"Vertigo" Topples "Citizen Kane" From the Pinnacle of Sight and Sound's Greatest Films Poll

"Vertigo" Topples "Citizen Kane" From the Pinnacle of Sight and Sound's Greatest Films Poll
The greatest film ever made? James Stewart and Kim Novak in Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo"
(©1958 - Paramount Pictures)

After a confident 50-year run as the greatest film of all time in Sight and Sound magazine’s once-a-decade poll, Orson Welles’s “Citizen Kane” has been dislodged by Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.” It’s enough to make an old man drop a snow globe.

The results of the 2012 poll of 846 critics, programmers, academics,and distributors, which was published by the British Film Institute yesterday, revealed that Hitchcock’s masterwork had eclipsed Welles’s by “a whopping 34 votes, compared with the mere five that separated them a decade ago,” wrote the film scholar Ian Christie.

It's not quite the shock it at first seemed. Hitchcock’s 45th feature entered the poll at joint seventh in 1982, ascended to fourth in 1992, and to second place in 2002. Given “Kane”'s five-decade domination, “Vertigo” is only the third film to have claimed top spot in the poll’s 60-year history. The inaugural poll of 1952 was topped by Vittorio De Sica’s “Bicycle Thieves,” which has now sunk to thirty-third. “Kane” didn’t feature at all that year; its subsequent domination was probably attributable to the Cahiers du Cinema critics of the fifties and the evolution of film studies.

“So what does it mean?” Christie mused on “Vertigo”’s triumph. “Given that ‘Kane’ actually clocked over three times as many vote this time as it did last time, it hasn’t exactly been snubbed by the vastly larger number of voters taking part in this new poll, which has spread its net far wider than any of its predecessors.

“But it does mean that Hitchcock … has risen steadily in esteem over the course of 30 years.” The crowning of “Vertigo” couldn’t have better timing for the BFI, which is in the midst of a comprehensive three-month retrospective of his work at its Southbank theaters and has just published the book “39 Steps to the Genius of Hitchcock.” But you have to look to number 35 for the next highest Hitchcock film on the list – “Psycho” – and that’s his only other entry in the top 50, which is published here

Christie lamented Welles’s eclipse, noting that he uniquely “had two films ('The Magnificent Ambersons' as well as 'Kane') in the list in 1972 and 1982, but now 'Ambersons' has slipped to 81st place in the top 100.”

The rest of the 2012 top ten was made up by:

3. Yasujiro Ozu’s “Tokyo Story” (fifth in 2002)

4. Jean Renoir’s “La Règle du je” (third)

5. F.W. Murnau’s “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” (joint seventh)

6. Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (sixth)

7. John Ford’s “The Searchers” ( - )

8. Dziga Vertov’s “Man With a Movie Camera” ( - )

9. Carl Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc” ( - )

10. Federico Fellini’s “8 ½” (ninth)

Francis Coppola’s “The Godfather” and “The Godfather, Part 2,” judged as a single work, sat fourth in 2002, but have slipped to joint twenty-first (“The Godfather”) and joint thirty-first (“The Godfather, Part 2”); Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” has leapfrogged them to 14. Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” came in joint thirty-first, but “Raging Bull” (joint second in 1992) was not placed.

Sergei M. Eisenstein’s “Battleship Potemkin” has slipped from seventh to eleventh. Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly’s “Singin’ in the Rain” has tumbled from tenth to twentieth.

The highest position for a film made in recent years is Wong Kar-wai’s “In the Mood for Love,” which placed twenty-fourth. It had been anticipated by some critics that David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” would crack the top ten, but it finished twenty-eighth.

Conspicuous by their absence from the top 50 are Alexander Dovzhenkho’s “Earth” and any films directed by Luis BuñuelJosef von Sternberg, Howard Hawks, and the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

As a participant in the poll, I made the following selection:

1. "Shoah" (directed by Claude Lanzmann)

2. "Citizen Kane"

3. "L’Atalante" (Jean Vigo)

4. "La Règle de jeu"

5. "Metropolis" (Fritz Lang)

6. "Vertigo"

7. "Ugetsu Monogatari" (Kenji Mizoguchi)

8. "Pandora’s Box" (G.W. Pabst)

9. "The Searchers"

10. "A Matter of Life and Death" (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger)