Extract from Vertigo (1958).
As Slavoj Žižek and others have argued, the credit sequences designed by Saul Bass for Alfred Hitchcock's unofficial trilogy of late masterpieces—Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959) and Psycho (1960)—announce the visual motifs of each film and suggest their psychological underpinnings. The broken lines in Psycho are echoed in the slashes of the killer’s knife and the broken pathway from the Bates motel to the old Victorian cottage in which Norman lives, supposedly with his mother. The grid in North by Northwest mimics the Manhattan skyscrapers where Cary Grant’s dopey adman initially toils, as well the train tracks on which he travels as his identity is further and further confused and effaced, and the cornfield in which he famously ducks for cover under the attack of a faceless machine. The spirals that open Vertigo suggest the roads through hilly San Francisco on which Scotty pursues Madeline, the twist of her hair, the staircase that causes his eponymous vertigo to flare up.
Each credit sequence is echoed by the soundtrack of each film, all composed by Bernard Herrmann. The theme for Psycho is the famous staccato ee-ee ee-ee. North by Northwest is set to an interlocking, pulsating orchestra. And for Vertigo, Hermann lifted the most famous musical phrase from the Liebestod of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde: a rising and falling sequence that fails to ever resolve itself.
All of which suggests that Hitchcock—a famous tyrant—was actually, or also, one of the most canny collaborators of the 20th century.
For the title sequence to Vertigo, Hitchcock had an additional, often unnoted, collaborator: John Whitney. A pioneer of computer animation who worked in television in the 50s and 60s and in the 70s created some of the first digital art, Whitney ...