Monday, August 6, 2012

Hitch trumps Orson

Cover of
This week the Daily Glean seems to be on a film roll (pardon the pun), so I couldn't pass up passing on the news that after 50 years, Hitchock's Vertigo has replaced Citizen Kane as No. 1 in the annual Sight and Sound poll of the 100 greatest films of all time. Hitch's standing had been steadily rising in the annual smackdown, and now he's champ. Tokyo Story by Ozu (#3) has been high on my to-see queue for a while, and I couldn't agree more with the lofty placement of Jean Renoir's profound, witty, and humane Rules of the Game (La Règle du jeu) or of FW Murnau's stupendous silent Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans as 4 and 5.
A still from Renoir's 1939 masterpiece; below two shots from Sunrise.
Here's how the process went, as described on the British Film Institute's website:
We approached more than 1,000 critics, programmers, academics, distributors, writers and other cinephiles, and received (in time for the deadline) precisely 846 top-ten lists that between them mention a total of 2,045 different films.
As a qualification of what ‘greatest’ means, our invitation letter stated, “We leave that open to your interpretation. You might choose the ten films you feel are most important to film history, or the ten that represent the aesthetic pinnacles of achievement, or indeed the ten films that have had the biggest impact on your own view of cinema.”
John Ford's The Searchers, which we have in a 50th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition, ranks in the top 10, along with Kubrick's 2001 and Fellini's . The full list of 100 films will be out mid-month.

15 comments:

  1. To my mind, they didn't even pick Hitchcock's best film, North By Northwest.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm not much of a movie buff, but I do love a good Hitchcock movie. My fav by far is Rebecca. A great book and a great movie (which is hard to do these days!)

    ReplyDelete
  3. "NoTalentHack" is absolutely right! North By Northwest gets the nod every time! Also, Citizen Kane=overrated! Ouch, I know, but my taste has always been questionable:)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Also on Sight and Sounds list is The Passion of Joan of Arc, Maria Falconetti, performance as "The Maid of Orleans," can only be described as profound and amazing, she really seemed to embody the soul of the martyred saint.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I've seen these Hitchcock films, and agree with all of you--either North by Northwest or Rebecca would be a better choice than the evasive Vertigo. I'm surprised that Kim Novak's wooden performance alone would not disqualify the film from being the "greatest." I'm suspicious anyway of "Greatest of all time" lists, as movies (or books) have different virtues and drawbacks that make it impossible to choose a "greatest".

    ReplyDelete
  6. I hold the very unpopular opinion that Hitchcock is overrated; his films are artificial looking and painfully self-aware. Much like Kubrick, he’s too busy fussing over the details to bother coaxing a great performance out of his actors. That said, I’m gratified to see 2001 on this list, because it is indeed bigger than its actors and is the closest cinema comes to pure poetry. The Passion of Joan of Arc, previously praised by Tastes Like a Penny, features one of the best performances of all time as well as superb cinematography. It’s also nice to see Murnau’s Sunrise on the list, as it keeps a lower profile than some of these other heavy-hitters.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When asked, did you say "Actors are cattle"? Hitchcock replied, "I did not. I said actors should be treated like cattle."

      Delete
    2. I think several of Kubrick's films featured very good acting performances-- The Shining, Paths of Glory, Lolita, A Clockwork Orange all had fine acting in them. Kubrick did not treat actors like the moveable furniture that Hitchcock used.

      Delete
    3. I agree -- I find it bizarre that either Kane or Vertigo could be #1.

      Delete
  7. Anybody else tempted to add captions to those movie stills?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are a person after my own heart ... please do so!

      Delete
  8. they didn't even pick Hitchcock's best film, North By Northwest.

    Yes. I've seen all of Hitchcock's 53 films except the first one (1925), the second one (of which no print exists), and his Vienna waltz movie, and I wouldn't even put Vertigo in the top five. NxNW (not an actual compass direction, by the way) is my favorite as well.

    Hitchcock is overrated; his films are artificial looking...

    Hitchcock had his problems (famously, he like to torment blond actresses), but remember, he made his last movie over 45 years ago. Modern audiences — spoiled by CGI and Garrett Brown's Steadicam, which easily replicates movement — should consider the primitive cameras and techniques he had to work with, and appreciate the often spectacular results he achieved.

    p.s. 'Greatest this-or-that' lists are always fun to complain about. After watching the AFI’s Top 100 Movies (both versions), 98 of the AFI’s Top 100 Comedies, and 88 of the All-Time Movies. I consider Tokyo Story just about the worst movie on all three lists.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One of my favorites is The Trouble with Harry. Here's Shirley MacLaine (from an AV club interview) on working w/ H:
      AVC: That was your first film. It must have been quite an introduction to the business.
      SM: He would direct me, and everyone, with Cockney phrases. For example, his first words to me on the set, the first day, were [English accent] “Genuine chopper, old girl. Genuine chopper.” I didn’t know what the hell that was, and I asked Johnny Forsythe, and he said, “Look, just think of two synonyms that match ‘genuine’ and ‘chopper.’” And so I did: I came up with “real” for “genuine” and “axe” for “chopper.” So what does that mean? “Relax!” And that’s the way he directed. I got a little bit, “Oh my God, what am I into here? The great Hitchcock. What if I don’t figure this out? I don’t know what he means.” So he activated your sense of mystery, but he could be cruel. Not to me, really. He insisted that I eat with him, every meal. I gained about 20 pounds on that movie. I mean, there was a moment when the head of Paramount called me and said I was sabotaging my new career, because they couldn’t even match me from one scene to another. I looked like a different person. [Laughs.]
      I heard another story about Hitch ordering a huge, sumptuous meal in one of his favorite Hollywood eateries, and then turning around and repeating the entire parade of dishes.

      Delete
    2. I have been thinking more about this. As opposed to my dislike of Ozu, I am a huge Akira Kurosawa fan, and especially have seen all 16 of the films he made with the great Toshiro Mifune. At least half of them (not including the popular Rashomon, not a favorite of mine) seem far better to me than the (for some reason) highly-rated Tokyo Story.

      Delete
  9. Thanks for your comments, RPS. I knew Hitchcock would find defenders. Not only were camera techniques different, but social mores and acting styles resulted in a more poised and (to modern eyes) stodgy or artificial appearance.
    I winced when I saw the remake of The Birds, which had reduced a social commentary to the level of a horror movie. I'm glad that Hitchcock's audience includes viewers who appreciate his subtler qualities.

    ReplyDelete