- Published on Tuesday, August 07 2012
- Written by Greg McIver
I like to think of myself as being pretty up-to-date on what the youth of America is currently talking about. So, it is with some confidence that I can write that the current hot topic being discussed by all the kids out there is that Vertigo has replaced Citizen Kane as the #1 greatest movie of all time, according to Sight & Sound Magazine. I was pretty surprised when I heard that it was Vertigo that finally dethroned the reigning champ. If the winner had to be a Hitchcock movie, then I’m glad the final decision didn’t hinder on my thoughts. Had that been the case, then the greatest movie ever made would be about an army of birds that attack a small seaside town. So, what is about Vertigo that makes it a slightly better movie than Citizen Kane to some people? Below are 3 possible reasons why some people might enjoy Vertigo more than Citizen Kane.
1. Complex Love Story vs. Very Creepy & Tragic Complex Love Story
Both movies have pretty complicated love stories. In Citizen Kane, the phrase “love on your own terms” is spoken at one point, and it’s a phrase that can actually be applied to both movies. Kane (Orson Welles) loves Susan Alexander (Dorothy Comingore) but must control every aspect of their relationship because, in the end, his feelings are the priority. Kane wants Susan to be a great opera star despite what she thinks and feels. It’s only after Susan does harm to herself that Kane relents and allows her to give up singing. But even then, he does it in a way that justifies his own feelings, because they’re all that really matter to him in the end despite what he tries to tell himself. In Vertigo, John Ferguson (James Stewart) also takes control over his relationship with Judy (Kim Novak). He wants his old lover Madeline (also played by Novak) back so much that he tries to change Judy by making her wear the same clothes that Madeline wore and having her hair dyed blonde so that the look is complete. Judy doesn’t want to change herself but does so anyways because she loves John so much. So, again, we have a character that desires love but wants it on his terms despite the feelings of his partner. I think the reason people might favor the Vertigo love story is that, while it is quite creepy and unhealthy, it is born out of the loss of a loved one. Because of this, the audience can feel sympathy towards John Ferguson. You can feel some sympathy towards Kane as well, but Ferguson ultimately wins out because he does actually love Judy. The conflict is that he can’t control his desires and it makes for a very tragic love story that might be a bit more accessible to some moviegoers.
2. Charles Foster Kane vs. John “Scottie” Ferguson
Well, in a fist fight between the two, Ferguson would win, because he was a cop and probably had some formal fight training. The only things that Kane fought were pieces of furniture in a pretty awesome “room-trashing” scene. In all seriousness, though, Vertigo and Citizen Kane both focus on two characters that slowly destroy themselves through the course of their respective movies. We see a very young Kane get sent away from his parents to live with elderly bankers and don’t see him again until he is in his mid-20s. By then, whatever emotional complex he suffers from has already developed and taken over. We are then left to put the pieces together ourselves as to why Kane is the way he is. Of course, the movie gives us clues through conversations with people that knew Kane and the theories that they throw around about him. In this respect, Kane is almost like a detective story in which the mystery is why a character desires to do good but only accomplishes the opposite. In Vertigo, we get to see the cause of John Ferguson’s downfall. We are with him when he first comes down with is acrophobia (fear of heights). We see him lose his great love, Madeline. We see him have the dream that drives him to the mental home. We share everything that Ferguson goes through from the very beginning, and that may make the story a little easier to understand and the character of Ferguson slightly more endearing.
3. Disembodied Multicolored Flying Head vs. Quaint Snow Globe
Vertigo contains an epic scene in which the disembodied head of Jimmy Stewart flies down a hole and changes colors while doing so (see video below). Citizen Kane unfortunately does not have a scene where the disembodied head of Orson Welles flies down a hole. And since Citizen Kane was filmed in black and white, the multicolored part wasn’t even an option. We do get a quaint snow globe scene in Citizen Kane, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, then we know there is no real comparison. Iconic imagery is very important as it helps to ingrain a movie into people’s thoughts. For most moviegoers, a disembodied head being thrown at them will generally have more of a lasting impact than a snow globe being dropped on the floor.
Greg McIver currently resides in New York City. He is a lover of film ranging from the classic to the contemporary. You can check out his other movie reviews and articles on film at www.nerdtopiacast.com.
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