Wednesday, February 9, 2011
(May 1941, U.S.)
Sometimes there's so much you want to say about a particular film that you have no idea where to begin and you just sit there staring at the computer monitor. That's me right now because to discuss CITIZEN KANE is to discuss a film that is both legendary and highly influential. It is considered the greatest motion picture of all time by the American Film Institute (AFI) and particularly praised for its innovative cinematography, music and narrative structure.
For the benefit of those who have been living under a cinematic rock their whole lives, the film examines the life and legacy of Charles Foster Kane (played by the great Orson Welles) after his highly publicized death, a character based upon the American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst and Welles' own personal life. Upon its release, Hearst himself prohibited mention of the film in any of his newspapers. Kane's career in the publishing world is born of idealistic social service, but gradually evolves into a ruthless pursuit of power. Narrated principally through flashbacks, the story is revealed through the research of a newsreel reporter seeking to solve the mystery of Kane's dying word, "Rosebud", one of the greatest secrets in cinema history.
With all due respect to men like Capra, Hitchcock and Scorsese, Orson Welles was perhaps one of the greatest, most influential film makers in cinema history. Film scholars and historians view CITIZEN KANE as Welles' attempt to create a new style of filmmaking by studying various forms of movie making and combining them all into one element. The most innovative technical aspect of the film is the extended use of a technique called "deep focus". In nearly every scene of the film, the foreground, background and everything in between are all in sharp focus to give the viewer a clear perspective of several acts going on at once. The most notable example, in my opinion, is the scene where Kane is just a boy in Colorado and his very life is being bargained away to a bank by his own parents. In the foreground is Mrs. Kane signing the papers that will forever change Charles' life. In the middleground is Mr. Kane only mildly protesting not being able to raise his own son. In the distant background, outside the house, is the boy Charles innocently playing out in the snow, completely unaware of what is happening to him at that moment. This technique is not only visually striking, but it also places a demand on the viewer to pay closer attention to detail. The reward for this extra attention is highly worthwhile.
Somehow it seems that I've known about CITIZEN KANE all my life. It was on television constantly when I was a kid. I'd heard it reference on TV shows and even in Charles Schultz' "Peanuts" comic strips. It wasn't until senior year English class in high school that I would see the film for the first time and learn the legendary secret of "Rosebud". I can only thank my English teacher so many years later, whoever she was.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Charles Foster kane: "You know, Mr. Bernstein, if I hadn't been very rich, I might have been a really great man."
Mr. Thatcher: "Don't you think you are?"
Kane: "I think I did pretty well under the circumstances."
Mr. Thatcher: " What would you like to have been?"
Kane: "Everything you hate."