Citizen Kane (1941)

Director: Orson Welles
Cast: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Cominore, Agnes Moorehead, Ruth Warrick, Ray Collins, Erskine Sanford, Everett Sloane, William Alland, Paul Stewart, George Coulouris

Commonly referred to as The Greatest Film Ever Made, and similarly, massively overrated, Citizen Kane is a film that has, and will most certainly continue to, intrigue film critics for years. And, believe it or not, the only reason I saw it was because it was the cheapest film in the shop at the time.

The plot:
Deep in his fortress of Xanadu, one of the richest men in America, and an infamous public figure, is on his death-bed. Charles Foster Kane (Welles) utters his last word “Rosebud” just before passing away. Tracking down ex wives, friends and employees, a news reporter attempts to discover, what is Rosebud and, ultimately, who was Charles Foster Kane?

All too often, the quality of the film Citizen Kane is called to question. I have heard people refer to it as “All style and no substance”, or “A narrative without a story”. The most common complaint I have heard about the film is that it is “simply too boring”.

To address this immediately, let me just say: Citizen Kane is NOT a boring film!

Perhaps it was switching it on with the irrational expectation of two hours of nothing but dull, if not somewhat creative flair, but the experience of watching Citizen Kane is singular and unique. It is a film made for lovers of film, both ancient and modern.

The more one appreciates the medium of film, the more there is to be gained from watching this particular film.

Admittedly, there is a considerable amount of flash and style in this film, and at times it can feel just a little bit excessive. However, it is all too easy to simply lose yourself within the atmosphere of the film. The use of lighting, camera work and editing is in fact revolutionary, and the techniques introduced here are still seen in modern cinema today. The examples are far too numerous to list, but some personal favourites include: The opening cut from the outside of Kanes’ window to the inside coinciding with the switching off of his light, the breakfast table montage between Kane and his wife, and the strategic placement of mirrors, screens and frames throughout the feature.

Welles is really flexing his creative muscle here, an astounding feat considering the early stage of his career (released when he was merely 25). Yet, despite the emphasis that, what I personally have always heard, is put on the technique, it was the narrative of the film itself that I found utterly engrossing and the most impressive. This of course is aided by the exceptional performance given by Welles himself, which is somewhat underrated in comparison to his acclaim as a filmmaker.

The examination of Kane, and the desperate attempt to discover who he is, in an attempt to label him, is handled with breathtaking perfection. The question of who he is is the focus of the film, and yet, we are given no answer. The discovery of the origins of “Rosebud” raises far more questions than it answers.

*SPOILER ALERT*

…yes, it’s true, Rosebud is indeed Kane’s sled from his childhood. And the initial reading of this film may reveal that, despite everything Kane experienced in his lifetime, all he cared for was a normal life. However, the film is deceptive in so many ways with regards to how Kane is portrayed. It is equally likely that, as the reporter notes, Kane simply liked to collect things, and the sled was something he had lost. One reading of the film even suggests that Kane never actually said Rosebud, and that this is something simply suggested by the media. This can be supported by the fact that, if examined closely, no one is in the room with Kane as he says the now famous line.

All of Kanes’ life is simply a toy for the media, and a show for the public. The fact that it is the focus of the film indicates this, but it is interesting how many different representations different people remember through the course of the film. As one actor recounts, “You’d be surprised what people remember”.

Kanes’ life as a show is further emphasized by Welles excellently strategic placing of frames throughout the film. From even the earliest stages, when Kane is playing in the snow as a boy, his antics are framed very clearly in the background in the window frame whilst the other characters discuss his future. And when his second wife leaves him, Kane undergoes a violent breakdown, a personal experience which is framed in the doorway for a crowd of at least thirty people to watch passively.

Overall:
In the hopes of taking a fresh approach to films which have been examined from every possible angle, I had hoped I would have something new to say about Citizen Kane which hadn’t been said before. Perhaps I could find a way to prove that Rosebud wasn’t a sled at all and was in fact some kind of alien space craft that was “too out there” for most mainstream critics to see. But the fact of the matter is, after watching the film, I have only one conclusion, and one thing to say about it:

Believe what you hear, Citizen Kane is a masterpiece.

Awful Rating: 10/10

“I don’t think any word can explain a man’s life. No, I guess Rosebud is just a… piece in a jigsaw puzzle… a missing piece.” – Thompson

Shamelessly Awful Facts:

  • Citizen Kane actually made up an entire question on an exam I took in college. Knowing there was a good chance it would come up, I decided to study the hell out of it. This was tricky considering nearly everyone else in class was more forward planning than I was and so I couldn’t find a copy anywhere. Despite having never seen the film, I did quite well. And by that, I mean I passed, barely.
  • I envision a Citizen Kane video game, in which he is played by Pac-Man. The little seeds he eats are actually the statues he collects in the film, and the power ups are sleds, which he can ride around and then eat the ghosts, which are news reporters.
  • It actually wasn’t the cheapest film in the shop. The second sequel to the Rugrats movie was the cheapest…did anyone know there was a SECOND sequel to the Rugrats movie?!
  • And finally…
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