Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Vertigo reaches dizzying heights as Greatest Movie of All Time

  • Print

Sight & Sound, the magazine of the British Film Institute, recently announced that Citizen Kane, the undisputed king of its Ten Best list since 1962, had been dethroned by Vertigo.

The positional shift says something about the wonderfully arbitrary nature of lists. (Over at the American Film Institute's 100 Years 100 Films list, Dr. Zhivago is out, Titanic is in, Vertigo is climbing steadily but top-rated Kane has not yet budged.)

It might reflect demographic trends: The BFI's expanded voting pool could include younger commentators who prefer Vertigo's scrappy-underdog status to the long dynastic rule of Citizen Kane.

It might also come down to mood. Vertigo is a nervous film. Introverted, melancholy and conflicted, Hitchcock's 1958 psychological thriller feels like an apt choice for our current age of anxiety. We're living in vertiginous times.

But what's really interesting about Vertigo in its new, super-important status as "The Greatest Movie of All Time," is that it's not a perfect film. The story, which centres on Jimmy Stewart's damaged detective as he follows and then falls in love with Kim Novak, is oddly structured. Some critics complain about the "premature revelation" at the two-thirds mark, followed by an abrupt change of tone and an almost deranged final scene. One critic called the film "all loose ends and lopsided angles."

But Vertigo proves that perfection is overrated. Any film this obsessive -- and really, at times it seems as if half the movie consists of Jimmy Stewart tailing Kim Novak's car with weird voyeuristic intensity -- couldn't possibly be perfect. It lacks the moderating virtues of perspective and common sense.

Vertigo has something better than perfection -- compulsive need and fevered erotic energy. It seems to illustrate Hitchcock's own pronouncement that "everything's perverted in a different way." While the action never moves beyond the lip-mashing, neck-cricking kisses of 1950s Hollywood, Vertigo is deeply kinky.

Maybe because it mixes Hitchcock's precise, exquisitely controlled style with a detective story that's really about half-mad sexual obsession, Vertigo originally opened to mediocre box office and mixed reviews. The film was "admirably photographed" and "handsomely furnished," said the damning-with-faint-praise school. Others suggested that it was "far-fetched nonsense." Many viewers were disappointed or just plain confused.

Maybe a film this odd needed some distance. Filmmaker Martin Scorsese talks about Vertigo's singularity, suggesting that it can't really be compared to anything else, not even Hitch's other films. "Any film as great as Vertigo demands more than just a sense of admiration," Scorsese says. "It demands a personal response."

Let's hope that personal response won't be blunted by Vertigo's new official status. Being No. 1 can be hard on a movie. Wearing that heavy 50-year mantle of mandated greatness, Kane had become too confident and complete, too robust. It was difficult to remember that it was revolutionary: Some of the really exciting cinematic techniques the film helped to develop -- the looping, non-linear timeline, the prowling camera -- seemed more like illustrations in a dutiful film-studies lesson. "Citizen Kane fatigue" had set in.

Brilliant, beautiful, strange and unsettling, Hitchcock's perfectly imperfect masterwork should have a good run as The Greatest Movie Of All Time. Whatever film fans end up thinking about it, Vertigo is very hard to take for granted.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 11, 2012 E3

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


I Dream of Diesel at Rachel Brown Theatre scene preview

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A  young goose stuffed with bread from  St Vital park passers-by takes a nap in the shade Thursday near lunch  –see Bryksa’s 30 day goose challenge Day 29-June 28, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A baby Red Panda in her area at the Zoo. International Red Panda Day is Saturday September 15th and the Assiniboine Park Zoo will be celebrating in a big way! The Zoo is home to three red pandas - Rufus, Rouge and their cub who was born on June 30 of this year. The female cub has yet to be named and the Assiniboine Park Zoo is asking the community to help. September 14, 2012  BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

View More Gallery Photos


Do you agree with the sale of the Canadian Wheat Board to foreign companies?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google