Art & Culture

Experiencing Vertigo in San Juan Bautista

An interpretive park ranger guided people on a tour of the sites where the Hitchcock movie was filmed in San Juan Bautista
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Approximately 30 folks experienced "Vertigo" on Saturday, Sept. 24 during the fourth annual event celebrating the filming of the 1958 Alfred Hitchcock movie in San Juan Bautista.

Interpretive Park Ranger Marcos Vizcaino explained how the scenes in the movie, starring Kim Novak and James Stewart, created the feeling of vertigo by filming in the Mission, and utilizing the stable and the Plaza Hall to shape the look of an old French town.

“The movie came from the novel, From Among the Dead, written in 1954,” Vizcaino said. He added that Hitchcock purchased the rights to the novel in 1955 to turn into a film. The name of the book was to be the name of the film, but was changed to "Vertigo" later.

According to Vizcaino, the story takes place in an old French town and a large church with a Gothic tower. The first site considered was the Pigeon Point Lighthouse, but Hitchcock thought it was too foggy, and Carmel was, “too pretty."

What was needed was be an old town that looked abandoned, and that goal was accidently discovered through the efforts of Hitchcock’s associate, Herbert Coleman, who was in the area visiting his daughter, a Salinas schoolteacher, and suggested Mission San Juan Bautista.

In 1956, San Juan Bautista had a look of an abandoned town, with chickens running in the street, Vizcaino said, and there was a stable, and an adobe house with a pepper tree, which was mentioned in the movie by Madeline, played by Novak.

The movie used the Plaza Hall as a courthouse, and it was explained that when Madeline ran across the lawn from the courthouse to the Mission tower, the cameras panned to make her look like she was running, including only what was necessary for the effect.

The vertigo mood was necessary to deliver the feeling of the movie realistically, because Stewart's main character, Scotty, had vertigo and was afraid of heights. That was made realistic through creative camera use by Irwin Roberts, who came up with the vertigo effect by putting the camera on a dolly and rolling it back while zooming in.

Other effects were created in Hollywood studios, as the San Juan Bautista portion of the filming took two days. Other sites in San Francisco were used, as well.

Vizcaino pointed out how photography played an important part in mood creation, for instance, by moving the left side of the church entrance to the other side. He also pointed out how the tower, the most important part of the movie, was created by photography.

With Vizcaino’s dynamic speaking skills, throughout the hour-and-a-half hour tour, he prepared the touring folks for the movie most of them would see later that evening outdoors.

Because of the inside secrets on how "Vertigo" was filmed, the folks would see how that all fit into the story plot.

The movie was released with mixed reviews in 1958. It was considered, “a bit too much” by some reviewers, reflecting the social climate of the time.












BenitoLink Staff