The best film of all-time! A marvel above all cinematic achievements! The Eight Wonder of the World! Behold my young-lings as I take advantage of a bad case of early flu season and an overdose of Neo-Citran to revisit a classic that has been mentioned a thousand times more than it has been seen:
I will admit that I never actually sat through this film in its entirety before. Countless clips have been featured over the years which makes me familiar about its look, but I never really took the time to get into it until now. More interestingly, however, is the fact that I never researched it nor did I indulge in all the praise that other reviews have thrown at it. This review does take into account that the film was made in 1941 and that Welles was only 26 years old at the time but aside from that, no external sources have affected my opinion. This is my honest assessment, fair and square.
Citizen Kane follows the life of a very interesting man who has the brains, the riches, the charm, and the assertiveness to lead a meaningful and consequential existence. He chooses to stand by his morals and becomes the editor of a small New York newspaper in order to cave into his sense of idealism. The only difference with him, however, is that he has so much money to his name that he holds the means to make his larger-than-life desires come to fruition in an instant. When he comes across a competing newspaper who gathers more credibility and success than his because they have all the best journalists, he instantly manages to buy them all off.
To anyone whose interests are not being served by Charles Foster Kane – namely those who prefer for the poor and the underprivileged to remain exactly where they are – the man represents an undeniable threat. Kane’s marriage grows cold and distant as he focuses his effort and attention on his striving New York paper. Him and his wife eventually lose their spark and he starts chasing after his youth by having an affair with a young singer. This new, secret relationship gives him renewed optimism and the required energy he needs to fight for his ideals. He throws himself into a race to become Governor and pulls all the stops which makes him climb in the polls.
Kane became the one politician who couldn’t be bought by special interests. The great man who actually had the talent and work ethic to inspire the masses and the zeal to make things right for the working man. More than just a political facade, the man was independent of all the things that makes politics such a corrupted place. He didn’t only spread his ideals but he also believed them and embodied them. How I wish we could have a politician like Kane out there in the real world – a man of integrity and principle who won’t let power change his views on what society truly needs.
But then, everything falls apart. On the eve of his sure-fire election victory, his opponent presents undeniable evidence of Kane’s infidelity and contacts his wife in order to plot a classic case of blackmailing: You either withdraw yourself from the race or tomorrow’s headline will paint you as a cheater and a liar. Driven by ego and emotions, Kane decides to take the wrong path (in a pivotal scene I re-watched twice to fully grasp). He proceeds with the election as his wife leaves him, gets defeated and goes on to marry his young singer who gave him a second lease on life and a tarnished reputation.
The difference in age, values, and interests becomes evident over time and his constant obsession with providing her with everything she wants cannot hide the undeniable fact that they share nothing in common. What he believed was a more meaningful connection for him turned out to be a selfish need that she could only satisfy for a defined period of time. They grow old and unhappy and she decides to leave him without looking back. His life is over, his ideals are burnt and shredded into pieces. He is now a mere shadow of the man he was supposed to become.
Citizen Kane carves the portrayal of a life betrayed by bad choices but still worthy of being examined because of good-hearted intentions and incredible potential. The performances and the exchanges are great in every scene and the pace is quite frenetic considering that this is a 1940’s motion picture. Every scene leads to the next with great logic and nothing ever drags on as we get to admire a man from his rise to his fall. And then, we also get to ponder about the mysterious meaning behind his last word:
In a press statement issued by Orson Welles on January 15, 1941 regarding his forthcoming motion picture entitled Citizen Kane, the man himself wrote: “Rosebud” is the trade name of a cheap little sled on which Kane was playing on the day he was taken away from his home and his mother. In his subconscious it represented the simplicity, the comfort, above all the lack of responsibility in his home, and also it stood for his mother’s love which Kane never lost.” Simply a case of nostalgia for Kane, who was longing for the days in his life where he was truly loved, not the ones where all the people who no longer needed anything from him decided to leave him behind.
There are some ambitious and fascinating shots that clearly must have inspired so many filmmakers in the decades that followed. One scene in the Thatcher Memorial Library showcases three enormous beams of light that create an astonishing reflection on the protagonists. Another has the camera panning around in the middle of a thunderstorm, making it go through a deceivingly larger-than-life El Rancho neon sign and then blurring right through a window. This is the type of footage that only a perfectionist can capture. This is what happens when directors no longer vow to achieve perfection in order to simply ‘wow’ audiences. They’re doing it to challenge themselves and are obsessed with making the contents of their reel feel exactly the same as what their imaginations cooked up in their mind.
The transitions of atmospheric sounds, fades and music are also top-notch and keep audiences so involved that even today, it can hold up with our ADD-driven level of retention. The characters are complicated and the dialogue is so rich and witty. The movie is about an inspiring man involving himself into a series of interesting opportunities and pursuing his ideals until his bitter end. There’s a Charles Foster Kane that everyone of us wish we could be – someone who has it all, chooses to do what he pleases, and puts all ambition and resources at the service of the greater good.
And for every aspiring filmmaker out there, there’s also an Orson Welles that everyone of them wish they could be. An artist at the height of his inspiration and in full creative control at such a young age that everything remains ahead of him as he joyfully savors every minute of his success.
– The Sleepy Skunk