Some have proclaimed it as the best movie ever made. What does The Eskimo think?
Well...not quite. But pretty damn close!
In essence, Citizen Kane is a biography of American elitism. The story of a man born into unimaginable wealth, who strives for the one thing that money cannot buy: Love.
Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) inherits a literal gold mine of wealth as a young boy. As he grows into manhood, Kane takes control of his fortune, intending to use his wealth to fight for the rights of the needy and downtrodden of the world. He pursues his dream as an outspoken newspaper mogul and philanthropist. The story begins at the end with the news of Kane's death in the form of a believeable (yet unsatisfying and stereotypical) news-reel summary of his life and accomplishments.
As the audience, we know that there is more to this man than public perception. Following up on a loose end, a journalist from Kane's own neswpaper, The Enquirer, investigates Kane's final death-bed utterance: "Rosebud."
What does Rosebud mean? What secrets of Kane's life does the mysterious Rosebud reveal? As the journalist investigates the underbelly of Kane's very public life, the audience is introduced to a number of characters who were intimate with Kane and who enlighten the audience with intriguing "behind the scenes" details of his life.
The overall message of the film is that, despite unlimited wealth, no amount of money can buy a person happiness. The irony is that the main character has little use for his fortune except for the benefit of mankind. Tragically, despite his good intentions, Kane ultimately realizes that his monetary fortune only brings about personal misfortune in the lives of the people he loves.
I have to say that I was very impressed with how successfully Citizen Kane transcended the time-barrier of films of this genre. Keep in mind that this is a black and white film released in 1941- and set in the early 20th century- so, as with most films of this era, it must be viewed in a relatively forgiving sense, much like High Sierra or The Philadelphia Story. But Citizen Kane overcomes all perceived stereotypes through brilliant directing and, even more so, a comprehensive and captivating storyline. Of course, there are the typical cliches of a 1940's movies...moments of cringe-worthy overacting and some absurdly daft scenes...but surpisingly, these elements are not very distracting, and even add an element of timeframe to the story-arch. I think that it is this fact alone that separates Citizen Kane as a true classic.
In fact, I was amazed at how well this movie was made. During many scenes I found myslef thinking that the direction was very "Scorsese like," though in all fairness, it must have been this classic film that influenced Scorsese's more modern style. To be more specific, I compared many scenes in Citizen Kane to Scorsese's The Departed, whereas it was a film that was primarlily character driven through complex dialogue and strong plot development. Also, Citizen Kane is a bit out of place with the filmography of its same era, incorporating surrealism along with a twisted ending.
Speaking of the ending: I could only call it "satisfactory" in an overall sense, but the ending didn't really matter one way or the other. The audience more or less plays the role of a voyeur in this film, and, as such, we live out the life of a fictional Hearst or Rockefller or Kennedy....imagining the unimaginable: Wealth and social power beyond out wildest dreams. What would we do with such power? This is this questioning of self that draws the audience into the film...and it is this very same element that makes the audience want to understand how it could all go wrong. Wondering why is of no real consequence.
He Said: A must see. Definitely not the best movie ever made, but pretty damn close! Don't have overly high expectations going in to this film, because it could never live up to all of the hype. Citizen Kane should be required viewing for any film buff!
Love. Money. Desire. Ambition. Power. Success. Failure. "Rosebud."
In Citizen Kane, the reporter, Jerry Thompson (William Alland), concludes that one word could never define a man's life - but it sure as hell has defined one man's film for posterity.
The Eskimo picked this movie for us to explore if it held up to the Greatest Movie Ever Made title it so often wins. I'm not sure if it does, but it doesn't really matter. It has captured the imagination of a generation of filmmakers and film critics like no other (and if everyone thinks you the fairest of them all then, damnit, you are - no matter what the mirror says).
I found it interesting that the only Oscar win for the movie was the Best Original Screenplay category. It was nominated for many other categories but only won on screenplay. And the movie is well written, but, even now, it's easy to see that the brilliance of the movie is in the film making itself - the camera shots, the angles, the guerrilla filming techniques. What makes the film worthy of a "great" or "greatest" nod in my opinion is how it used the film media to its greatest advantage - the screenplay was good but secondary in many ways.
In addition to the one word that so defines the movie, the focus is on the one man, Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles), and his singular ability to delude himself (and sometimes others) that his unbridled ambition is selfless and that people - from his best friend to his wife to the general public - will think, as he tells Emily (Ruth Warrick), "...what I tell them to think."
After two unsuccessful marriages, his best friend, Jedediah Leland (Joseph Cotten), chastises him that he only wants "love on his terms." Kane replies that there's really no other kind: "A toast, Jedediah, to love on my own terms." (Of course, in the end, he even wants Jedediah's friendship on his own terms too.)
The movie itself is a "biggest, strangest funeral" for a big (larger than life), strange man. ("I suppose he had a private sort of greatness, but he kept it to himself," Leland says.) In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree. It isn't enough to tell us what a man did - you've got to tell us who he was. And, in the end, I found out what "Rosebud" meant - and it did explain everything.
She Said: It's a great film whether it's The Greatest Movie Ever Made or not. And it has held up well over time. Watch it!
After reading each other's reviews, The Eskimo and Shawn always discuss the reviews (and the film, too, of course). Listen to the Citizen Kane audio commentary here. (And find out which film Shawn picked to review next.)