And so the expected dethronement has happened: after years at the top of Sight and Sound’s revered World Critics’ Poll, Citizen Kane has been displaced by Hitchcock’s Vertigo, long the pretender in waiting.
After two decades spent skulking in obscurity because of lapsed exhibition rights, the film re-emerged in about 1983, having been talked up into some kind of classic status by the critics lucky enough to have seen it the first time round. But the verdict was far from unanimous. Some found it to be a minor work next to Rear Window and North by Northwest, the narrative drive sapped by the endless sequences of Stewart gazing through car windows and round corners. Others found it morbid and rather strange, as if they had never seen Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (based on a work by the same authors). In any event over the last two decades it has gathered momentum, and the new generation of critics have rallied to the cause, seeing in it the grail of ‘pure cinema’.
I am not sure how I feel about this. For all its dryness, Kane had a ‘something for everyone’ quality about it, wit, intelligence, and a compendium of cinematic tricks to admire and discuss endlessly. Vertigo is a different animal: it is a reverie, a mood to which you have to surrender, simply. But the greatest film ever made? Surely not. And my personal choice for that title? How about La Grande Illusion?