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Citizen Kane


Buckeye Jones
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AFI and Roger Ebert's top film of all time, Welles' 1941 masterpiece has one of the most famous macguffins ever, and its device allows the filmmaker to showcase his formidable talents in the course of chronicling the rise and fall of Charles Foster Kane. Bristling with hubris and self hatred, Kane muscles through his life without regard for anything but love--his unrequited love for himself and his need to make those around him love him.

Given over to a banker's custody after his mother receives a deed that proves to be worth millions as payment for a boarder's stay, Charlie Kane (Welles in a role that sees him age from his 20s to his 70s) lives a life of reckless hedonism. That is, until he becomes of age and all his considerable assets are released to him at age 25, when he decides he'll take up publishing the New York Inquirer. We follow Kane as he sets out to transform this staid, declining paper to a game-changing yellow journalism tabloid, seen by its owner as the vanguard of popularist progress.

Seeking first the adulation of the readers, then of women, then of voters, and finally burning bridges between all of them, Kane's rise and fall, ending in the half-finished palatial Xanadu, is seen in terms of flashbacks, retellings of periods in his life from the perspectives of his second wife, his banker's memoir, his spurned best friend. How trustworthy are their memories? How much of Kane did they really know? Not enough to answer the obituarist's question: "Rosebud? What or who did he mean by 'Rosebud', uttered with his dying breath?"

Ebert in his audio commentary mentions many of the tremendous technical acheivements of the film, Welles' first, and pays particular attention to the DP's cinematography. It is haunting, and the play of light and shadow, the angles of the shots, all help realize the distance between Kane and everyone around him, including the viewer. But its not just a technical triumph--the actors excel across the board too. None more so, in my view, than Welles himself--just the range we see in the early scenes of him as a tireless, pompous playboy with money to burn and the final reel as an old, eccentric, lonely hermit is such compelling work that drew me in instantly.

Citizen Kane may be an angry satire of William Randolph Hearst. But its far more than that--an excellent contemplation of a favorite NT saying, What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul? Its innovations help prevent it from being dated, and the film cries out for re-viewing.

And Rosebud? If you don't know by now, I won't spoil it for you. A must see film, truly among the great American movies of all time.

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A must see film, truly among the great American movies of all time.

Absolutely. Gosh, I need to see this again soon on DVD. I've had the VHS for years, I'm not sure I've even seen the DVD.

For me, it's those opening shots of the gates and the cold snow falling on Xanadu, the lonely, muttered word, "Rosebud," the isolated hand dropping the snow globe onto a checkered floor, the breaking glass, the entrance of the nurse, the distorted view of the room and the shadowy nurse which pulls the blanket over Kane's face -- the sign of his demise.

Never has a mystery been set up so perfectly.

And it cuts from all of those great shots straight into a trumpet fanfare for "News on the March."

The whole thing just sucks you in from the opening scenes all the way to the end. I probably agree with Ebert that it is the greatest movie of all time.

Edited by stef

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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It's easy to do, but I love this movie as well. I was exposed to it pretty early on--didn't get it--and when I returned a few years later I found myself loving every minute. The unconventional structure is a big factor in my enjoyment, and may have influenced my current predilection for movies and novels that deal in some way with memory. And I like the way that, in the end, the Maguffin explains nothing.

Oh, and it made me an unabashed Orson Welles fan--which I am to this day. It's amazing that, by the end of the film, when he is made-up to look 70+, one forgets--and at the same time remembers with astonishment--that this is the same young man who was so charming and enthusiastic at the beginning of the movie. It is a real triumph of the actor's art.

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  • 1 month later...
It's easy to do, but I love this movie as well. I was exposed to it pretty early on--didn't get it--and when I returned a few years later I found myself loving every minute. The unconventional structure is a big factor in my enjoyment, and may have influenced my current predilection for movies and novels that deal in some way with memory. And I like the way that, in the end, the Maguffin explains nothing.

Oh, and it made me an unabashed Orson Welles fan--which I am to this day. It's amazing that, by the end of the film, when he is made-up to look 70+, one forgets--and at the same time remembers with astonishment--that this is the same young man who was so charming and enthusiastic at the beginning of the movie. It is a real triumph of the actor's art.

I don't think of Rosebud as a MacGuffin at all. I think it demonstrates that Solomon-like longing for redemption or even value. At the end of his life, Charles Foster Kane has had everything there is to have, and yet he paradoxically longs for a time when he was innocent and had nothing. He dies alone in a house full of treasures, in my belief wishing that he could have done things a little differently.

Or perhaps we could say he has everything but wants the one thing he can't have: Rosebud. Or maybe a friend or a time of innocence.

I also think it is a clear demonstration of a life lived only for self with no connection to God. At the end, does it really matter what you collected?

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I don't think of Rosebud as a MacGuffin at all. I think it demonstrates that Solomon-like longing for redemption or even value. At the end of his life, Charles Foster Kane has had everything there is to have, and yet he paradoxically longs for a time when he was innocent and had nothing. He dies alone in a house full of treasures, in my belief wishing that he could have done things a little differently.

Or perhaps we could say he has everything but wants the one thing he can't have: Rosebud. Or maybe a friend or a time of innocence.

This is how I've always seen it

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When I first started watching The Sopranos on DVD, in the first season, Tony reminded me of Charles Foster Kane. Both are Solomonic type characters. Tony's obsession with the ducks, his dreams about sea birds, and subsequent panic attack when the ducks leave home may have some parallel to Rosebud.

I wonder if this theme runs its course the whole way through the series. In a flashback, he remembers his first panic attack, in the butcher shop - a disembodied pig's head. He kills Ralph over a horse. This loss of innocence, and desire for simple, almost child-like comforts (sleds and pets) makes me wonder if there are other examples of this in movies other than Citizen Kane and programs like The Sopranos.

Edited by Michael Todd

"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others." - Groucho Marx

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I also think it is a clear demonstration of a life lived only for self with no connection to God. At the end, does it really matter what you collected?

Hence my nomination of the film for the Top 100.

I'm sure someone can come up with a better capsule than mine.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Much of Kane is a reflection on Hearst, but he wasn't the only magnate who influenced the character; Kane was a composite, as Welles himself would often say in his final years.

I mention this because too often, many people think the Kane-Hearst comparison then means Susan Alexander Kane=Marion Davies, which certainly isn't true. Davies was a solid silent-era comedic actress, as films such as "The Red Mill," "The Patsy" and "Show People" make clear. And she won good reviews in many non-Hearst newspapers and had plenty of fans who didn't read Hearst publications. Fortunately, many of her films have been reissued on DVD, enabling people to check out her talent for themselves. Moreover, she was beloved in the film community for her many charitable works (such as a pediatric clinic at UCLA that's still going strong today).

As for "Kane," I love the movie; it's the film equivalent of Stravinsky's "The Rite Of Spring" -- revolutionary art.

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  • 2 years later...
I probably agree with Ebert that it is the greatest movie of all time.

Wow, I found consistency in myself. Can't believe it. It's about time!

Filmsweep Reaction to a theater screening today, where I ended the post basically saying the same thing I said here two years ago.

Don't think it was 35mm that I saw today, FWIW, but it was still awesome and totally worth it in the theater setting. First time I've seen it on the big screen and I'd like to do it again every day this week.

And why on earth is this not in our Top 100? I don't get it. At all. It is better than any of the animated films on the list, especially the one I've recently railed against -- and I won't just pick on animation: it is better than Ratcatcher, which I nominated and wrote up. It's better and more representative of this community in particular than half the films on the list. It should be in the Top Ten. It should certainly put out Make Way For Tomorrow (which I love) and Ikiru (which I don't). This is a travesty. I'm calling the film cops on all you people. Does it seem too cliché to appear on our list? It deserves all the praise it gets.

Bristling with hubris and self hatred, Kane muscles through his life without regard for anything but love--his unrequited love for himself and his need to make those around him love him.

Interesting that we came to two sides of what I think is the same coin. My reasoning is that he doesn't love himself. He wants to prove himself to the world, whether it is friends or competitors -- everyone around him, but most of all he wants to prove to himself. Kane is all about powering over to prove his own worth. He has no love for himself, and due to that he cannot love anyone.

Citizen Kane may be an angry satire of William Randolph Hearst. But its far more than that--an excellent contemplation of a favorite NT saying, What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul? Its innovations help prevent it from being dated, and the film cries out for re-viewing.

We did get to the same conclusion. I used this verse in what I wrote up, too, and didn't see this thread first.

Oh, and it made me an unabashed Orson Welles fan--which I am to this day. It's amazing that, by the end of the film, when he is made-up to look 70+, one forgets--and at the same time remembers with astonishment--that this is the same young man who was so charming and enthusiastic at the beginning of the movie. It is a real triumph of the actor's art.

I agree, but the only bad thing I took away from the theatrical screening was a scene towards the end where we saw him from behind, and the makeup job from behind was absolutely hideous.

Edited by Persona

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I saw Touch of Evil twenty years ago when I fell in love with Citizen Kane. I remember even then thinking, I like this Welles guy, I really do, but this is no Citizen Kane.

I have never seen The Trial. Will have to correct that this year.

It's . . . more representative of this community in particular than half the films on the list.

How so?

I'll tell you what. You actually go out on a limb and name what you think may be the greatest movie of all time, and then I will consider naming fifty films and comparing them to Citizen Kane.

As far as why the film itself is completely applicable to this community, the reference from Matthew BJ and I both agreed on is one thing that springs to mind.

Edited by Persona

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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I saw Touch of Evil twenty years ago when I fell in love with Citizen Kane. I remember even then thinking, I like this Welles guy, I really do, but this is no Citizen Kane.

I very much agree Stef. Touch of Evil has a number of fine moments, including (but not limited to) the brilliant opening sequence. But the film does not have a level of human interest that could ever rival the awesome power of Citizen Kane. Still, the film does deserve recognition for it's modest achievement in film noir. I think it will always be a favourite for lovers of the genre.

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I have never seen The Trial. Will have to correct that this year.

You'll have to work to get it in decent picture quality, unfortunately. The Netflix Instant version is pretty terrible. Maybe when Beatrice Welles departs from this world, Criterion will release it. That and CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT. At least they were able to release that awesome MR. ARKADIN set before things went sour.

I'll tell you what. You actually go out on a limb and name what you think may be the greatest movie of all time, and then I will consider naming fifty films and comparing them to Citizen Kane.

The greatest film of all time? Well, that one's easy, but you're not going to like the answer: 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.

As far as why the film itself is completely applicable to this community, the reference from Matthew BJ and I both agreed on is one thing that springs to mind.

Well, that's a good case for its "spiritual significance." But has CITIZEN KANE ever been much of a touchstone for this community? (I've only been here for a little while, so that's a genuine question.)

Still, the film does deserve recognition for it's modest achievement in film noir. I think it will always be a favourite for lovers of the genre.

"Modest" achievement? If there's a better noir, I haven't seen it.

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Bristling with hubris and self hatred, Kane muscles through his life without regard for anything but love--his unrequited love for himself and his need to make those around him love him.

Interesting that we came to two sides of what I think is the same coin. My reasoning is that he doesn't love himself. He wants to prove himself to the world, whether it is friends or competitors -- everyone around him, but most of all he wants to prove to himself. Kane is all about powering over to prove his own worth. He has no love for himself, and due to that he cannot love anyone.

Citizen Kane may be an angry satire of William Randolph Hearst. But its far more than that--an excellent contemplation of a favorite NT saying, What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul? Its innovations help prevent it from being dated, and the film cries out for re-viewing.

We did get to the same conclusion. I used this verse in what I wrote up, too, and didn't see this thread first.

i think we agree on both points; I just tried too hard to write "he doesn't love himself" with "unrequited love for himself".

clarity. that's what I'm all about.

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Ryan H. wrote:

: Well, that's a good case for its "spiritual significance." But has CITIZEN KANE ever been much of a touchstone for this community? (I've only been here for a little while, so that's a genuine question.)

I think the length (or lack thereof) of this thread kind of answers that question. But that's not to say it isn't a significant film. I think there have been quite a few films in the Top 100 that didn't have major threads (or even necessarily any threads at all, prior to their election to the Top 100). To put this another way: I don't necessarily think of the Top 100 as a list of "touchstones for this community".

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I was suggesting that Citizen Kane is representative of the ideals of the community.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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  • 1 month later...

This may seem like it's coming from out of left field, but I recently discovered that Citizen Kane (1941) cinematographer Gregg Toland was ALSO the DP on one of my favorite Danny Kaye movies, The Kid from Brooklyn (1946). (Toland would go on to shoot 1946's Song of the South, 1947's The Best Years of Our Lives, 1947's The Bishop's Wife and 1948's A Song Is Born -- which, like The Kid from Brooklyn, was ALSO a Danny Kaye - Virginia Mayo comedy (and that one was directed by Howard Hawks!) -- before dying in 1948, at the age of 44.)

I haven't had a chance yet to rewatch The Kid from Brooklyn in its entirety with this in mind, but I did revisit the first ten minutes (embedded below), which include two of the quotes from this film with which my siblings and I have been peppering our conversations -- sort of as a secret family code -- since time immemorial. (Said quotes are "I don't do a thing, I simply let them... look at me" and "I'm telling you--!") And it just dawned on me that this film begins with a fake ad, kind of the same way Citizen Kane begins with a fake newsreel.

Yeah, yeah, that's not much of a connection, I know. But still.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vh82EdEPrg

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Richard T. Jameson has a new write-up on THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, but at the beginning, he deals with CITIZEN KANE and offers some beautiful thoughts:

For a young man who was 25 when he began Citizen Kane and had completed The Magnificent Ambersons within another year or so, Orson Welles certainly is obsessed with time, age, and death. Pauline Kael has remarked that the actors in Kane convey a strong sense of artifice: we know they have completed their turns within the given shots; there is no illusion of the characters' lives going on offscreen. Although her intention is merely to reinforce her point that Kane is a playful, "shallow masterpiece," she puts her finger on a key reason for its depth: lives do reach completion in the film. When Thompson closes Thatcher's journal; when the camera pulls away from Bernstein saying—of old age—"It's the only disease, Mr. Thompson, that you don't look forward to being cured of," and from Susie saying "Come around and tell me the story of your life sometime"; when Jed Leland is led away into the shadows of death (or worse, the old-age "heaven" suggested by the camera's rise at the beginning of the sequence)—we have a tremendous sense of lives summarized, distilled, nothing left to be said that could possibly matter. Even within the episodes, people die symbolically: Susie not only "dies" onstage but so does the character she plays in the opera, and Susie will attempt suicide; the Chicago Inquirer staff speculates whether the reunion of Kane and Leland mightn't be dangerous, and Bernstein goes in to find Jed slumped on his typewriter. And things die: the skylight looks broken at Susie's nightclub the second time and the sign isn't lit; we see the alternate Inquirer headlines lifted off the press and a second later FRAUD AT POLLS! lies tromped and forgotten in the gutter. And Rosebud, identified poetically if not realistically with the quintessence of Charles Foster Kane, "ages" in a single terrible moment—as the whole film may be considered a single terrible moment—consumed in the furnaces of Xanadu. It is consistent to see the column of smoke rising to heaven, the snow-white ashes of Rosebud carried off into the blackness of the unborn film, as the last instance of the movie's taking leave of a now-extinguished character. Yet I have suggested that Kane or at the very least his alter ego narrates the movie. That the annihilated Rosebud/Kane ascends to heaven and that the camera/Kane descends back outside the fence are not incompatible, no more than the fact that the movie fascinates us with the myriad suggestions of a life and concludes with a bald statement that no real knowledge of—NO TRESPASSING on—such a life is possible.

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  • 2 years later...

Link to our thread on 'Exposing High Schoolers to Citizen Kane' (Aug 2003).

Hollywood Jew:

Biskind asked Jaglom what they each got out of the relationship.

“We told each other the emotional truth,” Jaglom said. “I became somebody with whom he felt comfortable talking about his emotions. He let me in.”

That may explain why Jaglom possesses a little known secret: Welles had a special fondness for Jews. Jaglom explained that Welles felt estranged from his “drunk, absent” father. And he suspected that his mother Beatrice, a concert pianist “and a society lady” had had several affairs. In the midst of this, Welles cultivated a relationship with a guardian of sorts by the name of Dr. Bernstein, whom he felt very close to.

“Orson believed his father wasn’t his father,” Jaglom said. “Dr. Bernstein might have been his father -- he had definitely had an affair with Orson’s mother.” But Welles also suspected that she’d had an affair with a Russian opera singer. Welles could never confirm, since his mother died when he was 9, and his father followed, when he was a tender 13.

Since Jaglom is Jewish, “the subject was of considerable interest [to me].” One day, Welles turned to him and said, “I know what you want to know, Henry: Am I Jewish?”

Welles answered: “Fifty-fifty.”

Interesting, in light of the fact that one of Citizen Kane's more sympathetic (albeit guardedly so) characters is named Mr Bernstein.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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