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The Bishopsgate Blog provides an added insight into all of our activities, Library, Courses, Events and Schools and Community Learning. Our regular blogs will feature speakers from our Cultural Events, photographs, documents, letters, posters and ephemera from the Library, up-to-date news and information on courses and first-hand accounts of our Schools and Community workshops.

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Schools and Community

Our inspired Schools and Community Learning programme delivers a range of workshops and projects using the unique and fascinating collections found within our world-renowned Bishopsgate Library. Our workshops are suitable for learners of all ages and are used by wide variety of audiences from primary school pupils to pensioners.

Our regular blogs will demonstrate how our Schools and Community Learning programme encourages discovery and enquiry amongst our wide-ranging participants.

Events

Culture and arts, heritage and history, ideas and independent thought all come together in our exciting events programmes. You can enjoy talks, walks, discussions and debates, or one of the many concerts that take place throughout the year.

Our regular blogs will give an added insight and perspective into our dynamic programme with content from speakers at our events.

Library

Situated in a Grade II* listed building, Bishopsgate Library’s beautiful reading room is a peaceful place to study that is open to all; a calm oasis amid the bustle of Spitalfields and the City. In our dedicated Researchers’ Area, you can consult our renowned printed and archival collections on London, labour, freethought and Humanism, co-operation, or protesting and campaigning.

Our regular blogs will provide a new way for you to engage with the library collections and services, new acquisitions, activities and future developments.

Courses

Our comprehensive range of short courses offer you the opportunity to discover, discuss and be inspired in a welcoming environment. Our courses are conveniently designed to take place throughout the day, including lunchtimes, after work and at weekends. We have five course strands, Arts and Culture, Words and Ideas, Languages, Performing Arts and Body & Exercise to choose from.

Our regular blogs will provide up-to-date news and information.

Bishopsgate Blog
Discover | Enquire | Debate

Vertigo: the greatest film of all time?

by Courses on 04 / 06 / 2013

Our film studies tutor Hilary Smith considers why Alfred Hitchcock’s film Vertigo has knocked Orson Welles film Citizen Kane from the number one spot after fifty years:

Can we really say what the greatest film of all time is? Even if we managed the impossible task of seeing every film ever made, what criteria would we use to compare and evaluate them? Nevertheless, we tend to form opinions of a film as being good, bad or ugly and often a general consensus emerges.

That is the case with Sight & Sound film magazine’s Greatest Films of All Time poll. A survey of international film critics for their ‘top ten’ every ten years, the 2012 poll garnered a formidable amount of attention in the press and social media, not least because, for the first time in 50 years, the no.1 film changed from Orson Welles’ 1941 film Citizen Kane to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 release Vertigo.  

So if we accept Vertigo as the best film, what makes it so?  And why no longer Citizen Kane? Is it that tastes have changed? It could well be that Vertigo now appears a more modern film, or indeed post-modern film,  than Citizen Kane given - without giving too  much away - its radical approach to narrative structure.  But it also has many other remarkable qualities, including the innovative camera technique since enshrined as the ‘Vertigo effect’.

Whatever the reason, there is a certain irony in critics now championing the film, as critical acclaim was not universal on Vertigo’s original release. Variety damned it with faint praise as "prime though uneven Hitchcock" whilst The New Yorker just damned it as "far-fetched nonsense".  It didn’t get a love-in from the industry either; only two Oscar nominations, in the unglamorous categories of sound and set decoration.

Does the opinion of critics matter anyway?  Surely it’s the paying customers - voting with their feet (and wallet) - that count? Vertigo performed adequately at the box office but was not as commercially successful as the three Hitchcock films that followed, which may seem surprising given it was part of a run of films now viewed as Hitchcock’s glory days in Hollywood.  

What about a film’s afterlife following its theatrical release? Does familiarity breed contempt? In these days of a seemingly endless stream of material available on a variety of viewing platforms it may seem remarkable that for a number of years Vertigo could not be seen anytime, anyplace or anywhere, as it was withdrawn from circulation in the mid 1970s.

And the bottom line... do polls matter? Surely it’s just some nerdy High Fidelity-style list-making at work? Well, if a poll acts as a gateway to the discovery, study and appreciation of films like the wondrous Vertigo I’m heartily in favour of it; we’d be missing out on one of the great pleasures of life otherwise.

Hilary Smith will be exploring the qualities of Vertigo in an introductory study day: Hitchcock’s Vertigo in Close-up, Saturday 3 August as part of our summer School.

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Image is a still from Vertigo, directed by Alfred Hitchcockand starring James Stewart and Kim Novak. Courtesy of the British Film Institute.