Today’s post is the first–but hopefully not the last–op-ed piece from Mary. Enjoy!
Maybe I’m not the best person to be blogging about the virtues of Citizen Kane over Vertigo. I’m not a “cinefile,” I call them “movies,” not “films,” and I don’t possess a black beret. When I’m having a bad day, I watch a Joan Crawford movie. Nobody, but nobody, suffers the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune better than old Joan. However, having just seen the latest list from Sight and Sound, where Vertigo is rated the best movie ever made, with Citizen Kane coming in second, I must speak.
For those unfamiliar with the prestigious publication, Sight and Sound is run by a group of British film critics so snooty that if you would even mention the name Will Ferrell in front of them, they would burst into flames. Every ten years they put out a list of the 50 greatest films ever made, and the list is taken very, very seriously by people who love movies. I mean film. Oh, whatever. This year, for the first time ever, Vertigo was placed above Citizen Kane as the best movie ever made. You could hear the black berets exploding off the heads and critics from Maine to San Francisco in shock.
So let me talk about Citizen Kane. I first saw an uncut version at the old Pittsburgh Playhouse back in the seventies. My chair was creaky, the film was scratchy, and I possessed an annoying husband at the time who kept threatening to walk out if I didn’t tell him what Rosebud was. Not the best way to experience it. In the age of Betamax I saw it again, still a scratchy print with bad sound. Best movie ever? Meh.
I finally saw it on an HDTV with a pristine DVD, and, well, just paint me blue and call me baby: I finally got it. The awesome cinematography in crisp shades of black, white and gray. The incredible lighting. The brilliant acting and directing. A storyline so fresh it could’ve been made yesterday. Audiences in 1939 must have thought they were watching something made by Martians, it was so far from the conventional movies of that time. It’s a masterpiece, and will always be one, even when it’s viewed someday by robot people on the Planet HooHah in the twenty-fifth century.
And this is rated below Vertigo? Vertigo is a second-rate Hitchcock. It stars Jimmy Stewart at his most whiny and unlikeable, and Kim Novak, who is about as animated as a cigar store Indian. Also, one scene features a giant Jimmy Stewart cartoon head that whirls around changing colors, a sight which never fails to make me snort popcorn out my nose. You want great Hitchcock? Rear Window, North by Northwest, or Shadow of a Doubt…and even they can’t top Citizen Kane. I hereby consign Vertigo to sit right alongside The Birds…and speaking of The Birds, that’s exactly what the Sight and Sound list is for. Nyah-nyah to you, snooty British film critics. And guess what? Anchorman II is coming out soon! *BOOM!*
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch Joan Crawford suffer in Autumn Leaves while I consume vast quantities of Cheesy-Poofs. You go watch Citizen Kane. You’ll see what I mean.
12 responses to “Vertigo Voted “Best Movie Ever Made” Over Citizen Kane? Not On My Watch…”
Disclaimer: I watch one movie every three to five years. Other disclaimer: I am almost never disappointed by the movie I choose. Citizen Kane is in my top ten, while Vertigo is not. That’s a roundabout way of saying I agree with you, except that I’ve never had the pleasure of snorting popcorn out my nose (or into it). Thanks for the post.
I’ll pass on your compliment – hopefully, Mary will write again for us soon.
for the Eleventh Stack team
I will have to watch Citizen Kane again because the one and only time I saw it (oh, about 20 years ago) I was bored out of my mind. But your review is encouraging and perhaps I will enjoy it now.
Mary, you are a gem! Keep ’em coming!
Every fool is entitled to his opinion. I’ve seen both Citizen Kane and Vertigo, and there’s no question about which is better. (PS: Any British movies on that list?)
Vertigo has one amazing moment: in the hotel room, when Madeline/Judy comes out of the bathroom in a green fog. (It gets an 8.5 on IMDB, as does” Kane”.) But the movie doesn’t have the mythic reach that “Kane” does.
However ….. You do need to see “Vertigo” in order to get the most enjoyment (and belly-laughs) from Me Brooks’ “High Anxiety”.
Wells used the technique of shooting from low or high angles to emphasize the importance/unimportance of characters.
Welles was 25 when he did “Kane”.
Its playing sometime soon in the local “Classic Movies” theater.
Aside: I’ve been laughing to Chuck Jones’ “Duck Dodgers in the 25th-and-a half-th Century” for “quite some time”. I finally caught the reference:
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century .
I knew about the “Buck Rogers” but didn’t know the rest of the original title.
The “Sight and Sound” list should be called “50 Really Great Movies You Ought to See (except Vertigo)”
Although I agree with you that Citizen Kane should be number one at all times, I think you are grossly underestimating Vertigo. The thematic themes in Vertigo are so rich and deep. They compare with Citizen Kane’s when it comes to ultimate truth and human nature. I vehemently disagree with you on Vertigo being “second-rate Hitchcock.” Ask a variety of directors what they think of Vertigo, they will disagree with you as well.
How could they compare the two? They do share one thing in common…neither is “Dude, Where’s My Car”
The real purpose of “Best of” lists is to generate debate and to bring other little known works out in the open. I never see these lists in objective terms, because I don’t believe you can objectively say this work is better than that work. This isn’t an football game where you can count up the points scored at the end of the game. Lists like the BFI Top 50 say more about who we are and where we are — as viewers, critics, moviemakers, perhaps even a society as a whole (?) — at the time the list is made.
As I do with all lists of this sort, I take the BFI list with a grain of salt. That being said, I have to agree with the Institute’s choice for its top pick. I think VERTIGO is a gorgeous film. Lush in its style, cinematography, and themes, VERTIGO is magnificent. The theme of obsession — especially obsessive love — was something Hitchcock presented in his films over and over again. Also, his use of “the double” and “the wrongly accused man” were other themes that he turned to again and again. VERTIGO is far from a “second-rate” film — Hitchcock or otherwise. I think it is a work of art of the highest order. As is CITIZEN KANE.
What I find troubling about the BFI list is the lack of women directors. There is only one, Chantal Akerman, and placing her at number 35 is a shame. I also find the focusing on narrative, Hollywood-style filmmaking to be a lost opportunity. The list is titled “The Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time.” Why the term “film” is meant to mean automatically “narrative” film is beyond me. Film is all-encompassing. Its short films, documentary films, film-essays. What about opening the list to avant-garde filmmakers like Stan Brakhage or film-essayists like Agnès Varda? Just a thought…
One last thing…I find the symmetry of the 1st and 50th films to be a nice instance of synchronicity: Chris Marker was heavily influenced by Hitchcock’s VERTIGO and Marker’s LA JETÉE — and some of his other films…like SANS SOLEIL — plays with that influence.
OK, so “Vertigo” is not a rotten film. But neither is it good – in the sense of being entertaining, or lighting up the bright side of human nature.
Ebert liked it, but says of Hitchcock: “.. known as the most controlling of directors, particularly when it came to women. The female characters in his films reflected the same qualities over and over again: They were blond. They were icy and remote. They were imprisoned in costumes that subtly combined fashion with fetishism. They mesmerized the men, who often had physical or psychological handicaps. Sooner or later, every Hitchcock woman was humiliated.”
. . .
“It is *about* how Hitchcock used, feared and tried to control women. He is represented by Scottie (James Stewart), a man with physical and mental weaknesses (back problems, fear of heights), who falls obsessively in love with the image of a woman — and not any woman, but the quintessential Hitchcock woman. ”
. . . .
“Over and over in his films, Hitchcock took delight in literally and figuratively dragging his women through the mud–humiliating them, spoiling their hair and clothes as if lashing at his own fetishes.”
Maybe this next explains the depth of the story:
“… [he] took universal emotions, like fear, guilt and lust, placed them in ordinary characters, and developed them in images more than in words.”
For me, though, Scotty is an unsympathetic character; so is Judy/Madeline. The only sympathetic character is Midge, and of course she gets the full Hitchcock treatment, early on.
To wrap up, I’d say this is a grim story, well-told. I’d rather see a little less grim.
What a childishly written article. We can argue endlessly about whether or not Vertigo is the best film of all time (I happen to think it is, and did before learning of this poll), but cheap insults like referring to it as “second-rate” show a lack of seriousness about the discussion, and a complete lack of respect for the fans of the film.
A few points:
The film isn’t supposed to be logical. It isn’t even supposed to be plausible. It is both dream and nightmare. If you don’t view it through that prism then you won’t (and you obviously didn’t) get the movie.
Kim Novak is not supposed to be a real woman. She is primarily the psychological creation of a a lonely middle aged man who never married nor knew true love. There are plenty out there, and they have longings and desperate hopes that many would consider silly and unreasonable. But nonetheless, THEY HAVE THEM.
The dream sequence is brilliant. The score and animation are fantastic. I’m sorry you didn’t like it. I did. Dreams are often filled with wild imagery.
Back to the score. It’s regarded by many as the finest in cinematic history. The cinematography as well has shots and use of color that are nothing short of breathtaking are in and of themselves high art.
The ending is stunning, frightening, disturbing, and startling. The best I’ve seen.
So hate if you will. I didn’t like Raging Bull all that much, but can objectively acknowledge it’s production qualities, and I certain wouldn’t go out of my way to insult it or it’s fans.
“OK, so “Vertigo” is not a rotten film. But neither is it good – in the sense of being entertaining, or lighting up the bright side of human nature.”
A film has to be fun-filled and cheery to be good? Sigh
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