Kane overthrown by Vertigo: Bernard Herrmann’s unshaken legacy

Earlier this month a British Film Institute poll revealed that for the first time in 50 years, Orson Welles’ brilliant film Citizen Kane (1941), often considered the best film of all time, was no longer number one on the list. Topping this great work was another classic, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), rated for the first time as the greatest film, a position held continuously by Kane. Before 2012, Citizen Kane had won every poll, conducted every ten years by critics around the world, since 1952. Nick James, editor of Sight and Sound magazine, which conducts the poll, said, “Cinephilia has changed in that there’s less of a massive respect for the all-singing, all-dancing, every technological achievement in one film kind of film, like Citizen Kane. People are moving towards more personal films, ones that they can react to personally in their own lives, and Vertigo is that kind of film, especially if you watch it more than once. It is a film that grows and grows on you.”

Herrmann and Hitchcock

The top five of this year’s list concluded with Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953), Jean Renoir’s La Règle du Jeu (1939) and German expressionist director Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s Sunrise (1927).

Yet despite Kane being bested, both Vertigo and Citizen Kane were scored by great twentieth century composer Bernard Herrmann, whose iconic and culturally significant scores (Psycho (1960), Taxi Driver (1976)) have become part of cinematic history. More of his work is heard in films Tender is the Night (1962), North by Northwest (1959), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and The Ghost and Mrs Muir (1947). It is an unfortunate fact that despite the societies dedicated to his work, most notably The Bernard Herrmann Society, Herrmann’s work as a composer is undervalued in contemporary cinema. He collaborated with some of the greatest directors of cinema, including François Truffaut, Hitchcock, Welles, and Martin Scorsese. Though in contemporary culture, Herrmann’s name is less known among today’s cinema-goers than his famous musical scores, particularly for Hitchcock’s Psycho, which continues to be one of the most well-known pieces of music in cinematic history.


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