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BFI (2012) - Puzzling over Vertigo




A Hitch in time: changing Hitchcock favourites

Sam Wigley, Friday, 7 September 2012

As Hitchcock’s Vertigo is rereleased nationwide, Geoff Andrew ponders the steady rise in critical esteem of a cruel and complex film now considered the ‘greatest ever made’.

Fascinating, isn’t it, how the reputation of Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) has steadily risen over the years, so that it recently knocked Citizen Kane (1941) off the top spot in the Sight & Sound ‘greatest films’ poll? It didn’t even appear in the poll (held every decade since 1952) until 1982, since when it has climbed from seventh position to fourth (1992), second (2002) and now first.

The reason, almost certainly, that it didn’t figure in the 1972 poll was that (along with Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Rope, The Man Who Knew Too Much and The Trouble with Harry) the film simply hadn’t been visible for many years; withdrawn from distribution, it could only be seen at illicit screenings of prints (usually 16mm) owned by private collectors.

I saw it in such circumstances three or four times around the end of the 70s and start of the 80s, and was pretty knocked out by it – though it’s hard to say for sure whether my response was due entirely to the film itself or in part, at least, to the fact that what I’d seen was an alleged classic which I wasn’t supposed to have seen and which very few of my acquaintances were familiar with. Human nature being what it is, there’s always, sadly, a risk of overestimating the worth of something which is denied to others; it helps us feel we’re somehow special.

That, of course, has nothing to do with Vertigo’s elevated standing now; the film has been back in cir...