Vertigo and Citizen Kane

00:38, Aug 03 2012

Vertigo is better than Citizen Kane.

The British Film Institute has released its new Top 50 films of all time. I know, it's a list, but as lists go this is the grand poobah. It's a really important one where all the best critics, distributors and academics from around the world choose "important" movies once a decade.

US film critic Roger Ebert wrote this interesting piece about his vote in the BFI poll and why he chose Tree of Life as his new inclusion and "propaganda title". Interestingly, Tree of Life was apparently just one point away from being included in the top 100.

The news this year is that, after 50 years at number one, Citizen Kane has been knocked off the top spot by Vertigo. I'm glad. As you may remember from my first blog, I named Vertigo as one of the five films I couldnt do without. It was one of my desert island DVDs.

It was exciting to see such a personally treasured movie on the daytime news yesterday. This gave me a bit of a thrill:

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Vertigo is a beguilingly beautiful movie. I think it is better than Citizen Kane. It is one of those films that at first watch is quite bewildering, but when you watch it again the film blooms in your mind like a flower, like one of those flowers in Vertigo that people remember so vividly. These ones:

Actually, here are some more pictures of Vertigo, because, wow, it is a beautiful movie. Look at this:

And this:

And this:

What is interesting about Citizen Kane being toppled by Vertigo is that we have replaced a film about truth with one about illusion.

Citizen Kane is about the destructive, mundane and tedious nature of truth. The journalists are on a quest for the truth of a single man. That truth turns out to be something obscure and mundane. There are countless moments where the barbed nature of truth is revealed. At one point, Kane writes a scathing newspaper review of his wife's operatic performance. He has written the truth and, even though it's written under another name, it's a harsh truth.

Citizen Kane is a gritty treatise on the truth. The truth is a bummer and it hurts and its boring - that's what Citizen Kane is about.

But with Vertigo, Citizen Kane has been replaced by a film utterly submerged in deception, illusion and fantasy. Vertigo is about the destructive power of illusion, how it can take hold of a mind and wrestle it free from reality. It's about the power of fantasy and the bargain you strike when you fall into that world and leave the truth behind.

So does this change mean are we retreating into fantasy as a society? Has truthiness won? Depends who you ask. Vertigo was chosen by a group of people with a deep love for movies. In a way, Vertigo is about the act of film making - the creation of illusion.

I think many film lovers prefer illusion to that hardest of taskmasters - reality. The flowers of Vertigo will always be preferable to the arrows of truth in Citizen Kane.

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