Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo has been voted the greatest film of all time by a board of critics and academics, fifty-four years after its cinematic release.
The British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound magazine poll seemed predictable; Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane has won for the last fifty years. The magazine’s editor Nick James welcomes the change and explains the film’s increased popularity, “it focuses on our inner-lives, and we’re more interested in our inner-lives than we ever have been”.
Starring James Stewart and Kim Novak, the thriller explores the theme of obsession between a retired detective and a disturbed young woman. Shot in San Francisco, it initially received mixed reviews from critics but has gained retrospective support.
Stewart’s character Scotty, who retires due to his fear of heights, grounds viewers in a disorientating plot. He is hired to follow his friend’s wife – played by Novak – who is behaving oddly, only to fall in love with her before learning of her deceit.
Hitchcock regarded this as his most personal masterpiece, and it is accepted to be amongst his best work, alongside Psycho, North By North West and The Birds.
Talking to the BBC’s Arts editor, Nick James added on Hitchcock’s legacy, “Vertigo has been the film that has carried the flag for him, because it is the one that is most psychologically complex and yet, it’s to do with both genders. It’s a film that speaks to women as much as it does to men”.
It is also famous for the camera trick Hitchcock invented to eerily depict Scotty’s vertigo on screen; the director simultaneously zoomed-in and pulled back the camera. It features three times in the film when Scotty is troubled by heights – most effectively in the film’s fatal climax – and is known as a “dolly zoom”.
The previous winner, Citizen Kane, falls to number two in the poll, whilst there are two new entries in the Top 10 – Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc.
In a separate poll run by the publication, 358 film directors were given the same question and chose Ozu’s lesser-known Tokyo Story as the greatest film of all time.
The full poll results are published in Sight and Sound’s September issue.