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Shocker! “Vertigo” conquers “Kane”!

Say it ain’t so. Maybe the Mayans are right. Have I really lived long enough to see “Citizen Kane” supplanted as the greatest film ever made? This could just be the film geek equivalent of the apocalypse. Even if your personal choice as the all-time best wasn’t actually “Kane”, if you had any idea of what you were talking about, you knew it was the logical choice. It’s respected for a reason, and Orson Welles certainly paid his dues in making it. In fact, he paid it for the rest of his life…thanks to an infuriated William Randolph Hearst(if you don’t know the two meanings of “Rosebud”, I’ll tell you that not knowing one is forgivable, and not knowing the other means you’ve never watched “Citizen Kane”…so shame on you.). Most people don’t even realize that regarding “Kane” as king is based on the highly respected Sight & Sound film magazine poll. It is a British monthly that has been tabulating this list every 10 years since 1952. That inaugural list was topped by Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 “The Bicycle Thief”(now commonly referred to as “Bicycle Thieves” by most film scholars and purists, as it is considered the more accurate translation from the original Italian), with the 1941 “Citizen Kane” receiving an 11th place runner-up status tied with two other films. And since then, every poll, headed by an international list of film professionals comprised of critics, academics, and renowned directors has sat “Kane” atop that lofty perch. Until now. So, who’s the upstart? The great Alfred Hitchcock is to be blamed—along with the ever-increasing high regard for his 1958 “Vertigo”…the new #1. So, while “Kane” may have appeared to be the untoppable Goliath after holding the championship throughout the 1962, 1972, 1982, 1992 and 2002 polls(more than my entire lifetime, as I approach my 47th birthday), “Vertigo” has made a slow, steady climb towards the once thought unreachable summit, since first appearing on the 1972 tally in a 6-film tie for 11th place. By 1982 it was in a 3-film tie for 7th(which included Welles’ second film, “The Magnificent Ambersons”). Then in 1992 it stood alone in fourth place. And in 2002 it was second to Orson’s 1941 debut. And now, though it may drive some purists nuts(this blogger included)…the King is dead. Now, don’t get me wrong…”Vertigo” is a marvelous film. And I’ve reluctantly come to call it my number one Hitch(although I’ll always have a soft spot for 1960’s “Psycho”). But telling me that “Kane” has been knocked out, is like learning that there’s no Santa Claus. It’s going to sting for a little while, but I guess I will have to accept it. Even though I’ve taken to telling people for the last few years that Carol Reed’s 1949 “The Third Man” is my personal favorite. That was just a diversionary tactic. It felt silly to answer “Citizen Kane” to the question. Now I feel ashamed. Of course, “Kane” is the greatest film ever made…I mean, how could it be any other? 2022 feels like it’s one hundred years away now instead of just ten. Can I demand a recount? Oh well, I’ll wrap with my most satisfying inclusion on this year’s list. In 2001, I first watched a film(at a now demolished Paramus, New Jersey art house)that would go on to become my favorite of that year. By the end of the last decade, it was anointed as my choice for the top of the previous ten years. And now in 2012, it has received its initial mention in the Sight & Sound list. “Mulholland Dr.” from the genius David Lynch has popped up at #28, ahead of such luminaries as “Taxi Driver”, “Bicycle Thieves”(the former champion!) and “The Godfather, Part II”. So, after touting this to the naysayers in my circle, as brilliant, even superior to(and more mature than)Lynch’s 1986 “Blue Velvet”, for almost 11 years…I have even more ammunition. Everyone thinks they are a critic, but very few have worked to garner the knowledge, understanding and taste it takes to interpret the most difficult works. You know who you are…and there are quite a few of you. Maybe it’s time to admit that you need to talk less and listen more.

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2 comments on “Shocker! “Vertigo” conquers “Kane”!

  1. Not to be too contrary, my friend, but in terms of trusting this list on the excellence of Mulholland Drive, how can you trust a list that doesn’t list Citizen Kane as the best film of all time? Nothing has changed about either film (Vertigo or Kane) except the membership of those included in the poll. And if the 2012 crop can’t get Kane as #1 correct then I find the entire list suspect, therefore I don’t believe I have to give Mulholland any more credence in my pelebeian opinion. (Of course, I haven’t read the rest of the list and apparently I’m looking to commit verbal celluloid suicide by pushing your buttons. Count this as a post I will regret for being snarky.)

    • And to think that I almost included in the post that you, Brian, would probably be the only one wise enough to leave your mind open and watch “Mulholland Dr.” again! No worries friend…I still feel that way. However, I would think that part of the point of my diatribe is that certain films(usually truly great ones)enhance with age, while others slightly fall out of favor. I simply stated that after having “Kane” as # 1 MY ENTIRE LIFETIME, and then removing it, feels like learning as a kid that there’s no fat man in a red suit come December. The first and last lists crowned “Bicycle Thieves” and “Vertigo”, respectively. BOTH incredible films, even though my personal preference would be “Kane”. Also, many masterpieces are misunderstood in their time. It wouldn’t take long to google the UNFAVORABLE notices for “Vertigo” from 1958. Or “Kane” from 1941 for that matter. Lastly, my hammering home of “Mulholland Dr.”‘s excellence comes not solely from this list…but the COUNTLESS areas of recognition it has received since 2001 from directors, critics and academics alike. This is just the latest example(and it’s the youngest film on there, btw). Sight & Sound, Cahiers Du Cinema, indieWIRE, the Village Voice, the L.A. Film Critics…#1 for the decade on all of them(and I’ve listed only a selection). To have this many learned artists recognize it as excellence, should make most SMART people either visit it again, or admit that maybe they missed something. YOU are DEFINITELY one of those smart people. What irks me are the ones I know who have watched it once and dismissed it. And to me that is the height of arrogance. Like “Kane” and “Vertigo” before it, it deserves respect. My belief is that it will continue to accumulate more and more of that in the years to come. So, for now, I’ll just dream of “Mulholland Dr.” cracking the top 10 in 2022! ML

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