Here’s a fun diversion perfectly suited to a gray winter afternoon: compare scenes in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo with paintings by Edward Hopper. Although Hitchcock’s film (arguably his kinkiest) chronicles sexual obsession, Vertigo conveys isolation and anxiety, which just happen to be the elements that characterize Hopper’s best paintings.
As one critic notes, “Hopper’s is a distinctly personal vision in which the impact of intense colors and strongly established figures is offset by the introspective melancholy that is so profoundly characteristic of the individuals who people his images. Strong lines only emphasize the impression of alienation.”
That is immediately clear just from a cursory glance at “Automat” or “Nighthawks,” the latter being one of the most recognized images in American art.
Bear this in mind while contemplating the bold, at times almost aggressive color palette and careful framing so effectively implemented in the cinematography of Vertigo. Compare the atmosphere in Hopper’s sunniest subjects with any of the Vertigo scenes shot outdoors or in bright sunlight. In almost blinding light, Hitchcock and Hopper’s characters are often isolated in wide landscapes.
Notice also how James Stewart’s worried countenance and Kim Novak’s gloomy ennui match the mood of figures in Hopper’s work; the sense of doom that pervades every scene in which Novak and Stewart are together seems lifted right out of Hopper’s depictions of couples.
More striking are those shots saturated in deep reds or greens, a Hopper trademark par excellence. It’s as though the key moods and themes in this story (yearning, resignation, alienation, and fatalism) were color-coded. There are subtle variations as well. Those cool blue-greens of many twilight scenes (especially that gorgeous shot of a deserted intersection in which a traffic light glows like a beacon), and the rich browns of Stewart’s spartan apartment, not to mention his wardrobe, also have analogs in Hopper’s paintings. And like Hopper’s women, Novak often wears red. Overall, both the film and Hopper’s work possess a remarkably similar dreamlike quality. Sometimes it is tempting to say that many of Hopper’s images look like scenes from a movie; in this case the inverse holds true.