Thursday, August 2, 2012

Raising Kane Over Vertigo.

So the new Sight & Sound Poll is out fer 2012 & it's official:  After some 40-odd years, Citizen Kane is no longer The Greatest Film Of All-Time.  Taking its spot is Hitchcock's Vertigo.

Perhaps this is inevitable — after all, Vertigo has been sneaking up the charts for the last 30 years, & in 2002 was only five votes away from matching Citizen Kane.  I have friends who have informed me that Vertigo is "the most perfectly shot film of all-time" (whatever THAT means) & professors who have taught it in theory classes to illustrate idea of a film within a film — that is, watching somebody who's in turn watching someone else.

Maybe so, but if I wanted to expound on the virtues of watching-within-watching a Hitchcock film starring Jimmy Stewart, I would look no further than Rear Window, which fer my money is Hitchcock's masterpiece — it is smarter, sexier, funnier, & more suspenseful, & when Raymond Burr looks directly at Jimmy Stewart/the camera/us, it's impossible not to feel a jolt.  It's one of the most perfect scenes in all of cinema.  But then again, I'd rather watch 39 Steps (definitely), Psycho (probably), & Rebecca (usually) before sitting through Vertigo again.

But with this new poll, I most likely will in the near future. Not that my tastes always line up perfectly with the Sight & Sound Poll — I'm similarly confounded by Tokyo Story (#3 this year) & The Searchers (#7 this year), which both feel, like Vertigo, overlong & undercooked — but maybe this will change & I will see the (allegedly perfectly directed) light.

But in the meantime, I'm gonna post this list:

The Top 5 Reasons Why Citizen Kane Is Better Than Vertigo.

1.  It's in black & white.

Roger Ebert got it right — it's no coincidence that the vast majority of great films are in black & white (even latter-day ones like Raging Bull, Schindler's List, & Ed Wood), despite what you would think, black & white is more expressive than color.  It's also more timeless.  & maybe I'm a film snob, but I think it often makes it better.  Of the Sight & Sound Poll, only two other films besides Vertigo are in color (#6: 2001: A Space Odyssey, perhaps the most beautiful of all color films, & #7: The Searchers).  What're the chances that, with 7/10ths of the films being black & white, a color one is number one?  Pretty good, it turns out.

2.  It's actually about something.

Hell, it's practically about everything!  The American Dream, power, money, social status, media, love, & death, all wrapped up in a mystery about childhood & true value.  Vertigo, on the other hand, is sort of about nothing — yes, yes, it's got the guy watching that we're watching whatever thing, but beyond that, it really feels like they just made it up as they went along.  There seems to be no shape to the film, & this doesn't seem to be done intentionally, like Psycho, where the first 1/3 completely throws you off as to the rest of the film, on purpose.  It's just sort of a maybe-mystery that unravels to reveal that it isn't quite what you thought & then this weird obsessiony stuff.  In a word, huh?

3.  It's not boring.

Sorry, but Vertigo is boring.  The shots of Jimmy Stewart on the rooftops aren't just innovative, they're the only interesting thing in the movie.  If I wanted to watch an old guy obsessively follow around a girl that he ends up weirdly in love with, well, shoot, I don't know what I'd watch.  Because that sounds pretty boring.  Citizen Kane is never boring.  It moves super-fast, & is chockful of interesting parts & performances.  Which brings me to the next point:

4.  It has a full—what's that called?—oh yeah, cast.

This dovetails with the whole "boring" thing, but it feels just separate enough to make a new point.  Basically, yer just watching Jimmy Stewart & the girl fer the whole movie.  I guess that's the point, but it feels just as insightful about human life & social interactions as The Girl Can't Help It works as an accurate depiction of rock & roll.  In this way, Kane puts it to shame.  You got Wells, Joseph Cotton, the singing girl who can't sing, Agnes Moorehead, the guy who talks about seeing the girl from the boat, the snooty butler guy at the end — a true ensemble cast worthy of, I don't know, American Graffiti or Royal Tenenbaums or Dazed & Confused.  Plus, they're actually given something to do.

5.  It isn't as "great."

Okay, I'll admit that this one is being kinda old & stuck-in-my-ways or whatev, but Citizen Kane is about as good of a pick fer The Greatest Movie of All-Time that you could find — innovative & recognized as a masterpiece (even if it wasn't a big hit), that got the shaft at the Oscars (How Green Was My Valley, you'll rue the day!) but was rewarded by history.  It always makes the top of the AFI list & it is a great example of an actor/writer/director taken one step beyond the greats before him like Charlie Chaplin & Buster Keaton.  Vertigo, on the other hand, split the critics & didn't get up for much of anything (when Entertainment Weekly was doing their list of Oscar's Biggest Snubs — that is, not people who lost the Oscar but rather, who weren't nominated in the first place, Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo was #1), & still feels like a chore to me, whereas Kane, to paraphrase the late, great, Pauline Kael, manages to be great & important & fun.  Even though it was made over a decade later, Vertigo feels creakier & more wooden, & not the kind of thing that I would choose to watch if I had a free evening ahead of me.  Which I have done with Kane at least half a dozen times.

So now Kane is in a position not unlike a former president, a George H.W. Bush or a Bill Clinton.  In my mind's eye, I see it hanging around the club with Bicycle Theives (the 1942 Sight & Sound winner), asking, "It gets better, right?"

Hopefully, I'll find Vertigo gets better too, but I still don't think I'll ever consider it The Greatest Film of All-Time.  Especially when there's films like Citizen Kane around.

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