Tag Archives: vertigo

Sight & Sound and the Fury

Some thoughts in the immediate aftermath of Sight & Sound’s 2012 “Greatest Films of All Time” list…

1) Vertigo is #1, narrowly edging out Citizen Kane. What does this mean? Not a whole hell of a lot. Both movies are still great: still formally and thematically dense, still fun to watch and write about, still excellent representations of their directors’ respective skills and obsessions. But of course these poll results will still stir up a lot of shit like “Kane was overrated; glad it lost” and “Vertigo isn’t even Hitchcock’s best.” Then, over the next decade, Vertigo’s new status will probably lead some folks to ascribe “cultural vegetable” traits (you know: boring! slow! unwatchable!) to what is, more or less, a lurid thriller. So, the same old posturing and bitching that always follow huge announcements like this.

2) But here’s the thing: this is really an opportunity. Kane’s “downfall” after 50 years (though come on—it’s still at #2!) can function less as a regime change than a reality check, inviting us to view the poll less hierarchically. Because that illusory “greatest film” hasn’t changed over the past ten years; critical reputations have. Maybe without that one canonized-since-1962 title at the top of the list, it’ll be easier to see that. With a new #1 for the world’s most prestigious film poll, maybe anything goes. Vertigo’s ascendance could grant us a new perspective on the poll and recenter the experience around the sheer fun of listmaking and list-reading.

3) Because, as always, let’s not take this too seriously. Let’s take it as a spark to light up our enthusiasm. As a series of great viewing suggestions. Lest you treat the S&S poll as more than a loose critical barometer, remember that it relies entirely on consensus accumulating around certain titles; if a filmmaker (like, say, Howard Hawks) doesn’t yet have a single canonical masterpiece, it’s near-impossible for them to squeeze in. (Although, impressively, Ozu ended up with two movies in the top 15.) Honestly, I’d prefer a poll run according to Kristin Thompson’s suggestion from earlier this year:

I think this business of polls and lists for the greatest films of all times would be much more interesting if each film could only appear once. Having gained the honor of being on the list, each title could be retired, and a whole new set concocted ten years later.

Now wouldn’t that be fun?

4) Silent cinema! This year’s top 10 saw four movies (Singin’ in the Rain, Battleship Potemkin, and Godfathers 1 and 2) traded for three: The Searchers, Man with a Movie Camera, and The Passion of Joan of Arc. Which means two new silent movies! And the voting body couldn’t have selected a better pair: one a playful blurring of art and the mundane, the other an austere descent into religious mania and torture. If I may indulge my inner statistics nerd: the top 10 has grown older since 2002, with the average release year going from 1952 to 1946. (Or 1946.2, to be exact.) On the one hand, this goes along with the poll’s tendency to ignore the bulk of recent cinema. (Only 13 out of the top 50 were made post-1970.) On the other hand, I don’t mind that, because Vertov and Dreyer are so much more in danger of being forgotten than, say, Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson. I still love those latter two directors, but more silents on such a prominent list can only be a good thing.

Wow, I just got so meta about film culture that I made myself dizzy.

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Link Dump: #58

Isn’t this kitty from Josef von Sternberg’s Underworld just the cutest thing ever? Just look at it! It’s such an adorable kitty! And to complement the kitty’s cuteness, we’ve got some truly spectacular links this week:

We had several amusing, pussy-themed search terms in the past week—”.1 like to wonenand womenate pussy,” for example. (Dear lord what does that mean.) Two others added a strange equine theme as well: “poney likes wife pussy” and “horse-like vomen pussy,” the latter of which you should probably read with a Yakov Smirnoff accent. In Soviet Russia, vomen pussy like you!

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Link Dump: #14

Since Ashley insisted that I couldn’t choose kitty pictures anymore, the above image of Scar and the obnoxiously playful Simba is her pick. And a great pick it is! Scar is a deliciously, mincingly evil villain, probably more charismatic than Claudius, the Shakespearean usurper on whom he’s based. And of course that’s all because of Jeremy Irons, whose voice trumps any hackneyed dialogue or fickle hyenas. When cartoon Jeremy Irons says “Jump!”, you ask, “How high?” With that, I give you this week’s links.

  • Courtesy of Mary Ray of The Bewitched, I found out about this awesome 4th Amendment apparel – for when you want to stick it to the (TSA) man in writing.
  • Amanda Palmer’s vulva is NSFW art!
  • Here’s another awesome Tumblr blog called Screen Goddesses.
  • Apparently all (or at least most) of the planets have been featured in sci-fi literature. The more you know!
  • Robert C. Cumbow wrote an essay about one of Hitchcock’s greatest, Vertigo (1958). Give it a read; it’s very sharp.
  • From The Sheila Variations, here’s a piece about Ann Savage in Detour, easily one of the greatest femmes fatales ever.
  • Imogen Smith wrote a long, fantastic essay about Pre-Code movies, complete with Joan Blondell in a bathtub.
  • Dan Callahan attacked the “Rich Girl Cinema” of Sofia Coppola and Lena Dunham in Slant; then Cinetrix fired back by saying, “I enjoy being a girl.”
  • An inventive YouTube user mashed up Edgar Wright’s first three films into one awesome trailer. How can one director pack in that much pure awesome?
  • As part of the drive to raise Vincent Price awareness, a really cool blogger & graphic designer named Eric Slager made this snazzy poster of Price’s face adorned with the titles of his many films. (Via Classic-Horror.com.)
  • Sight & Sound announces its critical favorites for 2010! Unsurprisingly, The Social Network and Uncle Boonmee top the list. (Pssst: I’ll have some 2010 film lists of my own in the near future.)

Alas, we’ve had no astoundingly bizarre search terms as of late (unless you count more requests for Simpsons porn). Someone searched for “tom waits poster,” for which Ashley recommends this. (Tom Waits is lovably grizzled and makes excellent poster fodder.) Another searched for “witch burning in movies,” for which I offer the spellbinding, terrifying witch-burning sequence in the middle of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1958). And finally, “hanged cat film.” That’s no good. In keeping with our feline blog name, we’re launching a campaign against cat violence here. Seriously, people: end the kitty bloodshed. Meow.

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Horror is everywhere (1)

Since so much of the critical discourse around horror tends to describe it as a “ghetto genre,” stuck in the gutter of low budgets and low culture, it’s easy to imagine it as walled off from the rest of film. But, well, that’s just not the case – and the sooner we realize it, the happier we’ll be. Because the fact is, as I say in the title of this post: horror is everywhere. It’s not just in ’50s B-movies and ’70s slashers and monster rampages and gore. It’s all over the place in mainstream Hollywood cinema. It’s in austere art films. Only a thin, imaginary line separates the worlds of Herk Harvey, Lars von Trier, Herschell Gordon Lewis, and Ingmar Bergman.

In order to demonstrate this point, I’ve gone through the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? aggregated list of the 1,000 highest-ranked films of all time, and picked out ones that show the influence of the horror genre. Because horror isn’t just a hidden, perverse bastard genre. It’s an impulse whose tentacles reach into all eras and regions. Horror touches all artists whether they like it or not. So here are some critically acclaimed films that deserve to be located within the tradition of horror.

Citizen Kane (1941) – TSPDT ranking: #1

Who do you think dwells in that far-off, menacing mansion? Maybe Dr. Frankenstein? Mr. Sardonicus? No, that’s Xanadu, the final home of the title character in Citizen Kane. In the film’s opening sequence, Welles invokes haunted house iconography, moving us closer and closer to Xanadu through a series of eerie dissolves; Bernard Herrmann’s creepy score accentuates the feeling. Welles was no stranger to scaring people (remember, he’d punk’d the nation with The War of the Worlds just 3 years earlier), and he knew how to make Kane seem distant and foreboding: introduce him with a dash of Gothic horror. Kane’s rigid, Karloffian outburst after Susan leaves him later in the film just drives the point home.

Vertigo (1958) – TSPDT ranking: #2

Like Welles, Alfred Hitchcock was no stranger to horror. He flirted with the genre throughout his career, producing movies that were terrifying and mysterious, but still better categorized as “suspense” or “thrillers.” Still, he made one of the earliest serial killer movies (The Lodger), and helped establish the slasher and killer animal subgenres with Psycho and The Birds. In Vertigo, often considered his masterpiece, he even dabbled with the supernatural through a red herring reincarnation story. Sure, Madeleine/Judy turns out to be a total fake, but the film still contains moments of potent psychological horror – like the wonderful dream sequence pictured above, which is easily one of my favorite cinematic nightmares.

The Rules of the Game (1939) – TSPDT ranking: #3

I’m not trying to suggest that Renoir’s playful, lusty tragicomedy is secretly a horror movie. But I just really love Camille Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre, and I love Renoir’s very theatrical take on it. This macabre little dance routine is performed by members of the nobility for the benefit of their friends, and also for us, the audience. In a movie where trivialities and misguided passions lead to serious consequences, it only makes sense that skeletons and ghosts should be reduced to characters in a brief entertainment.

The Third Man (1949) – TSPDT ranking: #30

Postwar Vienna is a scary place. At least, that’s the lesson learned by hack writer Holly Martins after he pays the city a visit. In addition to dealing with international politics, canted angles, and the maybe dead, maybe evil Harry Lime, Martins and his not-quite-girlfriend Anna have to evade this creepy little Austrian kid who’s accusing them of murder. Throughout the film (which is one of my favorites ever), director Carol Reed pours on the expressionism, to the point that you’re not sure whether Holly and Anna are coming or going. The war-damaged state of the city’s streets and buildings doesn’t help. Combine this disorientation with a demon child right out an Austrian version of The Omen, and you’ve reached the point where noir meets horror.

The Conversation (1974) – TSPDT ranking: #166

Most of Francis Ford Coppola’s least-recognized masterpiece sits in “lonely paranoid thriller” territory, very much in line with the ’70s work of others like Scorsese, Pakula, and Polanski. But toward the end, as Gene Hackman’s surveillance expert Harry Caul realizes the complexity of the conspiratorial web he’s trapped in, the movie has some hallucinatory moments of real horror. Caul glances around an empty hotel room where he suspects a murder has been committed, then innocuously flushes the toilet… and out pours blood in a Shining-style deluge. We’ve also got Robert Duvall’s bloody handprint smeared on a window.

Initially, The Conversation‘s iciness and formal refinement may seem light-years away from the off-the-cuff gruesomeness of something like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But really, to paraphrase Gloria Grahame in The Big Heat, they’re “sisters under the mink.” Or, to put it in more prosaic terms, they’re “surprisingly similar after you disregard artificial notions of high and low culture.” Whether you love or hate horror movies, it’s time to set aside these false distinctions, break through the self-imposed barriers, and realize that all of cinema is interconnected. And to hammer that point home, I’ll have more “Horror is everywhere” for you each week throughout October.

Pleasant nightmares, all!

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