Six years ago, Alfred Hitchcock‘s Vertigo overtook Orson Welles‘ Citizen Kane in the once-per-decade Sight & Sound poll as the greatest film ever made. The next big vote won’t be for another four years, but in the view of esteemed critic David Thomson Vertigo‘s dominance may not last.
He sounds the warning in a 6.21 London Review of Books entry called “Vertigo after Weinstein.” The basic shot is that Vertigo is too much about obsessive male hunger for women and too dismissive of their feelings, too sexually perverse and generally too icky to remain the champ in this #MeToo and #TimesUp era.
Thomson’s last three paragraphs (which I’ve broken into five) sum things up:
“We have to be clear-eyed about Vertigo, and about what its power and influence tell us. It isn’t just that Alfred Hitchcock was devious, a fantasist, a voyeur and a predator. It isn’t just that no matter how many Harvey Weinsteins are exposed, it could never be enough to deliver justice to those who have been wronged and exploited. It isn’t even that men invented and have dominated the command and control of the movies, both as art and business: that they have been the majority of directors, producers and camera people despite, over the years, being a minority of the audience.
“Is what Vertigo has to tell us, beyond this history of male control, that the medium itself is in some sense male? Is there something in cinema that gives power to the predator, sitting still in the dark, watching desired and forbidden things? Something male in a system that has an actress stand on her mark, in a beautifully lit and provocatively intimate close-up, so that we can rhapsodize over her?
“In 2012, the Sight & Sound poll was urged on by a feeling that we’d all had enough of Citizen Kane. Welles’ film had been voted the best ever from 1962 to 2002. Few felt that the verdict had been unjust, but in a young medium was it proper for the champ to be a pensioner? Didn’t cinephiles deserve a more mercurial model, made in their lifetime? But the new winner was Vertigo, not very much younger than Citizen Kane, and its triumph was acknowledged as a rueful commentary on the ambivalent glory of being a film director, the auteur status that Sight & Sound was pledged to uphold.
“Already, in 2012, Hitchcock was perceived as a master, but also as a nearly tragic figure. No young filmmaker really wanted to look like him, but many felt they lived in his shadow just as once they had been devoted to the reckless romance of being Orson Welles.
“I didn’t vote for Vertigo; I didn’t love it enough in 1958 or in 2012. [And] I can’t see Vertigo holding the title in 2022, if the known world prevails then and remains ready to attend to another fanciful poll. It’s irrefutably clear that Vertigo is a confession to the damage done by men’s grooming of women’s desirability. And even if the film is tragic, and even if Kim Novak’s performance more and more seems brave or poignant, I don’t think its fantasy can go unchastised.”