In 2012, Sight and Sound ended the 50 year reign of Citizen Kane at the number one spot of the greatest films of all time and crowned Vertigo in its place. I think that this was a good decision, not necessarily because I think Vertigo is a better film than Citizen Kane, but because it’s good to change with the list a little in order to encourage discussing great films. While I wouldn’t put either of them in my number one spot, they’re definitely in my top thirty, and I believe that Vertigo is a respectable choice for the greatest film of all time.
An essay published in The Guardian praised Vertigo’s spot at number one, stating that, “Ultimately the beauty of Vertigo cannot be so captured and pinned; it is more akin to the butterfly garden, in which we all wave our own nets. Everyone’s catch will be different, and different each time.” This is an apt description of the film’s brilliance as different people will find different reasons to enjoy the film. Roger Ebert spends a large amount of his review analyzing Judy’s role in the film and the pathos of the pain and humiliation she endures, stating “From the moment we are let in on the secret, the movie is equally about Judy: her pain, her loss, the trap she’s in.” I agree with this, and believe that the final third of the movie from the point where we’re in on the secret to end is the strongest part of the film. Not only does it contain the most emotionally powerful moments of the film, the technical aspects shine as well, particularly the kissing scene when Judy is transformed into a perfect replica Madeline. Judy’s ghost-like appearance when she first emerges, the haunting music, and the rotating camera trick come together to create cinematic perfection. In a film full of fantastic scenes, this one, in my opinion, is the most memorable.
There are many more scenes and motifs in Vertigo which I would love to analyze, but the bottom line is that Vertigo is a wonderful film which I think falls somewhere between Ebert’s declaration as “one of the two or three best films Hitchcock ever made,” and the BFI’s ranking of Vertigo to be the best film anyone ever made.