Monday, April 19, 2010
Citizen Kane (1941)
What can be said about Citizen Kane that hasn’t already been said a thousand times over? The Orson Welles classic about a rich newspaper mogul’s life is on the top of most movie best lists, and the cinematography and storytelling are still mimicked even to this day. The hype of this movie is big, and it was one of my major inspirations for starting this little mission of mine. And, I’m glad to say, the movie certainly lives up to the hype.
The movie opens up to an old Kane (Welles) sitting in a chair, holding a snowglobe. A servant walks in, and Welles utters one word, “rosebud”, before letting the snowglobe fall out of his hand. The camera follows the snowglobe as it rolls along the floor. From this we see a newsreel giving an overview of Kane’s life: how he begins by investing his fortune into a newspaper, which eventually spans to cover the US, and expands into radio as well. From here, he goes into politics, but a series of scandals prevents him from attaining his goals. Finally, the reel shows us his last years which he spent as a recluse in his massive manor, the aptly named Xanadu. The reel then shuts down, and we now see that the reel was being previewed to a series of journalists. The editor states that the reel is good, but doesn’t go far enough. He then starts questioning the meaning of Kane’s last word, and so sends one of the reporters on a mission to find out what rosebud means. For the rest of the story, we the audience follow the reporter as he interviews key figures in Kane’s life, essentially reliving his life through the eyes of his friends, all to unearth the meaning of rosebud.
I found the story to be quite engaging, but it does seem to drag at times. To anyone planning on watching this film, I recommend you at least google/Wikipedia William Randalf Hearst, who Citizen Kane the character is based off of. The characters are complex and well played, and Welles does an extremely good job with Kane, a character you will come to simultaneously love and despise. His character is an enigma until the end, with the stunning revelation onto the meaning of rosebud. That point, now a movie cliché, serves as the tying end, the final explanation of the lynchpin of Kane’s character. Suddenly, everything Kane does makes perfect sense. Most viewers will know the ending of Citizen Kane, which has spoiled for more people than the ending of “Of Men and Mice”, but if you haven’t been told the meaning of rosebud, you are in for a treat.
The real meat to Citizen Kane, however, lies in the cinematography. There are so many memorable and powerful shots in the movie, which still to this day feel edgy and innovative. There were many occasions where I found myself just saying “wow”, as that’s all that can be said about the incredible shots in that movie. From the entry into the cantina, to the mirror room shot, to the powerful long shots with the imposing, broad-shouldered Kane/Welles in the distance, every shot one-ups itself, culminating in the long, rapidly moving shot of the end.
So why exactly is Citizen Kane on the list? Well that’s a stupid question, but I’ll answer it anyways. This movie was made in 1941, and was hated and derided at the time, because it was different, it was new, and it was innovative. At the Oscars that year, it was nominated for a number of awards, including best cinematography, best director, and best film. Surprisingly, it only won one singular award, that of best screenplay. The film lives on, however. Its techniques, story, and style have been copied hundreds of times over. Its extreme influence on how films are made and seen is one of the major reasons why this film is made, also the fact that this film, now approaching 70 years in age, still feels new, still feels relevant, and will most likely continue to do so through the generations is why this film is on this list, and will be on similar lists 50, 100, or even 200 years from now.