CITIZEN KANE– 1941
Running Time: 119 minutes, USA , Black and white
Citizen Kane was the astounding directorial debut of Orson Welles, made when he was just 25. It tops the AFI 100 best films list and is widely considered to be the greatest movie of all time. More than 60 years after it was first made it is still revered as the classic American film.
Citizen Kane opens with a brooding exterior shot focusing in on the letter ‘K’, wrought into the ironwork atop the gates of Xanadu, a rich man’s castle in Florida. We see, through fog, the grounds of this vast pleasure palace with exotic animals in a private zoo, empty gondolas moored on a private lake, an Egyptian cat statue guarding a raised drawbridge over a moat. There are signs of neglect everywhere. Successive shots draw us into a castle window where a light is extinguished and a figure can be seen on the bed in the dimly lit interior. Snowflakes fill the screen and we zoom out to reveal a snow covered house in a glass ball in the hand of the old man on the bed. His lips pronounce a dying utterance:
The dead hand releases the globe and it shatters on the marble floor.
Citizen Kane tells the life story of super-rich press baron, Charles Foster Kane. Kane is a fictitious character but bears so many similarities to the real life William Randolph Hearst that his newspapers boycotted the film. In fact, the Kane character was a composite of many arrogant and powerful media magnates and unlike the real Hurst, was born in relative poverty. He was arrogant and not always right.
A reporter (William Alland) is assigned to uncover the mystery of Kane’s dying word. He hears Kane’s story from five different points of view and we also see mock newsreel footage of moments from the great man’s life.
By the end of the film, the Rosebud mystery has not been solved. We return to Xanadu to see a panorama of crates and junk, the debris of the multi-millionaires acquisitive life. A workman selects an old child’s sled and slings it into the furnace. The camera zooms as the flames blister the paint and the word ‘Rosebud’ is burned away. We recognize this as the sled Kane was playing with when his parents sent him away as a child. Kane’s childhood memories curl into the smoke that billows out of the chimney. The camera pulls back and we end with the same wrought iron gates with which we began.
Kane wanted love at his terms and lost. Chalk it to his vanity and ambitions that came with his position in life; With all the wealth and its glory at his reach he lost all that he really cared for: a carefree childhood ( represented by his sled).
Trivia:By the way ‘Rosebud’ as Hollywood gossip would have it referred to the private part of Hearst’s mistress, Marion Davis.
I’ve talked with the responsible leaders of the Great Powers – England, France, Germany and Italy. They’re too intelligent to embark on a project, which would mean the end of civilization as we now know it. You can take my word from it; there’ll be no war!
~Kane (Welles) in newsreel from 1935
“- a picture that was not only more innovative than any since The Battleship Potemkin, but one that matures with age and speaks afresh to each succeeding generation.”
~ Barry Norman, 100 Best Films of the Century
Additional background info:
In 1938, Welles had made a sensational radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds, a story by science fiction pioneer and near namesake, H. G. Wells. The broadcast was taken for genuine news by some and people were driven onto the streets in panic. This made him such a hot-property that his contract with RKO allowed him a freedom in production that Hollywood was never to grant him again.
Welles brought his Mercury Theater group to the film but also had the sense to surround himself with some of the industry’s most talented. Notably, he recruited cinematographer Greg Toland, who had worked on The Grapes of Wrath, to his team. Together with co-writer Herman Mankiewicz, Welles created the script – originally to be called “The American”.
Toland’s deep focus photography is legendary in this movie, as were the sets that included real ceilings. Welles had holes dug in the studio floor so that the camera could be mounted low enough to get the low angled point of view, used so effectively in the succession of breakfast scenes that milestone the breakdown of Kane’s first marriage. Orson Welles’ own performance skillfully followed the young Kane into old age. He directed other actors to a splendid ensemble performance. He tore up a few rules, appropriated a few revolutionary screen techniques and created a masterpiece.
CITIZEN KANE (1941)
Director: Orson Welles
Charles Foster Kane: Orson Welles
Jedediah Leland: Joseph Cotten
Susan Alexander: Dorothy Comingore
Mr. Bernstein: Everett Sloane
Mary Kane: Agnes Mooreheaed
Walter Parks Thatcher : George Coulouris
Boss J.W. “Big Jim” Gettys: Ray Collins
Jerry Thompson: William Alland
Raymond: Paul Stewart
Kane aged 8: Buddy Swann
Signor Matiste: Fortunia Bonanova
Won (1) * Best Original Screenplay (Herman J. Mankiewicz, Orson Welles)
* Best Picture
* Best Original Screenplay
* Best Director
* Best Actor (Orson Welles)
* Best Cinematography
* Best Art Direction
* Best Music
* Best Sound Recording
* Best Film Editing