vertigo vs. hyperopia


August 6th, 2012

Vertigo vs. Hyperopia


The Shawshank Redemption is not the best movie ever made. Anyone who speaks to the contrary is wrong. I'd like to consider this a matter of opinion, but it is out of my hands.
Frank Darabont, the director, would not disagree, nor would the author, Stephen King. And in all likelihood, nor would the hundreds of thousands of people that had put in their votes on the website imdb (at this point the most indisputably massive community of film buffs that there is). Yet, The Shawshank Redemption is number one, by rule of majority, or better yet, rule of populism.
Every ten years, a British film mag known as Sight & Sound releases a list of the best films, that being the best in film history. Highly prestigious, composited from the cream of the crop, those less inclined to blurt out "worst movie ever". This best-of list is considered by many to be of the highest degree, and I am not inclined to disagree with this out of caution.
The upset, in this year of 2012, is that Citizen Kane has been knocked down from the top spot by a film called Vertigo.
To explain (especially to younger generations), Citizen Kane is a milestone. A visually stunning, taut, and revolutionary piece of American filmmaking. It was executed with every sense of professionalism and nearly no sense of conformity. It was made in the midst of and against what we would now call corporate interest, and it had also survived a Hollywood system affected by such interest, aside from their snake-like own, which is both much better and far worse these days.
In terms of content, it soars in many directions. It is a story that spreads over decades, involving politics, the press, fame, hubris, and other assorted hints of King Lear. It has a love story that hovers slightly over subplot. And best of all, it's big. Terrific, in fact.
It is technically profound, executed by a man that had come out of radio and did not know the rules of filmmaking. Therefore, he did not follow them. He may not have ever known how.
Because of the controversy that had surrounded it, and the scale of the production, as well as the irrevocable quality of it, it has over time achieved a sort of American knighthood.
Over the years, I could imagine many a film critic with their differing point of view, walking on eggshells, being careful not to exclude this film from their all-time top ten lists. As though it would disqualify them as lacking conscientiousness or depth.
My entire life, Citizen Kane has been considered hallowed ground, the best movie ever and don't you forget it. It reminds me of how many still consider Thriller to be the best music video ever made. It isn't, not anymore. It might have been revolutionary at the time, and of course it still is, but it was at a time when the artform was still taking shape, and this artform has since then become something far more diverse and expansive. Thriller is a short film set to music, and since then it has been bested many times. Sentimentality, at least in this respect, is officially dead.
But that is also indicative of filmmaking as a whole. It has over the past eighty years or so become commonplace in its being interesting, with only a rather large handful of writers and directors to rise even above that. The same as Orson Welles or Ernst Lubitsch or D.W. Griffith or [insert Jew here], or Alfred Hitchcock for that matter, having rose above an evolving medium. We have current revolutionaries in our time, but I won't name names out of fear of sounding biased.
At this point, it would be appropriate to mention Vertigo. For my age, I have a long history with this movie and a deep personal affectation for it. I have for many years said that my two favorite films are 12 Monkeys and Vertigo, and I without any illusion of bravery still stand by that. No two movies have ever been of such significance for me. I have never seen a movie, aside from those two, that has encouraged me as much to aspire toward being within that next handful, thus previously mentioned.
I won't mention 12 Monkeys onward, aside from one thing, which will come later.
I should start by saying that Vertigo is not Hitchcock's best movie, nor his greatest. But it is easily my favorite.
I had first seen it at the age of eleven or twelve on television, some knockoff channel of little significance that played reruns and failed sitcoms before cable was boss. In as large a city as Dallas, the antenna picked up more than your simple three channels.
Back then, three Hitchcock films were public domain, owned by no one, therefore free to play, as far as I remember. The same situation contributed to the now legendary uprising of the Christmas yarn, It's a Wonderful Life, perhaps solidifying the fact that a great deal of ultimate success is unintentional.
But, at that age, I could not take my eyes off of this film, and although I have seen both this and Citizen Kane, I could not compare the two without prejudice. It would be wiser to embrace prejudice, I think, because criticism would be dead without it.
I have over the years sought Vertigo out, waited for it to come on, sat through it with interest, and I have been fascinated with it over and over again. Not because it is complicated, and therefore deep, but that its presentation compels curiosity, still one of my favorite human qualities. Perhaps partly because of Vertigo.
I have a system of judging the works of the arts, that being 'greatest, best, and favorite'. For example, Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti is their greatest album, Houses of the Holy is their best, and Presence is my favorite.
By that measure, North by Northwest is Hitchcock's greatest film, Rear Window is his best, and Vertigo is my favorite. Not to mock his earliest work, I could name at least half a dozen profound films that he had made before, but it would feel off topic.
Vertigo, after the restoration, was touted off as his masterpiece, the same as when Disney brought Pinnochio out of their Disney Vault (they really do call it that) on home video and called it his masterpiece (roughly around the time that they brought out Disney's masterpiece Fantasia for home video, and so forth). Masterpiece is not plural, but why bother telling them?
Yet against my ruling system, Vertigo has in fact become his greatest film, and easily one of the best ever produced. With as little ego as is possible, I am carefully not afraid to accept that. It was not accepted well critically, did not do all too well at the box office. It languished for years, payed its dues, and eventually escaped anonymity. Thankfully, it had the Hitch brand on it, or it might have suffered a zombie-like fate, what is commonly referred to as a cult classic. Hell, it might have actually been one for awhile. But like the best of underdog stories, it finally lives.
What sets this film apart from his others is that it is not as enrapt in realism. The detective story in the first act is the closest to the supernatural of any of his films that I know of. With the exception of the Dali-designed dream sequence in Spellbound or the natural phonomenon of The Birds, Alfred Hitchcock was curmudgeonly realistic, even at his most fantastic or humorous.
The film has been touted off as his most personal, and that very well may be true. After its reception, he may have drawn back a bit, and he may have not have touched such an area ever again. But who says you have to do this more than once?
If at any time one could find a flaw, a goof, or have any reservations, it is all but overshadowed by it's sombre and contemplative delivery. There are minutes that pass where there is no dialog, and in its defense, there are times where it is justifiably unnecessary. It's one thing to want other viewers to keep quiet while watching such a thing, but I enjoy the notion of wanting the characters to shut up so that I can watch the movie that they're in.
Unlike Kane, the skips in time are no more than cutting out how long it takes to drive from one place to the other. The both of them are main character surgeries, yet Vertigo is far more inclusive. Vertigo has a tight womb, and Citizen Kane doesn't have one at all. I'd argue that Citizen Kane is a movie about a man trying to find one. Vertigo is about a man being in one.
Another great thing about it is that, as a movie, the parts work as seperate short films. The first act could be a movie unto itself, although it wouldn't be long enough. The second act could be a classic rendition of the mythological pygmalion effect, where a man shapes a woman into one that he sees in his dreams, ultimately destroying her. The second act as a whole does this, but the scene of him encountering someone who looks just like the said dream woman, addressing her, and having her give into his obsessive desire to get something that he has never had all over again, could end with them embracing and the both of them sordidly winning. But, of course, he sees the necklace in the next scene. And so it goes.
I had mentioned 12 Monkeys, Terry Gilliam's dystopian masterpiece about a man whose dream woman is turned into a blonde and ultimately destroyed (and also in his masterpiece Brazil). I don't think that it was a complete coincidence on Gilliam's part, but my favoritism for two films that employ such things is oddly coincidental.
In ten years, there will likely be a new upset. The Stranger will be bigger than The Bible, The Stones will be better than The Beatles, and The Beatles will be more popular than Jesus. We'll be left to our own devices until then.
The Shawshank Redemption did not soar at the box office, did not sweep the Oscars, although nominated for many. Forrest Gump was the winner that year, taking about all that it was offered. It is a story that spreads over decades, involving contradiction of disability, the press, fame, humbleness, and other assorted pieces of nostalgia. It has a love story that hovers slightly over subplot. And best of all, it's big. Terrific, in fact.
But, across all demographics and according to vote, The Shawshank Redemption is the best film in movie history. Left or right, young and old, it is the most generally approved of picture ever made. It is unlikely to change. At least for ten years or so.