I note that Vertigo has been voted the best film ever made.
It beat, somehow, Army Of Shadows, the Russian War And Peace, The City Of Life And Death, Rashomon, Wild Strawberries, Armacord, In Which We Serve, The Tin Drum, The Lives Of Others, The Best Years Of Our Lives, Flags Of Our Fathers, The Hustler, Downfall, Danton, Daniel, The Road To Perdition, The Seven Samurai, The Seventh Seal, The Syrian Bride, Lebanon, The Hurt Locker, Jarhead, Jules Et Jim and my current favourite A Royal Affair, apparently. Can’t see how.
The trouble with Vertigo, Hitchcock’s most gorgeous-looking (each frame an Edward Hopper painting) and most lushly-orchestrated (Benny Herrmann’s yearning, remorseful, searching soundtrack still unsurpassed in cinema, and lately used, correctly, to climax The Artist), and the first thirty-seven weren’t all that good, Craig Lahiff having lately surpassed them all with Swerve) is that it’s a fraud.
It’s a fraud because the story makes no sense at all. If Kim Novak is, as she seems, twenty-eight and Scotty, Jimmy Stewart, is (as he seems) fifty, it makes no psychological sense. A man thus obsessed is usually an ageing homosexual keen on a fifteen-year-old boy or a Humbert Humbert stressed by a teenage girl. It is the story of Howard Hawks, fifty-one, and Lauren Bacall, eighteen; Peter Bogdanovitch and Cybill Shepherd; Minnelli and Judy Garland; Duigan and Nicole; Henry Higgins, in short, and Liza Doolittle. It is a Liza story, a Gigi story, a Lolita story, an Ashby story, and the girl has to be under twenty. You don’t dress up a thirty-year-old woman as your ideal dead love. You just don’t.
And this accounts for the old perverts of American criticism having chosen it as their best film — above, say, Pretty Baby, Malle’s film about a child prostitute learning the ropes, or Little Miss Sunshine perfecting her bump-and-grind at eight, or Gigi, or Daddy Long Legs, or Beautiful Kate.
It’s the love that dare not speak its name.
Hitchcock’s best film is North By North-west, a genial touristic thriller and cliffhanger which foreboded all the james Bond films and was, at its heart, a jest, like a Preston Sturges love comedy. A wacky thriller if you like. Vertigo, in territory like Nabokov’s Laughter In The Dark or Joyce Carol Oates’s A Fair Maiden, was Hitch’s most pretentious, most French film, and loved by the Cahiers De Cinema gang therefore. But it’s at its heart a paperback romance, really.
And they should hush their mouths.