August 2, 2012

"After 50 years at the top of the Sight & Sound poll, ['Citizen Kane'] has been convincingly ousted by ... 'Vertigo' – and by a whopping 34 votes..."

"... compared with the mere five that separated them a decade ago."
So what does it mean? Given that Kane actually clocked over three times as many votes this year as it did last time, it hasn’t exactly been snubbed by the vastly larger number of voters taking part in this new poll, which has spread its net far wider than any of its six predecessors.

But it does mean that Hitchcock, who only entered the top ten in 1982 (two years after his death), has risen steadily in esteem over the course of 30 years, with Vertigo climbing from seventh place, to fourth in 1992, second in 2002 and now first, to make him the Old Master. Welles, uniquely, had two films (The Magnificent Ambersons as well as Kane) in the list in 1972 and 1982, but now Ambersons has slipped to 81st place in the top 100.
Obviously, there's a lot of strategy in voting. It calls to mind the GOP primary here in Wisconsin. Tommy Thompson is "Citizen Kane." You know he's the favorite to win. How do you defeat him? You don't just pick your favorite film, or your favorite Hitchcock film. You've got to know the one film that all the anti-Kanes can get behind. It's been established over the years that that film is "Vertigo." You can't be all: But I think "Notorious" is better. You vote for "Vertigo." But this Sight & Sound voting has been going on for 50 years, so it's shaken out that you vote for "Vertigo" and not "Notorious" (or "Psycho" or "North By Northwest"). We haven't had time to figure out whether Mark Neumann or Eric Hovde is "Vertigo." Not enough information to get the strategic voting right.

***
You know... if I hadn't been very rich, I might have been a really great man.
Don't you think you are? 
I think I did pretty well under the circumstances. 
What would you like to have been? 
Everything you hate.
***

What's this doohickey? 
It's a brassiere! You know about those things, you're a big boy now.
I've never run across one like that.
It's brand new. Revolutionary up-lift: No shoulder straps, no back straps, but it does everything a brassiere should do. Works on the principle of the cantilevered bridge.

45 comments:

Astro said...

So the British Film Institute decided that a film by a British director is now the No. 1 film of all time?
.
.
.
This is the surprised look on my face.

Freeman Hunt said...

Vertigo is not better than Citizen Kane.

Freeman Hunt said...

Remember when Crash won Best Picture over Brokeback Mountain?

This is like that except that Vertigo is an excellent picture.

NotquiteunBuckley said...

"Touch of Evil" is better than TMA.

Especially the redone version attempting to create what Welles originally intended.

The lesbian hotel room scene is more frightening than the fat Brit's entire collection.

Seeing Red said...

TMA was BORING!

chuck said...

Isn't Citizen Kane kind of, you know, boring? That might account for something.

traditionalguy said...

Vertigo was about perceptions gone out of control. Which happens to be our #1 digital age problem: too much information to fast to sort it all out and make sense or truth out of life before its gone.

So what is sense/truth? That's the famous question asked on Good Friday by a Roman Judge. His answer to his own question was Rome's power to kill people even if they were the Truth.

Citizen Kane was an old fashioned media monopoly power story; as out dated as paper Newspapers.

But any movie starring Jimmy Cooper is going to be a winner with me.

Freeman Hunt said...

"Touch of Evil" is better than TMA.

Definitely.

No Kurosawa in the top ten. Ridiculous!

16. Au hasard Balthazar

Oh my and oh no. Not a fan of Persona either.

ricpic said...

The greatness of Citizen Kane was imposed on us shlubs by the anointed. The proof that it wasn't all that great or great at all was that its gears creaked. And the more times you watched the more they creaked.

Freeman Hunt said...

Citizen Kane was an old fashioned media monopoly power story; as out dated as paper Newspapers.

No, it isn't.

Freeman Hunt said...

Citizen Kane is the story of a man whose life is destroyed by money.

Freeman Hunt said...

Isn't Citizen Kane kind of, you know, boring? That might account for something.

No. Why does anyone think that?

The donkey movie is boring though.

Conrad Bibby said...

Deciding what's the greatest film of all time is sort of like deciding what's the greatest food of all time. It depends on what you're hungry for.

"Kane" is undoubtedly a great movie, but it's a movie mainly enjoyed by other filmmakers (largely due to its visual effects and other technical innovations). For ordinary filmgoers, "Kane" simply doesn't connect with them the way that many, many other films do.

In fact, what makes cinema great at all is the ability of a film to sweep an audience away to another world using just the right mix of images, words and sounds. Therefore, the "greatest" films should be the ones that are the most effective in doing just that. "Casablanca" was a traditional studio product that may not have have ushered in any groundbreaking film techniques, but how in the world could you improve upon it? It succeeds in every way a movie should. There are (fortunately) a lot of movies like that, and those are the ones people should focus on in discussing the "greatest films of all time."

Harsh Pencil said...

Kane

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87indycxudo

traditionalguy said...

More thoughts on Jimmy Stewart: He plays the eternal strong and caring humble man role so well that Jimmy himself becomes the foil to explain a meaning in the chaos going on around him.

Stewart was a pilot who voluntered and flew in the worst of the Eighth Air Force's B-17 semi suicide missions over Germany in 1943 before long range fighter escorts. He finally had a breakdown from the chaos killing of his friends all around him that he could not control.

When his career re-started after the War he could not play the bon vivant playboy roles anymore. What he could play was the strong man enduring the chaos of life while seeking to find a way to kill off the evil men that were killing his friends.

That is an eternal issue. So his art remains relevant.

traditionalguy said...

Freeman...Pardon me if I am not impressed with the Kane story of a man destroyed by using his own money to buy everything and everyone on earth and then feeling frustrated. Boo, hoo.

Freeman Hunt said...

Freeman...Pardon me if I am not impressed with the Kane story of a man destroyed by using his own money to buy everything and everyone on earth and then feeling frustrated. Boo, hoo.

It doesn't start there. An enormous sum of money comes to him as a child, and he is immediately torn from his family and remains lost for the rest of his life. The temptations he experiences and succumbs to (lust, wrath, gluttony for objects, etc.) are universal. The incredible amount of money only allows them to be played out on a grand scale. That money can't buy happiness is now as true as it ever was and now as easily forgotten too.

ricpic said...

I agree with Bibby that a great film is a film that's compulsively watchable. At least I think that what Bibby's saying. Is The Godfather on the 10 greatest list? If not the list's a sham. And it's not that The Godfather is all that deep. It's actually quite simplistic. Stupid even. But the damned thing's impossible not to watch. I rest my case. Did I make a case? Well, I rest it anyway.

Freeman Hunt said...

Since the list skews to more artistic films, I'm surprised The Trial is nowhere to be found.

Mitch H. said...

Freeman, that line of argument is possibly why the general viewing public isn't especially enamored of Citizen Kane. Because the other line of argument on the effect of great money on men is that it provides the opportunity for a man to be the greatest person he is capable of being; many is the man who would have made an otherwise acceptably decent and unexceptional individual, was led into disaster by the destructive temptation of possibility. There are almost no poor men who are great, and few great rich men, but the decent poor are legion, and the decent rich nonexistent.

yashu said...

It's a good list, as far as such lists go (and lots of my own favorites are there), but IMO the overall results of the Sight & Sound poll (taken every 10 years going back to 1952) are less interesting than looking at some of the individual lists. (It's also interesting to see how the overall list has changed over the years.)

It's the result of polling almost 1000 individuals: so on the one hand the list has the canonical imprimatur of "consensus," but on the other hand it's a kind of mushy averaging-out of many idiosyncratic judgments. Also NB there's a "critics' poll" (which is what this list represents) and a separate "directors' poll," and I've always been more interested in the latter.

Here they describe this year's methodology:

… Given the dominance of electronic media, what became immediately apparent was that we would have to abandon the somewhat elitist exclusivity with which contributors to the poll had been chosen in the past and reach out to a much wider international group of commentators than before. We were also keen to include among them many critics who had established their careers online rather than purely in print.

To that end we approached more than 1,000 critics, programmers, academics, distributors, writers and other cinephiles, and received (in time for the deadline) precisely 846 top-ten lists that between them mention a total of 2,045 different films.

As a qualification of what ‘greatest’ means, our invitation letter stated, “We leave that open to your interpretation. You might choose the ten films you feel are most important to film history, or the ten that represent the aesthetic pinnacles of achievement, or indeed the ten films that have had the biggest impact on your own view of cinema.”

Each entry on each list counts as one vote for the film in question, so personal rankings within the top tens don’t matter. And one important rule change compared to 2002 was that The Godfather and The Godfather Part II would no longer be accepted as a single choice, since they were made as two separate films.

What the increase in numbers has – and hasn’t – done is surprising. Certainly, we have achieved a consensus on what represents ‘great cinema’ that now has a greater force of numbers behind it – and have a plausible Sight & Sound ‘Top 100 Greatest Films of All Time’.

Since 1992, we have also conducted a separate directors’ poll, which likewise has been dominated by Citizen Kane. Over 350 directors have contributed. Leaving to one side what’s number one this time, I can say that you’ll find a pronounced difference between the filmmakers’ top tens and those of the critics – not to mention many more fascinating sub-themes…


According to the BFI website, the complete critics’ poll of 846 entries will be available online on Aug. 15; the complete directors' poll of 358 entries on Aug. 22.

Matt said...

Why not Vertigo? Any film in the #1 spot will get criticized. That's not Hitchcock's fault.
If anything this list just reaffirms the prevailing critical view.

I like many of the films on the list [except The Searchers] but I'd like to know what they mean by greatest. Historically important? Ultimately it's just a game to which most critics choose to play along with by nodding in agreement.

I'm curious to see the individual critic's and director's lists. That will be more interesting.

rcocean said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rcocean said...

The shine is off CK among the Art-Film types. Amazed at the excessive love for Godard among the S&S voters. "Breathless", "Contempt" "Pierrot le fou" Histoire(s) du cinéma" - 4 Godard movies in the Top 50 and not one George Lucas film.

Freeman Hunt said...

[except The Searchers]

!!! Why?

Thorley Winston said...

I’d put “The Godfather” or “Casablanca” over both “Vertigo” and “Citizen Kane.”

Marshal said...

I don't know what all this hemming and hawing is. Everyone knows Terminator is the best movie of all time.

yashu said...

... I'd like to know what they mean by greatest. Historically important? Ultimately it's just a game to which most critics choose to play along with by nodding in agreement.

As quoted above (in my tldr comment), the BFI says

As a qualification of what ‘greatest’ means, our invitation letter stated, “We leave that open to your interpretation. You might choose the ten films you feel are most important to film history, or the ten that represent the aesthetic pinnacles of achievement, or indeed the ten films that have had the biggest impact on your own view of cinema.”

That vagueness, openness to interpretation seems sloppy, but it's smart-- it's what makes the individual lists so interesting to read, since it allows for idiosyncrasy, subjectivity. If the definition was tighter, pollees might feel more constrained to list only what they think the canonical consensus is/ ought to be, and include less personal choices.

Astro said...

Besides, Vertigo doesn't even get the title right.
Acrophobia is not Vertigo.

One can argue there is a psychological sub-theme in the sense that the Jimmy Stewart character is unbalanced, but why force a false connection to acrophobia?

rcocean said...

I like Vertigo and it certainly is a great movie but if I want to sit down and watch some Hitchcock I'd prefer:

-Notorious
-Rear Window
-To Catch a Thief
-North by Northwest
-Lifeboat
-The 39 Steps

Revenant said...

Give the spread of the voting (no film got more than 50%) it is more accurate to say that there is no consensus about what the best films are.

jimspice said...

Well, if you ask the same poll question 50 times, it's likely you'll get the "wrong" answer eventually. That's why we have confidence intervals.

yashu said...

I admire Citizen Kane, but I can't say I love it. Whereas I love Vertigo.

There's something creaky about CK for me… I can see the pulleys and levers of what is indeed an awesome machine, an impressive structure. But I experience Vertigo as more enigmatic-- in a way that's more psychologically & emotionally resonant for me.

I have this hazy thought I haven't yet worked out about… the different mysteries in the 2 films, or the difference in their mystery. CK is obviously (maybe too obviously) structured around a "mystery"-- the journalist-detective's quest to solve the mystery of "rosebud." Near the end of the film, the journalist, who hasn't found the answer, says that no matter what rosebud is ("maybe something he couldn't get, or something he lost"), "anyway, it wouldn't have explained anything. I don't think any word explains a man's life," it's "a piece in a jigsaw puzzle… a missing piece."

But of course, we viewers get to see what that "missing piece" is; that piece (ostensibly) clicks into place; the mystery is (at least on the surface) solved. Of course, you might say, the journalist's words were true and Kane's life (like any man's life) remains as mysterious as ever-- whatever object "rosebud" is, what it really means or what it might explain about Kane's life or to what extent it can explain anything at all are questions the viewers of the film are left to grapple with.

All true, and that's why it's a great film. There is an "aha" moment at the end, yet it still poses bigger questions than it answers. And yet… something about it still feels neat and reductive, the neatness of a seemingly completed jigsaw puzzle. But then again, maybe that's the trick the movie plays-- structured as as a detective mystery, so on the surface you think the mystery's solved, when in fact it really isn't…

Cf. Hitchcock films like Psycho and Marnie. There too, a mystery-- and in particular, the mystery of a particular character, the mystery of their life and personality-- is "explained" at the end, and notably (just as in CK) by reference to traumatic events from childhood. But those moments of explanation (the cartoon Freudian analyst's "aha") are IMO the weakest part of those films. For one thing, because they're too explicitly spelled out. CK wouldn't be so great if the journalist had found "rosebud" and explained to his interlocutors what it meant.

Thoughts on Vertigo and the "mystery" difference to come, maybe. But in case I don't get around to it, here's the starting point: The detective-mystery of Vertigo is solved (for the viewer, not the detective) near the midpoint of the film... and that's when the real mystery starts.

yashu said...

By the way, I love Midge! In discussions of Vertigo, Midge is rarely given her due as a character.

Saint Croix said...

Vertigo (1958) When I was a kid I didn't like Vertigo at all. It's not one of the fun Hitchcocks. Maybe the least suspenseful movie from the master of suspense. Just not a lot of danger in the film. Or maybe there is but it's very internal. And it's got the slowest frickin' car chase I've ever seen in my life. So I avoided watching it again for years and years. I was too young to appreciate it, really.

The second time I saw it, I was like, "This is awesome, this is so cool, oh my God!" His obsession is so desperate. And unhappy. In love with a dead woman, cripes. This movie messes with your head. And that ending is so sad. One of the best endings in cinema.

You know that nun feels bad for scaring Kim Novak. Nuns really can freak you out, though. I remember when I had my appendix taken out in a hospital. And they drugged me and shaved off all my pubic hair. So I'm feeling kinda freaky anyway. And I wake up at 2:00 in the morning and there's a nun standing over my bed. Scared the crap out of me. I thought, "Oh my God, am I dying? Why is there a nun?" I didn't fall out of bed or anything, but they are kinda scary when you're not expecting them.

Maybe the Vertigo nun is Hitchcock's Catholic side judging his impulses and finding them bad. I had that reaction the first time I saw the movie. It was kind of like the movie was making a really harsh judgment on one of the characters. But that's too obvious, maybe. It's an accident. And the nun's innocent. She doesn't know anything about anything. We project our subconscious fears and guilts onto nuns, maybe.

This whole film is like a fevered dream, and you really want to wake up. But you can't. I like the blonde hair style, how it twists and turns like a captured cyclone. And Jimmy Stewart's all caught up in it. And how he's unhappy when her hair is loose. He wants her to put her hair up in a cyclone and he wants to be caught up in it, spinning around, lost in his vertigo. He wants to be helpless. Which is funny because he's so damn bossy. What an unhappy love affair.

Vertigo is like Marnie in that a lot of the film works on a subconscious level. Symbolic and dream-like. Hitchcock uses pure color in both films. Marnie is red, Vertigo is green. And both times I think he's using color from a woman's point of view. Marnie is stop, stop, stop. Vertigo is go, go, go. And also jealousy. Green's kind of a freaky color. It's an unsettling damn movie, really. The sort of art that stays with you.

The next time I saw Vertigo, I was fast-forwarding through that slow ass car chase. That is a slow frickin' car chase, man.

Saint Croix said...

Here are the top 10 movies, voted upon by directors.

yashu said...

Thanks for pointing out the Directors' Top 10, St. Croix, I missed that.

Interesting... The critics top 10 is (unsurprisingly) more "historical"; the directors top 10 includes 2 American contemporaries (Coppola and Scorsese) that don't make the critics' top 10 (though they do make the top 50).

I love that Tokyo Story, such a quiet 'modest' movie, is #1. Interesting result.

Astro said...

For what it's worth, here is the American Film Institute list of the 100 greatest movies over the past 100 years. CK is #1. Vertigo is #61.

AFI 100 Years 100 Movies

ad hoc said...

Now you have me thinking that I need to go back and watch Vertigo again; I didn’t really like it – too disturbing, too - why is the Jimmy Stewart character stalking that weird, unhappy woman? Maybe because it’s not one of the “fun” Hitchcock’s. I really prefer Rear Window (definitely more fun). And it’s not because there’s more suspense and less mystery (which I think there is). I like how Jimmy Stewart seems stuck and trying to get free in order to prove that murder occurred across the alley, and also to maneuver in his relationship with the Grace Kelly character. Claustrophobia instead of Vertigo.

William said...

As it turned out, the life of Orson Welles was much more futile and friendless at the end than that of Hearst. Citizen Kane was more Welles than Hearst.....Gore Vidal reported that Rosebud was Hearst's pet name for Miriam Hopkins' clitoris. That was one of the reasons that why Hearst was so incensed at the film. I don't know if this is, in fact, true, but that's what Gore Vidal reported.....Citizen Kane was at one time one of my favorite movies, but death and the irrevocable weight of time passing are far more moving and poetic concepts when you're young. Now I like Vertigo better. It's in technicolor and has Kim Novak.

yashu said...

As it turned out, the life of Orson Welles was much more futile and friendless at the end than that of Hearst. Citizen Kane was more Welles than Hearst.....

Yes. Yet an uncanny similarity: just as elder Hearst had Marion Davies, elder Welles had Oja Kodar.

For a hilarious yet sad glimpse of elder Welles, here are some infamous (drunk) outtakes from Welles' "Paul Masson" wine commercial.

yashu said...

And it’s not because there’s more suspense and less mystery (which I think there is). I like how Jimmy Stewart seems stuck and trying to get free in order to prove that murder occurred across the alley, and also to maneuver in his relationship with the Grace Kelly character.

Yes! I totally agree there's mystery (and what I call the "real mystery" beyond the "detective mystery") in Rear Window. And that mystery is what's going on between Stewart's and Kelly's characters-- rather than the detective mystery going on across the courtyard.

Just as the "real mystery" in Notorious is what's going on between Grant's and Bergman's (and Rains's) characters, rather than a Nazi plot involving wine bottles.

I guess here's where one should invoke the concept of the "MacGuffin." Which brings me back to "rosebud"-- and the extent to which it is or isn't merely a macguffin.

Chip S. said...

The greatness of Vertigo is what is not shown.

For instance, cable cars.

yashu said...

It's true that one of the reasons I love Vertigo is that San Francisco looks so beautiful. As beautiful as Kim Novak.

And Bernard Herrmann's score!

Alan said...

Yashu, I agree about Midge! There is so little about her that I can find, most of it anodyne and in my view inaccurate. She is not just the "sensible, sane gal pal" at all. Early scenes have subtle indications of this, but her penultimate scene with the creepy painting and then tearing at her hair should have made this clear to anyone paying attention.