WHAT’S your candidate for the best film ever? If you put that question to a room full of people you’d probably get a pretty wide range of replies. Some might come up with their favourite film, on the basis that it must be the best, while others would try to be a bit more objective and possibly suggest a more high-brow answer.
There’s a fair chance someone would come up with a title from the Star Wars saga.
I think there’s also a fair chance – assuming you were in a gathering which excluded film critics and denizens of movie studies departments – that very few would come up with Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
Yet that’s the film which has finally overtaken Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane to take the title of greatest film of all time, chosen by a selected panel for the British Film Institute’s Sight And Sound Magazine in a poll run every ten years.
I’m not unhappy with the switch of positions between these two larger-than-life directors; I’ve seen Vertigo a lot more often than Citizen Kane, and while I admire both movies I personally find Vertigo more compelling.
You’ll note I said “admired” rather than “liked”, for Vertigo is a distinctly dark and disturbing movie, lacking even the graveyard humour of Psycho.
Some say Hitchcock was obsessive and had a highly pessimistic view of human relationships; some also say Vertigo was his most personal movie (which may be why the panel chose this particular work by this most influential of film-makers).
Sure enough, Vertigo isn’t just about an ex-cop with a fear of heights; it’s about obsession and the darkest consequences of human passion. So it covers big issues, and has great lead performances, pioneering camerawork, startling set pieces and a fantastic score. It wasn’t a huge box-office success by Hitchcock’s standards on release, but does that prevent it being the best?
The thing that might do so is the plot. It’s convoluted, but Hitchcock, as usual, lets the audience knows what’s going on before the lead character twigs. No, the problem is it’s too far-fetched to stand up to serious analysis. Hitchcock’s achievement, of course, is to create such a bizarre, fairy-tale atmosphere in 1950s California that audiences suspend analysis.
Mind you, if we’re going to have fairy-tale elements in our greatest movie then why not choose Disney’s original Snow White, a truly pioneering movie which sparked a whole animated film genre?
Cinema is so diverse that it’s no more possible to directly compare Tokyo Story (third best on the panel’s list) with West Side Story than it is to compare the Mona Lisa with Guernica.
Which just goes to show that all these polls – whether they’re for best footballer, pop single or TV soap episode – are complete nonsense. But they’re harmless nonsense, which with a bit of luck will spark some lively debates. So I guess if Alfred pushing Orson off the top spot leads to a few creative discussions, then it’s nonsense with some positive purpose to it.
• THE power of sport to seize the emotions has rarely been better demonstrated than during Saturday’s Olympic triumphs for Team GB. So much has been said that further superlatives seem a bit superfluous, but a month ago I did ask everyone to cheer for Mo and Jessica, and on Saturday night they earned their applause. So did the other medal winners, including rower Andrew Triggs Hodge, who has links to the same part of the Dales I come from.
I’m afraid I couldn’t draw enough inspiration from Mo to do the Jane Tomlinson York 10K in under an hour the following morning. I finished in one hour, three minutes and 30 seconds, a little under four minutes quicker than a year ago.
But this busy, happy event isn’t just about times. I was raising money for an excellent cause, St Leonard’s Hospice (justgiving.com/Andrew-Hitchon ), and it didn’t start thundering and hailing until after the end…