Tag Archives: Vertigo

2012 Sight and Sound Poll – Snap Judgments

First, I know I spend a lot of time writing about the “best” this and the “greatest” that.  I tried to avoid writing a reaction piece to this week’s Sight and Sound Poll, but since it’s only released every ten years I couldn’t resist.

As an overview, the Sight and Sound Poll has been conducted every ten years since 1952 and ranks what scholars, critics, directors, and other film experts consider the best movies of all time.  Unlike its American counterpart, the AFI 100, it ranks films from all of the world.  I’m not going to comment on all fifty selections, so I’ll stick to the top ten.

1. Vertigo (1958)

It’s hard for me to rank Vertigo as Hitchcock’s best film, much less the greatest film ever made.  Psycho (1960) and Rear Window (1954) are, in my mind, superior to Vertigo.  Still, as a technical achievement Vertigo is Hitchcock’s most successfully experimental film, his Persona (1966), so to speak.  Calling it the greatest film ever made though is still a tall order for me to accept.

2. Citizen Kane (1941)

Citizen Kane has been called the greatest film ever so many times that its selection as such is usually considered a given.  The problem with Citizen Kane though is that, while it is undoubtedly the most important American film, it is no one’s favorite film.  I think that latter fact finally caught up with it in this year’s poll.

3. Tokyo Story (1953)

Tokyo Story is Ozu’s masterpiece, and it is great to see Ozu being regarded so highly.  My only quarrel with this pick is that I can’t imagine how it gets picked over Persona as the greatest demonstration of raw emotion in cinema history.

4. The Rules of the Game (1939)

Renoir was brilliant, it’s true (so was his father, impressionist painter Pierre Auguste Renoir).  I’ll admit that I haven’t seen The Rules of the Game, but of the French movies I have seen it has a lot of convincing to do in order for me to agree that it is the pinnacle of French cinema.  I’m not saying it’s not possible, but I’m skeptical.

5. Sunrise: A Tale of Two Humans (1927)

This is where the Sight and Sound Poll loses me.  Yes, Roger Ebert and others have stated that film is about images primarily, and I agree, to a point – sound to me is so integral to modern film that silent film really needs its own category as an artform.  Still, the only Murnau film that I’ve seen is Nosferatu (1922), so I can’t really address the merits of this one.

6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Yes!  Finally a choice that I can’t nitpick.

7. The Searchers (1956)

See my above commentary on Vertigo.  The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and The Grapes of Wrath (1940) are Ford’s best films in my opinion.  Still, The Searchers is a good choice if you’re going to pick one from Ford.

8. Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

I thought I knew a lot about movies, but today is the first I’ve heard of this film.  I can’t comment until I know more about it.

9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1927)

Once again, we really need a separate category for silent films.  Still, you can’t go wrong with Dreyer’s masterpiece.

10. 8 1/2 (1963)

No complaints here.

And those are my thoughts!

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe

Vertigo (1958)


Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

United States, 1958, Color, 128 minutes

“Alright I’ll do it.  I don’t care anymore about me.”

– Judy Barton

Like many of Alfred Hitchcock’s (1899-1980) best films, Vertigo examines a man who ignores the real world in favor of what is portrayed as a fantasy world.  Hitchcock often vindicates the protagonist’s obsession, or at least explains it as being the result of mental illness.  What is most unsettling about Vertigo is that there is no such justification for the disturbing behavior of the protagonist, and we’re actually made to sympathize with him.

To begin, Hitchcock introduces us to John “Scottie” Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart), a retired detective who suffers from a crippling fear of heights. Ferguson has been hired by his friend Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) to follow his wife Madeline (Kim Novak) around San Francisco.  Elster suspects that his wife has been possessed by a dead woman, or at least she believes that she has, and he needs Ferguson to help him confirm those suspicions.  As he follows Madeline, Ferguson grows increasingly obsessed with her.

Ferguson appears to be the typical, everyman protagonist that Jimmy Stewart (1908-1997) played in many of his earlier films.  Stewart’s performance forces the audience to sympathize with Ferguson, even as his obsessive behavior becomes increasingly dangerous in the second half of the film.  While Stewart is convincing the audience to trust Ferguson, Hitchcock is busy using every tool available to him to try to convince the audience that Ferguson is descending into madness.  As I watched, I couldn’t decide whether Ferguson was an obsessive maniac or a brilliant detective until the very last scene.

If Vertigo has a weakness, it is the somewhat stilted performances of its supporting cast.  I find it hard to hold this against the actors themselves.  Hitchcock’s minor characters are often little more than devices he uses to push his plots forward.

Still, Hitchcock was not attempting to create a richly layered world of interesting characters in Vertigo. Instead he was examining one question: how far will we go in pursuit of our fantasies?  I don’t think I like the answer.


You may like Vertigo if: you’ve ever enjoyed a thriller in your life.

You may not like Vertigo if: you demand complex secondary characters from every movie you see, or you just don’t like movies.

(c) 2012 D. G. McCabe