The venerable monthly film magazine Sight & Sound have published a list of the 'best films ever made' every ten years since their twentieth anniversary issue in 1952 (yes, they've been going since the thirties). The problem with lists is that they are always divisive, no matter the extent of survey, and the Sight & Sound survey is extensive, stretching internationally, from critics to leading film personnel (including filmmakers such as Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen and Quentin Tarantino). This year there was a great surprise on the list.
Removed from the top spot, its home for every list since 1952, Citizen Kane was replaced by Vertigo, which plays all weekend at BFI Southbank. It's a film that has not had too much general appreciation in the past decade, and has only been recovered for theatrical screening in the past few months, with the BFI's retrospective of Alfred Hitchcock. It's certainly not Hitchcock's most famous (Psycho, m'lud), nor is it everyone's favourite, but it seems to be generally agreed that it is probably the creative pinnacle of his long career - his directorial career lasted forty-four years.
Scottie Ferguson is a private detective, laying low in his San Francisco office after a particularly heavy job. Scottie is called on by an old friend who asks him to follow his wife Madeleine. The detective takes the job and soon finds himself in pursuit of Madeleine, a gorgeous, sultry and exotic blonde - a stereotypical Hitchcock heroine. Suddenly, something here is not right, but that might just be all in Scottie's head. Is Madeleine who she says she is? Or worse, is Madeleine someone else altogether, and is Scottie even chasing the right woman? This film is the darkest of love stories. It's a thriller about self-torment, erotic fantasy, unconditional love and the guilt that follows it. Exploitation and manipulation, both physical and emotional are rife. Hollywood royalty James Stewart and Kim Novak are the stars who, if placed together in a film at any other time, would be our lovestruck hero and heroine finding romance against the odds. In Hitchcock's hands, they become ensconced in a psychoanalytical nightmare.
Vertigo plays at BFI Southbank all weekend.