Dolly Zoom Shot: A Technique in “VERTIGO” Influenced Generations After

- Hitchcock's Pure Cinema 06 -



Many universities and colleges in the United States have a film or visual arts department. Those departments usually offer classes on studying famous film directors, and you will often see a class on Alfred HITCHCOCK. Even today, many filmmakers consider HITCHCOCK. as one of the best directors in the history of film. There has been numerous books and documentary films about him in not only the United States or England, but all over the world. It proves that HITCHCOCK’s works have the timeless and no-boundary affect that appeals to people.

Truffaut and Hitchcock

Surprisingly, the mastery of his works began to be appreciated not in Hollywood or England, but France. There was a cinema movement called French New Wave that started in the late 1950’s. Francois Truffaut was one of the most prominent film critics and filmmakers in this movement, and he was the one who started to write about the significance of Hitchcock’s works. Truffaut later interviewed Hitchcock for over a week and published a book called “Hitchcock/Truffaut”. He conceived the auteur theory, which stated that the film director was the “author” of his work and great directors had distinct styles and themes that permeate into all of their films. Truffaut recognized Hitchcock as one of those directors.

In a recent year, a documentary version of the book “Hitchcock/Truffaut” was released. This film mainly consists of the audio recording that Truffaut recorded at Universal Studios during his interview with Hitchcock in 1962. Directed by Kent Jones, the film is about Truffaut’s book and its impact on film history. It also shows interviews of the film directors, such as Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, and David Fincher, who admire the work of Hitchcock’s.

After Truffaut, various writers and filmmakers started to praise Hitchcock’s works. For example, William Friedkin, who directed “French Connection” and “Exorcist”, spoke out the effectiveness of Hitchcock’s films in numerous occasions. Brian De Palma, who directed “Carry”, “Scarface” and “Untouchables”, once called himself Hitchcock’s true heir. His work, “Dress to Kill”, was a box office success in 1980 and showed Hitchcock’s influences in every steps; story structure, theme, and technique.

Guillermo del Toro, the winner of Academy Award Best Director in 2018, is also a big fan of Hitchcock and even published a book about Hitchcock in the past. In the documentary film called “78/52; Hitchcock’s Shower Scene”, del Toro analyzes and praises Hitchcock’s film “Psycho” along with many others, such as Leigh Whannell, the writer of “Saw” and “Insidious”, Scott Spiegel, the director of “Hostel Part 3” and “From Dusk till Dawn 2”, and Eli Roth, the director of “Hostel” and “Cabin Fever”.

The Birth of Hitchcock Shot

Many filmmakers consider “Vertigo” as Hitchcock’s best work. This film had mixed reviews from critics and didn’t do well at the box office when it was originally released in 1958. However, its aesthetic significance kept earning more and more reputation amongst filmmakers worldwide. In this film, there is a film technique, which was copied and used by many later generation of filmmakers. That technique is Dolly Zoom Shot, aka Hitchcock Shot or Vertigo Shot.

The Dolly Zoom Shot appears when the protagonist of Vertigo, Scottie, runs after his love interest, Madeleine, and goes up the narrow stairs of a church bell tower. The film established early on that Scottie has acrophobia. He continues going up stairs, but slows down from the fear. The Dolly Zoom Shot is used when he peeks in down the stairway as his Point of View Shot. The shot is achieved by zooming a zoom lens to adjust the angle of view, while the camera dollies away from the subject, in such a way as to keep the subject the same size in the frame throughout.
As a result, this shot gives you a strange feeling from two mixed perspective; a feeling that the shot is not moving in the foreground, while it is moving away in the background. In Vertigo, Hitchcock successfully implants Scottie’s fear and dizziness into the audience with this shot. Although Hitchcock was not the first one to use this technique in the film history, the effect and impression of this shot in this film were so strong that it was named after Hitchcock’s own name and the title of his film.

After Vertigo, the Dolly Zoom Shot was used in many films. For example, the director Steven Spielberg used it in “Jaws” and “ET”, Martin Scorsese used it in “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas”, and Quentin Tarantino used it in “Pulp Fiction”. Of course, a scene doesn’t simply become effective just by using this shot. The shot will not have much of an impact unless you consider what kind of effect this shot will give to the audience, in addition to the shot being used at the correct moment. The films mentioned above are good examples that exhibit clear effects of the Dolly Zoom Shot technique.

Spielberg has once said in a interview that any contemporary director’s movies are carbon copies of masters in 30s, 40s and 50s. While this is very true, it’s also true that copying a masterpiece doesn’t guarantee that you can make a masterpiece, or even a decent movie. Just like using Dolly Zoom Shot in your film, the key to make a good film is studying and analyzing the masterpiece and adapting its effect to your work. It is no doubt that there will be more filmmakers, who will be inspired by Hitchcock films, study and analyze his mastery, and become a successful filmmaker in the future generation.