A Supercut of the Vertigo Effect, from Hitchcock to Spielberg to Tarantino

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Jan. 21 2014 12:22 PM

“The Evolution of the Dolly Zoom,” in One Supercut

Vertigo effect zolly zoom in Jaws
Police Chief Brody spots the shark in Jaws.

Still from Vimeo

Even if you don’t know the dolly zoom or “Vertigo effect” or “Jaws effect” by any of its many names, you’ll recognize it when you see it. As those nicknames suggest, it was first popularized by Alfred Hitchcock when he used it to simulate the dizzy feeling of Vertigo. Perhaps the most famous use comes from Jaws, in which it’s used to show Martin Brody’s reaction when he first sees the shark on the attack.

As with those two examples, it’s often used to suggest psychological distress—the feeling that the walls are closing in on the main character. In Brian De Palma’s Body Double, in which the hero suffers from claustrophobia, this is literally the case. When the effect is reversed, it can be use to simulate the opposite feeling: The sense that the floor is dropping out from under you.

This video—set, appropriately, to Bernard Herrmann’s theme for Vertigo—doesn’t show every example of the effect’s use (it leaves out, for example, the dramatic dolly zoom featured in Josie and the Pussycats), but it captures the most famous examples, spanning almost five decades.

How does the dolly zoom work? In short, the cameraman moves the camera forward (such as on a dolly) at the same pace they zoom out, or vice versa. When pulled off successfully, this has the effect of keeping the subject of the shot in place while distorting the perspective of everything around him or her. It’s an old effect and shouldn’t be overused, but as this compilation suggests, it probably won't be leaving us anytime soon. (Via @edgarwright and Indiewire.)

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. 

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