening, but we really went with the picture and remembered it, and it took years for us to see it again.”
Attempting to capture what it was about Vertigo he so resonated with, Scorcese said: “there’s a sequence in that film where Jimmy Stewart is just following Kim Novak in her car, and it’s just shot after shot of him driving. It’s how he’s composed in the centre of the frame, how she’s composed. It’s the serenity of the camera positions.”
” I’m not saying that just to be contraire to some of the murder scenes in the Psycho and that sort of thing,” Scorcese continues: “Yeah, I like watching those. And the shower scene in Psycho I actually used as a template for one of the scenes in Raging Bull. But I’m finding that, over the years, the scenes that stay with me are the seemingly quieter scenes, the scenes where it appears not much is happening with the Hitchcock film, and it’s all happening. The obsession of following her [Kim Novak] everywhere she goes with that car – that’s a beautiful sequence. And of course, Bernard Hermann’s music doesn’t hurt it.”
Hermann’s score is certainly one of the best in cinema history. In 2004, Scorcese zoomed in on the power of the composer’s work on Vertigo: “Hitchcock’s film is about obsession, which means that it’s about circling back to the same moment, again and again … And the music is also built around spirals and circles, fulfilment and despair. Herrmann really understood what Hitchcock was going for — he wanted to penetrate to the heart of obsession.”
It’s likely it was this same obsession that so struck Scorcese when he saw the film for the first time. As he explained in an article in 1999, Scorcese has been attempting to capture the unique form of madness that defines Vertigo in his own films. In his article, Scorcese wrote: “Vertigo is also important to me — essential would be more like it — because it has a hero driven purely by obsession. I’ve always been attracted in my own work to heroes motivated by obsession and on that level, Vertigo strikes a deep chord in me every time I see it. Morality, decency, kindness, intelligence, wisdom — all the qualities that we think heroes are supposed to possess — desert Jimmy Stewart’s character little by little, until he is left alone on that church tower with the bells tolling behind him and nothing to show but his humanity.”