[Happy 75th Birthday!] Citizen Kane (1941)

 citizenkane1941a

Director: Orson Welles

Cast: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Dorothy Comingore, Everett Sloane, Ray Collins, George Coulouris, Agnes Moorhead, Paul Stewart, Ruth Warrick, Erskine Sanford, William Alland

Screenplay: Herman J. Mankiewicz, Orson Welles

119 mins. Not Rated.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Writing, Original Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor in a Leading Role [Orson Welles]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Director
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Cinematography, Black-and-White
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound, Recording
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture

IMDb Top 250: #67 (as of 5/1/2016)

 

Wow, 75 years. Hard to believe that Citizen Kane, named by many as the greatest film of all time, is 75 years old. A classic by many means, I took the opportunity today to re-experience this film again and showed it to a couple of first-timers in the hopes of teaching them something about the history of film, and I got to witness this film again as if for the first time. Here we go.

citizenkane1941b

Citizen Kane covers the death of Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles, Touch of Evil, F for Fake), a now reclusive businessman and public figure, and a man trying to understand the mystery surrounding him. Jerry Thompson (William Alland, Revenge of the Creature, The Deadly Mantis) sets out to interview Kane’s family and estranged friends to unearth the meaning behind his last words. As Thompson uncovers more and more of Kane’s past in an effort to understand the man, he finds a shocking tapestry of sadness and a man who pined for power but found himself none the happier for it. From firsthand accounts by Kane’s second ex-wife Susan Alexander Kane (Dorothy Comingore, Prison Train, The Big Night), his closest friend Jed Leland (Joseph Cotton, The Third Man, Shadow of a Doubt), and business partner Mr. Bernstein (Everett Sloane, The Lady from Shanghai, Someone Up There Likes Me), Thompson finds more questions than answers in his attempt to find the mysterious Rosebud.

Director, star, and screenwriter Orson Welles delivered his first feature film with Citizen Kane, a movie that slipped into obscurity after initial release only to late resurface due to praise from French critics. Though it was nominated for nine Academy Awards, it only won for its screenplay, a top notch work from Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz.

The idea of opening with a newsreel covering the finer points of Kane’s life really helps to contrast the public view of Kane with the truth Thompson discovers later on. The film becomes a mystery of its own, not just for Rosebud, but for the myth behind the man.

Welles’ first picture also holds the distinction of having mostly newcomers to the filmmaking process, or those without much background, and much like the more recent direction from filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Welles displays his cast for the screen, allowing them time to fully explore the character and give a nuanced performance. I’m speaking particularly about Welles himself, Cotton, Sloane, and Agnes Moorehead (TV’s Bewitched, The Magnificent Ambersons), who played Kane’s mother in an early flashback.

Some of the viewers I introduced to Citizen Kane kept asking the same questions. What makes this the greatest film of all time? I had to answer that much of what they were seeing had never been done before and pioneered the filmmaking process. The music, storytelling with framing device, and gorgeous cinematography tackled new frontiers, many of which are still used today, but we take them for granted now.

citizenkane1941c

Citizen Kane is an excellent example of how to tell a story in Hollywood. It remains one of the most intellectual and beautiful films of all time. Welles was given freedom to do whatever he wanted and have final cut, an ability few have ever been given. He chose to tell the story of a titan, a mogul, based in part on the life of William Randolph Hearst, but in many ways, the film transcends even that to present a stunning portrayal of regret, sadness, and guilt that carries through even now. I suggest this film to anyone looking for a step into the history of filmmaking.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s