About
Five years ago, Alfred Hitchcock's psychological suspense drama Vertigo ousted Orson Welles's Citizen Kane from the top ranking position of the British Film Institute's (BFI) poll conducted by Sight & Sound magazine. The pre-eminent international poll designates one film, once every 10 years, with the honour of "the greatest film of all time". Citizen Kane previously enjoyed the top billing every decade since 1962 but, after 50 years of monopolising the top spot, Citizen Kane was finally de-throned by Hitchcock’s Vertigo in 2012. Vertigo only entered the top ten UK poll for the first time in 1982 but rose steadily in the poll's outcome every decade, inching slowly up the rankings over the course of 30 years, reaching 4th place in 1992 and then 2nd place in 2002 behind Welles's 1941 classic, separated by a mere five votes.
Sight & Sound's esteemed 10-yearly poll in 2012, involving 846 critics, academics, writers and programmers worldwide, voted on more than 2,000 nominated film titles. The UK film poll is considered to be the most respected amongst film critics who are asked to interpret "greatest" with no specific criteria, suggesting only that they choose the ten films they feel are "the most important to film history or that have had the biggest impact on their own view of cinema." The American critic Roger Ebert has called the UK poll "by far the most respected of the countless polls of great movies—the only one most serious movie people take seriously".
Both Citizen Kane and Vertigo were initially box-office failures in their day. On its original release in 1958, Vertigo met with a lukewarm, mixed reception of reviews. Critics complained that the narrative of Vertigo was implausible, while audiences didn’t like seeing their hero, Jimmy Stewart, portraying such an unsympathetic role. Largely ignored by the critics for most of Hitchcock's career, Vertigo's slow but steady incremental ascent in the UK poll each decade since 1982 represented a correspoding increase in Hitchcock’s own reputation to the highest stratum of critical celebration. Vertigo was critically re-evaluated in Robin Wood’s 1968 book Hitchcock’s Films and was hearlded as Hitchcock's “masterpiece to date.” In 1973 Vertigo was taken out of circulation by Hitchcock. But durng these years of absence, interest in Vertigo grew dramatically each year and, on its re-release in 1983, Vertigo was celebrated critically by critics and audiences alike.
The editior of Sight and Sound, Nick James, said that Vertigo represeted "the ultimate critics' film" and "is a dream-like film about people who are not sure who they are but who are busy reconstructing themselves and each other to fit a kind of cinema ideal of the ideal soul-mate." Vertigo, regarded as Hitchcock's most personal film, sees the director grapple with the recurring theme of obsession set against the backdrop of San Francisco. The film opens with police officer Scotty Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart), who is forced to retire after his fear of heights leads to the death of a police colleague. Scotty is hired by an old college friend, Gavin Elster, to follow his wife, Madeline (Kim Novak), who has begun to behave strangely. Vertigo is famous for the dolly-zoom camera technique that portrays Scotty's Vertigo: simultaneously the camera zooms-in and pulls-back creating a disorientating feeling culminating in Hitchcock’s spiralling dream-narrative of obsessive love. Hitchcock never used colour so successfully as a methaphor as he does with such nightmarish force in Vertigo. The director’s use of the opposing spectrum colours of red and green conjures up strikingly beautiful contrasts that flowed between the characters of Scotty & Madeline/Judy. From its opening title sequence of Saul Bass’s swirling geometric designs, the viewer is pulled down deep inside a vortex that will later reveal itself through a disturbing obsession with one woman. Vertigo is essentally a film about a repetitive pattern of obsessive love, and the more often we view the film, our experience as viewer becomes deeper and more dreamlike stretching further into the subconscious with every repeated viewing, appearing to resonate with something in our own lives.
Sixty years ago, in September 1957, principal photography commenced in San Francisco on Vertigo. This coming September 2017 we celebrate the masterpiece of Hitchcock in Dublin, with the inauguration of the International Film Festival: Vertigo: The Greatest Film Ever Made? This one-day conference in Dublin will focus exclusively on all aspects of what makes Vertigo such a triumph in film-making technique. This unique conference brings together ten internatiomal acclaimed scholars and writers on Hitchcock from Canada, the US, and the UK who will explore many aspects of Vertigo through a series of presentations, together with a screening of the original 1958 classic film in Dublin. It would be fitting if the celebration of Vertigo should continue into the future and return to its birthplace in San Francisco next year in 2018 for what I hope will see the staging of the 2nd International Film Conference on Vertigo, to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the release of the film.