Sunday, November 21, 2010

Day 125: Citizen Kane

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #34
Year: 1941
Director: Orson Welles
Starring: Orson Welles and Dorothy Comingore

Full disclosure: I'm three days behind, so I'm doing this blog post with Glory on the television. Don't worry, I've seen it before, it doesn't require my full attention, but I feel guilty enough about it to admit it. After I type up Citizen Kane and Glory, I'll turn my attention to two other films that I've seen enough times to blog about without re-watching, and boom – I'll be caught up. Did I mention what a huge fucking mistake it is to promise to write about 250 movies in 250 days?

On the subject, it's worth noting that Citizen Kane is the 125th movie I've written about, which means I'm officially halfway through this journey. I'll be honest, it feels like it's been a hell of a lot longer. But enough bickering about the practically Sisyphean task I've forced upon mine own brow, let's talk Kane. Critics have, more often than they have any other movie, called it the greatest film of all time. It's considered one of the most revolutionary films ever made, and its larger than life main character Charles Foster Kane is brought to the screen epically by its even bigger writer/producer/director/lead actor, Orson Welles. He was as much an iconoclast as the beleaguered newspaper mogul he sought to immortalize – and he perhaps too successfully communicates Kane's hubris. Citizen Kane is kind of like the Chicago Bulls' 1990-91 championship team, with Orson Welles filling the role of Michael Jordan. Yeah, it's one of the greatest, but if it weren't for him, it sure as hell wouldn't be. There is no Citizen Kane without Orson Welles. You can't have someone else write a thinly veiled biography of William Randolph Hearst, have someone else direct it, get someone else to finance it, and cast someone else in the lead role and get Citizen Kane out of it. Without Orson Welles, this movie doesn't exist, and it's a testament to the triumph of the individual in Hollywood that has never been replicated.

I do have to briefly take issue with the cult that has arisen around this film, though – you know, the one that has placed it atop the Sight & Sound and AFI list every year for the last half-century. I've got to be totally honest: I don't understand that at all. Citizen Kane is a great movie, but when it's so difficult to arrive to a consensus on what the greatest ever is, why has it seemed to earn the title time and again from the people who allegedly know the most about films? It's a little frustrating, even though Welles' motion picture is undoubtedly a masterpiece. Here the IMDb Top 250 is a bit fairer, I think. I'm not saying that there's only thirty-three better movies than Citizen Kane, or that the thirty-three that are above it on the list are all better than it, but it does put it in a more realistic, less ivory-towered perspective than those AFI and Sight & Sound lists do. I think if you put your finger on the pulse of movie-loving America, you'd find that Casablanca and Gone With the Wind have more support in the ill-defined "classic film" category.

Getting into the plot of Citizen Kane feels superfluous, but I'll take a small stab at it. It follows the life of newspaper mogul Charles Foster Kane by opening with his death. The story is told in a "Rashomon-style" fashion (And yes, I know that Citizen Kane came out over a decade earlier than Rashomon. I'm totally taking the piss out here because I'm getting really fucking sick of critics using that stupid term to describe anything where multiple people give different perspectives on a character or event.) as a newsreel editor sends his team out to learn what Kane meant when he uttered "Rosebud" as his last word on his deathbed. This narrative structure lets the story breathe, and effectively retells Kane's life and times from his youth to his death, leaving very few stones unturned. In the greatest already-spoiled spoiler of all time, it turns out Rosebud was the name of Kane's sled. Yep. There's been entire books written on the meaning of this, and whether it was effective or not. I'm not in a position to judge since I, like most people with the Internet or who have ever talked to someone about movies, already knew the ending going in, and I think a lot of its emotional punch was taken away due to that fact. Still, I can appreciate that it was a good ending, and it came at the end of an unquestionably great film. Just not the greatest film ever.

The Good: Orson Welles! This is the greatest one-man show in movie history.

The Bad: This is one of those movies where I can't find anything I have a problem with, but I still can't quite say it's one of my favorites. It did exactly what it set out to do, though, so give it a lot of credit.

The Skinny: I addressed this above, but I'm extremely comfortable with Citizen Kane at #34.


  1. I will watch it some time again, but at the moment I cannot really think of a movie any more overrated then this. (Talking about Sight and Sound and AFI list overrated.)
    I am just not the "it had a big influence guy". Same goes for Chaplin. I know that he was an influential person, but I watch his comedies and they stink. Kane did a bit better, but not much.
    I watch Casablanca - I see a great movie. Same with Third Man (also with Orson) and few others if we speak about 1940's.
    I watch Citizen Kane - I am bored. Ok, Orson did a really great job. But not much else. When I watch a movie called The Greatest Movie of All Time, I want it to live up to its hype. This came nowhere near the hype. You can skip the talk about the innovative camera angles and whatnot...
    I don't mind it being high on imdb list, but the No.1 it has acclaimed for half century seriously annoys me. Eh, let it even be The Godfather, which I also think is a bit overrated, but at least a really good movie.

  2. I'm inclined to agree with a lot of that, and yet, in some circles, that would incite a riot! No accounting for taste, I suppose.

  3. I still haven't seen Citizen Kane, but if we want to talk about most overrated movie, I'd have to say that would be Dr. Strangelove. Maybe I just watched it in a bad mood.