Charles Foster Kane: I don’t think there’s one word that can describe a man’s life.
The trouble with history and nostalgia is that memory of something we remember as being so good (or something that someone has told us was good) isn’t really as great when experienced anew. Sometimes you’ll get caught up in the latest fad that seemed cool in the day (acid-washed jeans, MC Hammer, scrunchies) but don’t hold up as well the second time around. Sometimes there’s a fad that turns out to be absolutely timeless (early 90’s grunge). And sometimes…just once in awhile…like a blue moon…something comes along that shocks you to the core and changes you like no fad could.
Why am I starting this way? To make a point, of course.
Citizen Kane falls somewhere between the “absolutely timeless” and “shocks you to the core” categories. Am I agreeing that this movie is the best of all-time like so many lists claim just on nostalgia’s sake…because that’s the consensus? Not precisely.
Citizen Kane (the movie) is as flawed and as enthralling as Citizen Kane (the character).
Take away, for a moment, the whole plot device that Welles has said himself to be “a gimmick”. I’m talking about “Rosebud”. Take away for a moment that this single word was in the movie at all. Or, better yet, that you know EXACTLY what (or who) Rosebud was. The movie still would be great for the journey that it takes you on. What it would’ve lacked was a hook. So enter “Rosebud”.
“Rosebud” supplied one of those surprise endings that doesn’t reveal itself until the final moment. Unlike other surprise endings (like you Keyzer Soze and M. Knight Shyamalan), after the initial WTF ending, the magic surrounding the mystery is over. The hook was the movie. In Citizen Kane, the hook was only there to draw you in.
Citizen Kane at its core is a mystery about a man. A despicable, sad man in his old age. A bright, fun and entertaining man in his youth. Here, I’ll let the song describe him:
A man based, it turns out, not too far off newspaper tycoon William Randolf Hearst. I’d recommend watching the great made-for-tv movie RKO 281 starring Leiv Schreiber (X-Man’s Sabretooth) as Orson Welles (or for a more documentarian view, The Battle Over Citizen Kane). The movie is a broken jigsaw puzzle where those who are trying to learn about Kane discover that he was far more complex than a simple word.
The true strength of this movie is Orson Welles himself.
Consider for a moment that Welles was only 25 at the time he filmed Citizen Kane. Consider that he pulled off a role of a lifetime that stretched a lifetime. Consider that he had full creative control of a movie he helped pen (with Herman J. Mankiewicz) and fully direct. Consider the gall Orson had to stand up to the most powerful newspaper magnate in the world and the person who controlled who saw his movie. Through all the opposition, through the snubs at the 1941 Oscars (see my last blog for details) , Orson made HIS movie. A movie that (to steal a line from an earlier movie I reviewed on this list) “crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side.”
Sadly, Orson wouldn’t make another movie that equalled this one but he probably could have given total creative control (which he never got again after the Hearst fiasco). This is our loss.
But is this movie perfect? No. There’s no need to point out some of the flaws (hidden brilliantly by story…but if you look closely during the picnic scene, you can make out some pterodactyls flying around taken from stock footage from 1933’s King Kong). But perfection is a flawed concept in itself as it doesn’t exist (but I’d be welcome if someone can prove me wrong).
Orson Welles lived his life like the brash and enthusiastic young Charles Foster Kane and could be summed up as…well, I’ll let Kane tell it…his voice is sooo awesome! (also contains my favourite quote from the movie at the end of the clip):
9.5 Xanadu statues out of 10