Tastes change: Critic's poll says "Vertigo" is a better movie than "Citizen Kane," and 9 out of 10 French Chefs agree, or something. Nonsense. "Vertigo" is interesting, and necessary to watch if you’re a fan of movies or Hitchcock or the fifties or American culture, but better than “Kane,” as a movie? No. As a story? No. Acting? No. Music? Probably. (Same composer, as it happens.) Jimmy Stewart is too old; Kim Novak is a painted potato. (Sorry: she does nothing for me; don’t share Hitch’s pref for the icy removed blonde.) I’ll admit the plot is ingeniously non-linear, inasmuch as it goes here then throws that plot in the bay then picks up something else, and the whole “possession” thing was spooky for 25 seconds at that boarding house. Yes, the sequences in which Stewart remakes the shopgirl into his dead objet d’amour are painfully wrong, wrong, wrong, and hard to watch. I suspect that’s why the critics have hoisted it over Kane because it’s a mess. Because it’s the most auteur-scented work in Hitch’s canon.
But suspenseful? Not really. The filthy, dirty, ugly “Frenzy” has ten times the nail-biting quotient. Humor? None. It’s soaked with obsession, which means it’s serious. Look: “Rear Window,” my favorite Hitchcock movie, is also about obsession, in a way - but it’s intellectual, questioning, deducing. And it’s overflowing with life and characters and subplots, most of which we never see in detail. Technically, it’s magnificent - much more so than “Vertigo.” Everything in it is believable. Most everything in “Vertigo” is hokum.
So why did they cool on Kane? Because it’s iconoclastic to snub it? Probably. It’s seems chilly and remote - it’s full of incredible performances, but the stylized appearance makes them seem sometimes as if they’re taking place in a glass box. There’s no one to love except perhaps Joseph Cotton, and no movie wants to depend on your ability to love Joseph Cotton. To tout its technical achievements seems like conceding the validity of the critics’ reversal, because it makes it sound like it’s good because people who know something about movie-making are impressed by its visual accomplishments. But it’s a movie. A movie is a visual accomplishment by definition There was nothing like “Kane” before and really, no one’s touched it since.
My choice for the greatest movie would be “Casablanca” - the easy, popular, ordinary choice, yes. But quick: quote me one line from “Vertigo.” Find me a minute in “Vertigo” that has the visual ingenuity of “Kane” or the dramatic tautness of “Casablanca.”
“Jaws” is better. “Metropolis” is better. “The Great Escape” is better. Hell, “From Russia With Love” is better.
Now I have to rewatch “Vertigo” to make sure I agree with myself.
Daughter: “What’s the deal with the Paul McCartney is dead mystery?”
Me: “Some people thought he was dead.”
Daughter: “Was he?”
Daughter: “So why was it a mystery?”
Me: “People were on drugs.”
Later: she wants to know if I have heard about spontaneous human combustion. I tell her that I have, and it’s nonsense. Imagine a wet kitchen sponge on th counter: can you imagine it burning up completely, let alone setting itself on fire?
“Oh, right. But it’s still creepy.”
Me: “I used to be interested in it when I was a kid, too. I read these books about unexplained things and some of them just creeped me out. Like Spring-heel Jack. Or the Oak Island Mystery.” Pause. Consider telling her about the water feature. Another day. “Where are you getting these from?”
Altogether now: YOUTUBE. There’s a top-10-things channel, all lists, very quick. Professionally made. They fill the same function as the “Strange Tales” books I had, but they’re not the same. It’s different when you’re reading them in bed on a summer night with the window open and the crickets chirping and the wind whispering in the trees.
Or was it called “Strange Tales”? I googled it, found some Marvel comics, including a cover for the most underwhelming villain ever: Paste-Pot Pete.
He had a pot of paste.
Anyway, the books were by Frank . . . AUGH this is killing me. FRANK EDWARDS! That’s it. Whew.
But this isn’t the book that had the Oak Island and Springheel Jack story.
Not that it matters; I read them once and they never left me. That's why I almost hated to puncture some of the uncertainties my daughter had about those Mysterious Stories - it's fun to wonder. It's deliciously scary to consider some things, get the sense of something dark and implacable around the corner. But you have to put your foot down. There are truths. We went to the Moon. There is no grand deep secret international conspiracies that goes back centuries. There is no mothman. Aliens do not abduct people. All YouTube ghost videos are false. Evidence and reason.
I mean, really. It was Ringo who died and was replaced. Everyone knows that.
Additional Wards 1961! See you around, and have a grand weekend.