The first time I saw Vertigo it became my favorite movie. You could never fully understand it in a single viewing, but right away you can see how the possible readings extend endlessly, how the movie will occupy your imagination for the rest of your life: you could write a (short) book just about the use of red and green; you could, as my predecessor Mark Asch suggested, “try watching it under the assumption that the real Madeleine Elster and her working-girl doppelganger Judy Barton have traded places before the start of the film, a fact never uncovered by the men on screen.” And on and on into infinity. It is both the most complex movie ever made and the most basic. As Bret Easton Ellis tweeted this morning, “‘Vertigo’ defines the cruel way movies work. It explains more than any other film what it means to be just a spectator, a helpless voyeur.” For all intents and purposes, Vertigo is the movie.
So when the British magazine Sight and Sound announced this week that is is now the best movie of all time, displacing Citizen Kane as the winner of its once-a-decade poll of critics and cineastes (a position Welles’s film has enjoyed for half a century), the news was just that the Sight and Sound pollees have finally caught up with objective reality. It wasn’t news about Vertigo, which has been the best movie ever made since 1958, and will continue to be so even after it has fallen out of favor.
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