TOP TEN (Part III)
As I discussed in my last post, the 1982 Sight & Sound Critics' poll was remarkable for a number of reasons. I was ecstatic because Alfred Hitchcock was finally being given his due. Francois Truffaut's book-length interview with Hitchcock, Hitchcock/Truffaut, published in 1966, was a seminal text in my life. I had been a fan of Hitchcock films since I was small, but this book opened up a whole new way of looking at film. It is still a fascinating work, and I now own the audio recordings as well.
Ironically, it was Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) that eventually received the acclaim as one of the great films. One of Hitchcock's most personal ventures, Vertigo was somewhat of a disappointment upon its release--too much of a downer for commercial success. Hitchcock blamed it on the age disparity between the stars, Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak. I saw it many times as a child, but in 1973 Hitchcock pulled it and four other of his classics from release. He ultimately claimed to be keeping something of value as a financial safety-net for his family upon his death. The inability to screen Vertigo, Rear Window, and other Hitchcock masterworks only increased interest in them. In early spring 1981, on a cold Friday night, I received a call from a freshman in NYU's film program, Gary Hertz, a former student of mine. He mysteriously said, "Doug. Vertigo. 10:00 A.M. 727 Broadway. Room 861. Be there."
My wife Anne and I trekked into the city, sneaked into the back of a seminar room, and watched a 16mm print of Vertigo for the first time in more than a decade. In retrospect, I'm sure it was part of the personal library of the late film historian William K. Everson, who would be my professor at Tisch a decade later. It was glorious. Two years later, the five films were released by the estate of the late director (Hitch died in 1980) and ran for a full year in a theatre on Manhattan's East Side and around the globe. In 1996, the film was restored in spectacular 70mm VistaVision prints. I took my AP class to the Ziegfeld Theatre and devoted much of my class to its study. I was exhilarated to see it make the 1982 list and eager to see if Hitchcock's reputation would continue to surge. (More on Vertigo at a later date. See the exciting trailer below!).
As a fan of MGM musicals, I was elated to see Singin' in the Rain gain critical sway. During that period there was a revival of interest in Hollywood studio musicals, and the consensus identified the Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen collaboration as the best of the genre. It was the best and still is, but I don't think we will see any other musical on the Top Ten list, and I'm not sure Singin' in the Rain will hold its position. The interest in the form has faded again. For a moment of sublimity, check out the Broadway Melody ballet with Gene Kelly and the long-stemmed Cyd Charisse. A musical sequence doesn't get any better.
Keaton's The General and Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin confirmed respect for the silent period. John Ford's The Searchers, as disturbing and personal a work of cinema as Hitchcock's Vertigo, finally claimed the respect it deserved, with John Wayne and Monument Valley locales contributing to the iconography. The trailer is below. More on 1992 tomorrow.