Citizen KaneorVertigo, which is more fun?
Now thatSight & Sound's decadal critics poll has given the #1 spot toVertigo, topplingCitizen Kane(to #2), it confirms that film culture as we used to know it has toppled as well.
Citizen Kaneheld sway as the "Greatest Film Of All Time" for so long that a lot of people began to believe it (and some resent it). Orson Welles' 1941 feature film debut had often crowned polls by the American Film Institute and others including the British Film Institute'sSight & Soundcritics poll (the world's oldest, first established in 1952) which just announced the aberrant new results.
Kanewas never my favorite, yet it was a beautiful, dynamic choice. It had been a convenient winner due to historical pedigree. Generations of film-lovers (typified by Francois Truffaut's homage toCitizen KaneinDay for Night) agreed that Kane was "the movie that made more filmmakers want to make movies."
ButVertigo, Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 romantic tragedy, has inspired few filmmakers to make movies. (Try finding its visual lushness and aural extravagance among Indies!) And it's doubtful ifVertigoroused many film critics (camp-followers of said impoverished Indies and Hollywood blockbusters) to write more insightfully about cinema than did their dismissive 1958 predecessors. Most critics remain absolutely hostile to the sumptuous influenceVertigohad on Brian DePalma's postmodernObsession, Body Double, Black Dahlia, Femme Fatale.
SoVertigodoesn't herald a revolution in cinematic appreciation; rather, it represents warped consensus. Its choice merely replacesKaneto show a new era's unoriginal taste and obsessive interest in pathology and soullessness that's been building in certain film cliques at least since the film's 1996 reissue. The herd mentality rules. (ABattleship Potemkinvictory might convince me that a critical renaissance was afoot.)
If the past four political years has taught us anything, it's that polls don't assure excellence; they merely reflect spin.Vertigocongratulates today's pollsters' hindsight.Sight & Sound's editor Nick James analyzed: "The new cinephilia seems to be not so much about films that strive to be great art, such asCitizen Kane, and that use cinema's entire arsenal of effects to make a grand statement, but more about works that have personal meaning to the critic.Vertigois the ultimate [millennial] critics' film because it is a dreamlike film about people who are not sure who they are but who are busy reconstructing themselves and each other to fit a kind of cinema ideal of the ideal soul mate. In that sense it's a makeover film full of spellbinding moments of awful poignancy that show how foolish, tender and cruel we can be when we're in love."
James inadvertently nails cinephilia's deterioration?from idealizing cinema that spoke to and edified the general public to solipsistic criticism that coddles a nihilistic, class-based coterie. (Critics unsure of who they are?Vertigogreater than the culturally prescientPsycho? Or the numinousThe Birds?)
(http://nypress.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/vertigo-8-300x199.jpg)PerhapsVertigo'svictory frees us from traditional authoritarianism (we should learn to develop our own taste, ignoring fashion) but it ushers in another tyranny. It is the triumph of "smartness" whereas the very nature ofKane'sprodigious exercise of cinema's potential was actually a celebration?like the 1952Singin' in the Rain(which also fell offSight & Sound's top ten list).http://cityarts.info/2012/07/12/singin%E2%80%99-reigns/Recognizing the art of cinema as popular pleasure is frowned upon in fashionable criticism. A movie that impacts the culture likeKanealways did provides a foundation for wider experience; a film that doesn't, doesn't.
For years, it's been quietly accepted that Welles' follow-up filmThe Magnificent Ambersonswas richer, more complex thanKane(andAmbersons' profundity makesVertigoseem piddling). YetAmbersons, which moves viewers utterly, never captured the top spot during film culture's genuinely populist phase, unified toward social stability.Vertigoappeals to a fragmented culture that boasts of self-absorption (rather thanAmbersons' self-examination).Vertigois a 21st century favorite?and perfectly titled for that.
Armond White'sSight & Soundpoll list will be published by BFI on August 15.