Why Hitchcock's "Vertigo" Is the Greatest Movie Ever — Better than "Citizen Kane"
Bored by “Citizen Kane”? Looking back from our era of psychologically messed up lead characters (think Bryan Cranston’s Walter Whitein Breaking Bad), Vertigo seems decades ahead of its time.
If you really want to start an argument with a movie critic, ask them what the greatest movie of all time is. Like any “GOAT” debate, you’ll get your standard answers sometimes and your unconventional answers others. The conventional greatest film of all time answer you might remember from that college film class is Citizen Kane. If you took that class a little earlier, you might have been told The Bicycle Thief. If you took that class more recently, however, you might have been told Vertigo, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 masterpiece that premiered on May 9th, in San Francisco, the setting of the film itself. If Citizen Kane or The Bicycle Thief bored you, don’t be surprised (like Vertigo star James Stewart, shown above) if the mystery of the greatest film of all time is solved by the twisted tale of Vertigo.
What makes Vertigo so good (and maybe great) is the plot, which defies description in many ways. (Don’t worry, no spoilers, either here or in the trailer for the 1996 restored version shown above.) James Stewart plays John “Scottie” Ferguson, who retires from the police force after an accident leaves him with a fear of heights and the titular affliction of vertigo, a false sense of spinning and falling when looking down from those heights. An acquaintance named Gavin Elster hires Scottie, now a private eye, to follow his wife Madeline (played by Kim Novak) and find out why she’s acting so strangely. From there on, you get classic Hitchcock—suspense, mystery, romance, all wrapped around twisted human psychology.
What makes Vertigo better than all the other classic Hitchcock? How is it better than Psycho, Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, or any other beloved classic by the “Master of Suspense”? Like any great artist, Hitchcock liked to use his favorite motifs over and over, like a fingerprint on all his works. It’s no mystery that Hitchcock seemed infatuated with blonde female leads, with Kim Novak filling that role in Vertigo (shown above). However, what did change in Hitchcock over time was a greater and greater fascination with deviant psychology, with just how messed up he could make his characters. The idea of a detective debilitated by his fears goes light years beyond previous leading male characters. Just one year before, in 1955, Hitchcock presented To Catch a Thief, starring Cary Grant as a retired cat burglar with nerves of steel and Grace Kelly as his equally composed, cool as a cucumber love interest. Looking back from our era of psychologically messed up lead characters (think Bryan Cranston’s Walter White in Breaking Bad), Vertigo seems decades ahead of its time.
Each decade, starting in 1952, the British Film Institute asks the world’s best film critics to list their personal top ten films of all time and prints the results in the film magazine Sight & Sound. In 1952, The Bicycle Thief won. In 1962, Citizen Kane won, and kept winning every decade until the 2012 poll, which was won by Vertigo. Over the years, critics came to appreciate the technical mastery of the film in details such as the famous “Vertigo effect” (shown above) created using a Dolly zoom. But what made even more compelling as the GOAT was Vertigo’s versatility, its defiance of genre. Vertigo ranks as the #1 mystery on the American Film Institute’s AFI's 10 Top 10 genres (Hitchcock directs 4 of the top 10 listed mysteries), as #61 of AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies, as #18 of AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills, as #12 of AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores (hear Bernard Herrmann’s amazing soundtrack here), and as #18 of AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions. It’s an accomplishment to make just one of those lists, but to make so many different, almost conflicting lists makes Vertigo unique (and maybe the GOAT).
Alas, that very versatility and genre defiance befuddled audiences in 1958. Even the Hitchcock name couldn’t save Vertigo from disappointing box office. Hitchcock actually took Vertigo out of circulation in 1973 along with several other of his less successful films. It wasn’t until after Hitchcock’s death in 1980 that audiences saw Vertigo again and grew to appreciate it more. A digital restoration of the film in 1996 further returned it to its original intended glory. Issues such as the age difference between Stewart (50 at the time) and Novak (only 25 at the time) seemed nonsense compared to the nuanced depths of the story, cinematography, and soundtrack.
Is Vertigo the greatest film of all time? Who’s to judge? Why should critics get to tell us what they think? Even they needed more than half a century to recognize Vertigo as the greatest, at least until the 2012 poll. I say everyone should judge with their own eyes and ears. Vertigo’s a fascinating story told in a beautiful way at times (just look at Kim Novak against the romantic green glow above) and a staggeringly psychologically true way at other times. I’ve personally watched Vertigo dozens of times and seen something new every time, which is the mark of a great film, which includes Citizen Kane, The Bicycle Thief, and many more. Take a look (or twelve) for yourself and decide whether or not Vertigo’s the greatest film of all time. Don’t leave yourself hanging in suspense (like poor “Scottie” below).
What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.
- Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
- Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
- Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.
- New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
- Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
- The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.
Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".
Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.
The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.
The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.
Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.
"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."
University of Colorado Boulder
This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.
Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.
The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.
Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.
What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.
"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."
Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.
We were gaining three IQ points per decade for many, many years. Now, that's going backward. Could this explain some of our choices lately?
There's a new study out of Norway that indicates our—well, technically, their—IQs are shrinking, to the tune of about seven IQ points per generation.
An ordained Lama in a Tibetan Buddhist lineage, Lama Rod grew up a queer, black male within the black Christian church in the American south. Navigating all of these intersecting, evolving identities has led him to a life's work based on compassion for self and others.
- "What I'm interested in is deep, systematic change. What I understand now is that real change doesn't happen until change on the inside begins to happen."
- "Masculinity is not inherently toxic. Patriarchy is toxic. We have to let that energy go so we can stop forcing other people to do emotional labor for us."
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