Citizen Kane

26 Aug

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There are few films that hold an iconic status as strong as Citizen Kane, directed and co-written by Orson Welles, who also stars as the titular character. Released in 1941, it has long been held up by critics and commentators as the greatest film of all time. That’s an argument for other people to make, but having finally seen it myself I can fully understand that incredible acclaim.

The plot of the film is outlined early on, taking the form of a news bulletin announcing the death of Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles). The bulletin details briefly that Kane had become a powerful media magnate, loved and hated in equal measure. We find out he had been married twice and who the wives were, and we have been made aware that his last word before he died was ‘Rosebud’. The plot is driven by the desire of a journalist to find out who or what Rosebud was, and what it meant to Kane.

To find out, he visits several key members of Kane’s life, all of whom recount what they remember of different parts of his life and what he was like as a man. We find out that he was taken away from his parents at a young age, and that at age 25 he was given access to an incredibly vast amount of money. He used that money to buy out a newspaper, The New York Inquirer, and sets out with a vision of honest journalism and being a voice for the people. Kane is an enigmatic an charming man and quickly gets the paper running the way he wants it, changing their standards and hiring the best journalists around to quickly increase his circulation.

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As the rest of his life is played out in front of us, we see Kane become increasingly hungry for power, unwilling to let anybody or anything stand in his way. He runs for office of Governor of New York State, becomes embroiled in scandal, makes his way through two marriages and loses some friends in his ruthless pursuit of power and status, and it all makes compelling viewing.

The story is really is brilliant and stands the test of time. Like any film that is over 70 years old, there are obviously elements of the film that are dated, but the story is not one of them. Told in what was at the time an innovative non-linear structure, the struggle for power is timeless and relevant to any era, and always will be.

Where the film really begins to earn its reputation is in the number of ingenious ways that Welles showed real ingenuity. See the shots where absolutely everything is in perfect focus, whether it be foreground or background. Credit for this should really go to cinematographer Gregg Toland. There are the scenes filmed from a low-level, looking upwards that capture ceilings as background. That might mean little now, but in 1941, due the studio set up, this was a bold move. You can read around that elsewhere in far better detail than I could hope to provide – I found it extremely interesting.

As I’ve already mentioned, the narrative has a non-linear element to it, and is told from the point of view of several different characters and in the form of flashbacks; this may not have been completely new, but Welles displayed a commitment to the storytelling technique that hadn’t been seen before.

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There is one scene in this film that manages to stand out above the rest of the brilliance. The scene shows Kane sitting down to dinner with his first wife. The scene changes are quick, but there are five different sections or vignettes, each showing Kane and his wife in the same positions at the table. Quickly flicking through scenes, Welles manages to create the effect that we are watching one single scene and meal, when in fact we see 16 years condensed into an incredibly short space of time, whilst expertly conveying the tale of the relationship. That description does the scene absolutely no justice at all; it really stood out for me as a particularly sharp piece of direction and display of story craft in a film that perfectly displays both of those things throughout.

Welles performance in the lead role is truly masterful. He is powerful, charismatic and enigmatic, creating many poignant moments and is, at all times, the driving force of the film. I could have sat and watched him for longer this, he is at no point dull – I just wanted him to on screen at all times. Kane is a fascinating character, incredibly layered and detailed, yet you’ll find that there are plenty of unanswered questions about him when the film is over. It is speculated throughout that Kane is a man desperate for love from everybody, but unable to offer it to anybody else. To me, this can be traced back to the profound effect that leaving his parents would have had on him – I find myself looking upon that as the root cause for everything that Kane does.

As I stated at the beginning of the review, I’m not going to even start considering whether this is really the greatest film ever made. What I will happily opine though is that is it a true work of genius that should be seen by everybody who holds in an interest in cinema and the art of film making. I look forward to repeat viewings, and thinking the story through over the next few days as I surely will. I’m also looking forward to doing further reading around the movie and it’s place in history – there is no denying that for many more reasons than I could satisfactorily give you, Citizen Kane richly deserves it’s lofty status in cinema history. There is absolutely nothing to fault about.

10/10

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4 Responses to “Citizen Kane”

  1. The Animation Commendation August 26, 2013 at 20:43 #

    I plan to see this soon and hopefully will love it as well!

    • I Liked That Film August 26, 2013 at 21:06 #

      I’m sure you will – it really is excellent.

      • The Animation Commendation September 1, 2013 at 20:23 #

        I saw it and agree that it’s a remarkable film from a technical perspective, but not a personal favorite. I don’t think that I’ll be rewatching it any time soon.

      • I Liked That Film September 4, 2013 at 21:06 #

        Well I’m glad you at least see it’s qualities. Can understand it not being a favourite, but an important milestone in cinema I guess.

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