So, wobbles at the top. Of all the films that could surmount this poll (there have now been four, across eight decades), it seems apt that Alfred Hitchcock’s woozy psychoromance should lose its grip as soon as it reached the summit – that this delirious maunder with James Stewart’s acrophobic, impressionable detective through an absurd murder-seduction intrigue in a winding San Francisco wonderland should place less steadily than the obdurate Citizen Kane (1941), previously enshrined on high for 40 years. Still, its fall has been less steep than that of Bicycle Thieves (1948), which sank from first to seventh between 1952 and 1962, or this year’s plunge of Jean Renoir’s La Règle du jeu (1939), previously a top-ten perennial, from fourth to 13th. Vertigo came just seven votes short of the top spot – proportionally closer than in 2002, when it missed deposing Orson Welles’s reigning champ by only four votes – while the distance between it and Kane (now third) has grown since 2012, from 34 votes to 45. This is not a film in rapid descent.
As of last year, Vertigo’s 1958 release date puts it in the first half of cinema’s history. As that history extends, and this poll grows, so the greater diversity of latter-day filmmaking stretches the voting. In 2012 the film led with 191 votes – meaning it was included in almost a quarter of the entries; this year its 208 votes amounted to half that proportion, 12 per cent. Lifting the lid of the poll, though, shows a more fluid story than just new voters moving on from the old. Vertigo lost nearly three-quarters (139) of its 2012 electors: three-fifths of them to voter attrition (those voters who for whatever reason didn’t show up in 2022), but more turned away from Vertigo (57) than stuck with it (54). Sixteen swung behind it this year after choosing otherwise in 2012. Meanwhile 140 of its 208 votes came from new – and presumably younger – recruits to the electorate.
After a decade of debate about the justices of cinematic representation, I’d wondered how Hitchcock’s frayed, pessimistic thriller of estrangement would now strike people. Filtering Pygmalion myths of idealisation and exploitation through Proustian memory games – with Bernard Herrmann’s score adding top notes of Wagnerian tragedy – it’s hardly a film that promises hope or amelioration, more a darkly, bottomlessly reflexive portrait of private vices and compulsions; a vortex of perspective-stretching, misdirection and disorientation; a whirlpool of obscure, consuming desire. It seems many of us are still plunging in.