Revisiting Citizen Kane

“You know, Mr. Bernstein, if I hadn’t been very rich, I might have been a really great man.”

-Charles Foster Kane

Citizen Kane is widely considered one of the greatest if not the greatest film ever made. The first time I had ever seen this movie was about four years ago when I was entering my junior year of high school. I had seen it appear on several top films of all time lists and was curious to check it out. I watched it and at the time was not able to fully appreciate the significance of the movie or the exceptional talent and work that went into the movie. After four years of growing a deeper appreciation for film and how it works I was glad to have to opportunity to see this film with a new set of eyes.

I am in a film analysis class this semester and I have been really excited about the opportunity to do film critiquing for a class. It is very nice to be in a class filled with other people that may not necessarily have the same taste in film that I do, but do to some extent have the same level of appreciation of film that I have. Needless to say it is a very exciting opportunity to be in a room full of people who get as excited about looking at films as I do. The first movie up was Citizen Kane. After learning quite a bit about films and learning what to look for I was very interested to see if my opinion of the film had changed since high school. When I was in high school I believed the movie to over-rated and not as cracked up as the critics had made it out to be. Sure I thought the story was good enough and the acting was solid, but I just didn’t see what made the film so great. Now that I have aged in my taste I have learned that story and acting really aren’t the only things that factor into making a good film.

Citizen Kane is an ambiguous tale about the man who had it all and still managed to die with nothing. We see him go from a simple boy who wants to nothing more than to play in the snow to an embittered old man with nothing left but a hollow life left to live. Its a very sad story to see. From the very opening shot of the film I was able to see things I missed before such as symbolism, ideas, and beautiful cinematography that I missed just in one of the opening frames. There was quite a bit of brilliance I didn’t realize the last time I watched it. The way that the story of Charles Kane is told is within itself genius.  The movie starts with his death and we hear his dying last words “rosebud”.  The movie then moves into a news cast announcing his death and we see him from the perspective of the media and how it will remember him. We then cut to a group of reporters who feel what was shown was insufficient and begin to investigate his dying words in hopes of finding out who Charles Kane really was. From this point we get to see the reporter questioning people from throughout Kane’s life in hopes that he can discover the secret of rosebud. In these scenes we see Charles Kane as his friends, enemies, ex-wives, and even business partners saw him. What is really brilliant about this approach is that we get to see that none of these people saw the same person; all of them knew and understood Kane in a different light. I think this is something very interesting because it adds to the ambiguity  of who Kane really was. One person would see him as smart, fast, and full of potential while another would see him as controlling, empty, and filled with doubts and regrets. I believe that this can tell us a great deal about how people perceive any of us. In the end when we find out what rosebud actually is we have a completely different understanding of the character of Charles Kane than the other characters in the story. It really is a fantastic way to do the story. The movie is very character driven and lends itself to multiple viewings just to see if you really know Charles Kane.

Aside from the excellent story that is masterfully executed the movie is absolutely striking; especially for the time that it was made. The cinematography and editing is extremely exceptional for the time. It was very innovative for the time to be sure, but these aspects of the movie hold up remarkably well still today. Here are some great examples of the technical end of the film

Iconic Hall of Mirrors scene
Wide shot

This is a great example of some a the really cool editing tricks being used in this movie that were either brand new or hardly used at the time

This is one of many great examples of how Citizen Kane used some terrific camera shots to tell the story

Citizen Kane has intent and meaning in nearly every aspect of its material; meaning that everything from the camera angles to the way a shot is edited is done intentionally to have a meaning. This makes the movie that much more ambiguous which I find adds more depth to the film and the character of Charles Kane. The movie is quite an achievement for director Orson Welles who used Citizen Kane as his directorial debut. Previously to this Welles(who was only had been 25 when producing this movie) had been a very notable performer who had worked in radio and theatre.  Aside from the fact that he directed the movie; Orson Welles also starred, wrote, and produced the film; all of which were and still are very exceptional parts of the film. The dialog is extremely well written while the acting from Welles is also something very exceptional. He is able to really encompass the character of Charles Kane that transforms who he is from scene to scene.

Is Citizen Kane the greatest movie ever made? Even after watching the movie again and seeing its brilliance; I still have a hard time describing a movie as the best movie ever made. There are so many movies out there that are so well done and are trying to do something different than what Welles did in this movie. That being said; I now understand why critics and film buffs would list this as the greatest movie ever made. Its because of its exceptional craftsmanship, huge influence on the art of film as a whole, and its core character story that is both ambiguous and sad.

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