Citizen Kane (1941) Revisited


Citizen Kane (1941)This is one review I never thought I’d be ever writing up. Theres a few reasons really behind why i had to get around my dislike for Citizen Kane (1941) which was recently overtaken by Vertigo (1958) in the BFI’s latest Sight and Sound greatest films of all time poll, made by a whole host of directors, critics and other esteemed film folk. After 50/60 years of being  on-top Orson Welles‘s masterpiece was overthrown by Alfred Hitchcock voyeuristic private detective thriller. At the end of the day all these polls are incredibly subjective, the IMDB Top 250 poll is changes constantly, we have The Shawshank Redemption (1994) currently in the top-spot, the only definitive classic from the “golden age” in the top ten is 12 Angry Men (1957) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). Of course we do have The Godfather Parts 1 and 2 completing the top 3. It’s always varying. Probably influenced this time if year by the awards season.

Putting all that aside to focus on why I wasn’t really enamoured by the “greatest film of all time” I found it at the time of first viewing to be self-indulgent. I could easily see its technical achievements which lead to film noir in the following decade. I was watching it to see what all the fuss was about, not looking into what was going on in terms of story telling and the technical combined, Something I have since rectified, understanding it to be both innovative in terms of both aspects. Welles coming from radio stardom on the other side of the country with his realistic telling of War of the Worlds, he had a natural flair for story telling which Hollywood had to have. On strict conditions set down by the man himself, no outside interference from the studio, his choice of actors and production team, very much a crafted piece of work that pushed the boundaries. With a little help from Stagecoach (1939) which he referenced, I think I now need to watch that to see the connections.

History lesson over and onto the opening shot which was a number of transitions that leads the audience into the Xanadu home of tycoon Charles Foster Kane (Welles) who we see in his final moments of life, his last words begin a journey back through his life, a journalist investigates the importance of that last word, something we all begin to want to know. A new way of storytelling is born, retrospectively looking at the life of a fictional characters who was larger than life, even larger than the man Kane was “based upon” William Randolph Hearst turning him into caricature, a man who wanted to loved by all he knew, without loving anyone really himself. The story of a sad man who made it big before losing his media empire.

All this is made even more real with a fictional news reel that pardon the pun reels you into this world that is entirely constructed for the film. This is where you could say its self indulgent, to bathe in the glory of what this man was, before realising that the great man in the news reel was a fallible man who appeared more successful. We no longer see the powerful figures in films as these great indestructible people. They are now full of faults like everyone else.

On the technical side there is also a lot going on, from the dissolves that take us into his life, intruding into his own life. To the set design which is more elaborate than many films of the previous decade to this. Welles creates world that is so grand in scale that you are taken, losing yourself to the high angles and stretched out pieces that go on endlessly. Incredibly theatrical in design allowing for a grand figure to be explored, pulled apart and put back together again. Leaving a reporter still none the wiser as to what Rosebud means. Only the audience is allowed to know that secret as the evidence as the life of Kane is burnt.

It’s easy to say it’s just a comment on the media, how it has the power in influence world events, or even local ones. It’s so much more really, a new form of narrative is born, techniques are crafted. I would now say it’s an important film to say the least, but not the most important film, I guess that will always evade me, they are all so different, with their own strengths and weaknesses. Kane indulges on Kane, a look into the life of a man who wants what we all want love in the form of a fictional biography.

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5 responses

  1. Unbelievable. I was JUST posting about the editing/passage of time with this film. Promise me you will come visit me 😉 . Great review! In every way, it’s profound.

    March 7, 2015 at 10:06 pm

    • Will definitely take a look Cindy, we seem to be writing about the same things recently haha

      March 8, 2015 at 10:03 am

      • Great minds think alike 😉

        March 8, 2015 at 1:46 pm

  2. An inspired work to be sure.
    I never knew what all the fuss about Orson Welles was until I saw CItizen Kane. Too bad he didn’t continue his creative genius throughout his whole life.

    March 8, 2015 at 6:01 am

    • He was a very strong creative who built up an image of being impossible to work with. If he could work outside the studio system that exists today he may have made more of his projects. Have you seen The Magnificent Ambersons, I found that to be enchanting at times, you can see he’s a real story teller, even after it was edited in his absence.

      March 8, 2015 at 10:05 am

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