Originally Posted by Lee Stewart
What a joke that list is . . .
No Ben Hur
No Lawrence of Arabia
I think you'll find Lawrence
on the lists, just not in the top ten this time around. Not sure about Ben-Hur
, I'd have to check again.
For me, the "greatness" of Vertigo
isn't about its story, the plot, or what is generally taken as the "content" of a movie. It is about the pure cinematic technique with which the story is told, the characters developed, the complex universal themes established and contemplated, the "content" delivered. That is what interested Hitchcock about filmmaking and, I suspect, what impress the Sight & Sound
survey respondents who voted for Vertigo
Whether it's something as seemingly minor but in fact endlessly fascinating and revealing as the brief reaction shot of Midge looking up from her drawing at Scottie/Stewart when he says to her, "But it was you who broke up, remember?" in the early scene in her apartment or the more obvious theme repetition of shots from exteriors to interiors, from "appearance" to "reality", as in the opening credits shots of the woman's face/eyes, Elster's office, Ernie's restaurant, the museum, the McKittrick Hotel, etc. etc., etc., Vertigo
is a movie whose power and complexity is derived almost exclusively through the use of cinematic technique and not through elements that can be duplicated or even surpassed in other mediums and art forms.
For instance, you can see great actors creating complex characters through their fine acting on a live stage in a play. With a well written play, that is how you exploit the intrinsic strengths of the live stage. But Hitchcock provides volumes of complex character traits for not just one but two characters, a multi-layered relationship filled with unspoken, unresolved emotional issues at once immediately recognizable yet difficult to articulate (which is why it is perfect for cinema, rather than the live stage) in that one small reaction shot of Midge I mentioned above, thereby exploiting the intrinsic strengths of cinema rather than merely trying to show us via the camera what a live stage is too small to show us, which is often the high point of what most directors and their movie accomplish.
Personally, I would put Ben-Hur
in that latter category of cinema. I enjoy it. I am impressed by it. But for all its grandeur and even the most exciting action sequence of all time, Wyler doesn't bring to Ben-Hur
anything close to the cinematic equivalent of what Hitchcock or Welles brings to virtually any 5 minutes of Vertigo
or Citizen Kane
. For the most part, Wyler is only exploiting the strength of cinema to show us on camera and on location something too big to fit in your local live theater playhouse. He's doing that magnificently well, but not doing something particularly "great" in terms of the art of cinema.