In the past 24 hours you’ve probably been hearing a good bit of news going around about how Citizen Kane is no longer “the greatest movie ever made” and that the honor is now being bestowed upon Alred Hitchock’s Vertigo. If you’re anything like me you’re probably thinking “well says who?” and the answer is “a bunch of critics who get surveyed once a decade by the British Film Institute. For the past 50 years, the majority of critics have cited Kane as the best in the medium. That answer shifting to Vertigo might seem like a big upheaval, but then again it may be as simple as the changing attitudes that come with time and the fickle taste of critics moving at a much slower pace than audiences.
One big thing that makes a difference in this whole shebang is that Citizen Kane has spent quite a few years (as in most if not all of my lifetime of over 3 decades) being more famous for being “the greatest movie ever made” than anything else. The only reason most people are aware of the movie at all is because of its reputation as the best of the best. This kind of reputation usually results in some sort of backlash. Remember all those guys you’ve seen talking about how The Dark Knight was good, but not nearly as great as people make it out to be? How many of those guys sounded like they just wanted to separate themselves from the crowd by not fawning over everyone’s favorite movie? While it takes longer to happen, the same thinking might infect film critics as well. Over the years more and more of the critics might have marked Kane down a notch or two just so that their answers didn’t seem so pedestrian.
Another aspect here is the slow moving acclaim that has followed the movie. Wikipedia points out that the film was received with mixed reviews when it first debuted in 1958 and only later garnered favor enough to be considered a classic and one of Hitchcock’s best. That rising acclaim as people have looked back on the film reflectively may have given Vertigo an under dog status that serves as a stark contrast to the solid reputation that has followed Citizen Kane since it’s release back in 1941.
The most important thing that can be taken from this, is that the majority of critics are backing a new horse. While it’s on a longer scale, the stakes aren’t really all that different from the people arguing over the superiority of The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers. It’s still a matter of subjective opinions about artistic expression. In the coming week I’m gonna watch both movies so as to give a lengthier review of each. So ultimately, the greater meaning of the dethroning of Kane, is that it’s a good excuse to watch both movies again.