Caveh Takes the Vertigo Tour (Take Two)

By Caveh Zahedi | December 1, 2008
Caveh Takes the Vertigo Tour (Take Two) - LEADPHOTO

In the second of his two pieces, Caveh Zahedi recalls the more absurd moments of his Vertigo reconstruction.

Last April, I was having coffee with Scott Macaulay in New York and he asked me if I would be interested in writing a piece on San Francisco in the movies for FilmInFocus. I’m usually strapped for cash, so I said yes. But when I asked him to be more specific, he said I could write about pretty much anything I wanted. Anything? I thought about it for a second, and then mentioned to him that there was a Vertigo tour in San Francisco and perhaps I could write about that. He thought that was a great idea (really?), and I agreed to write the piece once I was back in San Francisco (I was living in Rome at the time, but that’s another story).

This October, soon after returning to San Francisco, I got an email from Scott asking if I was still interested in writing about the Vertigo tour. I was still strapped for cash, so I said yes. I looked online to find out more about the tour and I was stunned to learn that it costs $285 for the five-hour tour, and $585 for the ten-hour tour. Ten hours?   

Under the lamppost outside Madeleine's apartment

To view images from
Caveh Zahedi's tour of
San Francisco, click here

I emailed Scott and explained the situation -- namely, that I couldn’t actually afford to take the tour, and would he be able to pick up the tab? FilmInFocus struck a deal with the tour guide, Jesse Warr, and Scott asked if I would prefer the five-hour tour or the ten-hour tour. I expressed my strong preference for the five-hour tour, as my well as my inability to imagine doing any one thing for ten hours. 

Later that week, I was playing racquetball with my friend Sam Green, the director of the Oscar-nominated documentary The Weather Underground, and I mentioned that I was going to take the Vertigo tour.  “Can I come?” Sam asked.  “Gee,” I said.  “I don’t know. It’s kind of pricey. I can ask Scott if he can pay for you to come along too, but I kind of doubt it.”  “Maybe I could take pictures,” said Sam.  “That’s a great idea,” I said.  “Because I don’t really know how to use my digital camera.”

When I got home from racquetball, there was an email from Scott asking if I could also take pictures during the Vertigo tour. What a perfect opportunity to ask about Sam. I played the Oscar nomination angle, and Scott said okay.  

I told Sam it was a go, and the first thing he said was, “Great.  But just so you know, I’m not a great photographer.  I’m okay, but I’m nothing special.” “No problem,” I said. “You can’t be worse than me.” 

Jesse Warr picked me up at my apartment at 1:30 pm on a Sunday. I brought a DVD of the film as well as my computer so that I could freeze-frame certain stills and take pictures at the same locations. Sam was supposed to meet us there, but he was running late, so we decided to meet him at Mission Dolores, the California Mission where James Stewart follows Kim Novak into the cemetery.

During the car ride there, Jesse Warr started in on his tour guide spiel, and I immediately wanted to jump out of the car. I am deeply allergic to lectures of any kind, and even the slightest trace of pontification makes me start to hyperventilate. I kept interrupting him and changing the subject so that I could breathe, but he was the kind of tour guide who continues to plow through with whatever he happens to be saying, whether you are still alive to hear it or not. 

I was relieved to see Sam waiting for us in front of the Mission.  As we passed a diorama purporting to depict life in the early Mission days, Jesse started to tell us the history of the California Indians who once inhabited this region.  Quick, Sam, take some photos before I blow my brains out.  

Sam started taking pictures, but we quickly realized that it was impossible to replicate Hitchcock’s images exactly using Sam’s digital camera because Hitchcock had access to a much wider variety of lenses than Sam. Also, Hitchcock had access to movie lights. 

I did my best to try to imitate the body language of Jimmy Stewart, but I was dressed wrong, and I had no hat. Also, he’s taller than me. Also, he’s a better actor. 

The cemetery has changed considerably since Hitchcock shot the film in 1957, but how is it possible that the gravestones would have been moved?  Had he added fake gravestones?  Nothing seemed to match.

Our next stop was Madeleine’s apartment building.  It looked remarkably unchanged, but it was still almost impossible to figure out where exactly the actors and the camera had stood. At this point, we were starting to get a little discouraged.  Sam was right about not being a great photographer, and it was becoming increasingly clear that our “before” and “after” pictures would suck.

Jesse took us to Scottie’s apartment, and there it was, just like in the film except that the red door had been painted white, the railing had been replaced, and a large hedge had been planted in front which obscured the view.  Still, Jesse and I did our best to imitate the exact body language of Kim Novak and James Stewart, and it was around now that we finally started to bond.  

Jesse seemed to enjoy the idea of imitating Kim Novak and said that had he known we would do this, he would have dressed for the part. It was then that the irony of the situation struck me: here we were, two strangers trying our best to recapture a moment from the past and act the part of someone else, which is precisely what Vertigo is about.  In that sense, the Vertigo tour perfectly mimics the central conceit of the movie. It allows fans of the film to inhabit the implicit contradiction of the film, the always impossible but all too human attempt to make our illusions real. 

Read Take One of Caveh Takes the Vertigo Tour here >>

Share This: