Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Citizen Kane. (1941) Orson Welles

I am shimmering. I am glimmering.

I'm basking in the end credit afterglow and can't quite process this marvelous achievement.

Some people are shuffling out and seem quite joyous. Others are leaving their seats more slowly -- they look in deep thought, a little bemused. I'm stuck in my seat. I don't want to leave. It feels like a holy moment. I want to soak it all in, like the best Sunday service in memory. I need a pipe organ to kick in with a recessional.

While the Sanctuary clears, I marvel at what I've just been thoroughly immersed in. I'm in post-cinematic reflection over the stupendous Citizen Kane on the big screen.

It is already obvious I'm headed to Rant-land today, so let's clear the air of all facade and I'll open my Reaction with full disclosure:

[ / Fan Boy Rant Fully On]

The ever fascinating story of Charles Foster Kane, the idealist publisher corrupted by capitalist wealth -- the boy who needed love becoming the man who couldn't love -- is legendary, credited with inspiring more directors than any film in history and frequently referred to as the greatest film of all time. It was selected to the Library of Congress National Film Registry for preservation in 1989 as one of the most important films in American cinema history.

Citizen Kane is, to me, one of those "chicken and egg" scenarios. Did I start loving it before I'd heard the stories of its glory, or did I hear how great it was first and then run off to find it on VHS? No doubt I first heard from mature cinephiles in whose steps I hoped to follow that I needed to check it out. I'm only approaching 41 years; the film was hailed as the Second Coming long before I was even born. Yet I can't remember any one person telling me to see it. Maybe it was Ed. Maybe it was Armand. Maybe it was Dave. Maybe I just stumbled across it at Blockbuster in the early 90s.

All I know is that I did see it, I did fall in love, I hailed it as a masterpiece and have seen it every few years since -- except for recently. My theater trip today marks the first time I've seen it in over eight years (if I'm to trust my Film Journals, which I do), but today is also the first time I've seen it on the big screen.

Though it has been some time since my last viewing, it is amazing how much I remembered of the story. It's like it is a part of me now, integral to every other story I see: the young Kane inheriting an empire upon an empire of wealth, holding the loot of the world. Disinterested in the money, he takes a publishing job for one of the papers he owns shares in, set for telling the truth (and using the headlines as a personal tool of revenge) until he learns that the message is the truth when it's printed in large letters, boldened in black on the highly visible front page. He marries but fails in marriage -- at the end of his first marriage his wife sits across the table reading his main competitor's newspaper. He marries again and fails, ghost writing a bad review for his wife's public opera, a singing career he forced her into.

And of course, all of these stories find their way into his papers. If anything, he learns how to promote his own name there -- suited to the opinions he likes, structured to the truth as he sees it.

I remembered that the film was visual, but oh! To see it on the big screen makes it not only larger, but deeper and wider, with better contrast in the darkened room. I don't know if the forty other (mostly older) folks in the theater were there for their first theater screening of the film, but there's nothing like that setting to see it in. And see it you do. The visuals -- the smokey interiors filled with grim light and ominous shadows, the darkened figures in alleyways and balconies, the large rooms of the mansion Xanadu filled with collectibles from the earth and puzzles from a wife in flight, the delighted laughs and transformed anger on faces in various stages of life -- they come to life like a marathon runner from the opening shot off a starting block, but they never seem to break a sweat.

The things I'd forgotten about were amplified, too: the screams of a fight outside a room while Kane's wife, in a fight with him, stares blankly ahead; an interrupting, jolting edit of a cawing bird flying away as the wife leaves Xanadu for freedom. The audio, too, in these two quick mentions is as breath taking as anything else. Surely this film stretched the boundaries of aural and visual cinema in the time of the day it was made.

When I think about Citizen Kane and everything that went into it, from the perplexing character of Kane to the jumps in the storytelling timeline, from the witty, quick dialogue to the innovative use of sight and sound,I feel sorry for any film that followed after it -- I dream that all movies ended right there in 1941. They just halted, came to a complete stop. No need to make a movie ever again after that, because we have a full understanding of what makes the ultimate film experience.

And whether intended or not, Welles dropped a film that matched my worldview. Kane, the unloved and unloving, the one who fights all and grows old and keeps fighting when he can't remember what the fight was even about -- he, who collects millions of dollars of junk to stuff in closets in lieu of an emptiness inside, is representative of the parabolic words recorded in Matthew: "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?" And that's Kane.

Rosebud might be a childhood item that Kane lost which has never been found. Kane himself might be a man that was lost in childhood and can't fully find himself. He had the whole world, but like any other man, didn't have an understanding that the whole world brings nothing, it is a clashing of cymbals or a clanging gong without love. Kane always thought love could be bought or traded. He was rejected time and again not because he wasn't loved, but because he couldn't love himself.

This film deserves all the accolades it has been given, no matter how extreme, no matter how hyperbolic. It puts all other films to shame -- it is the greatest film ever made.

[Fan Boy Rant Off / ]


  1. Yeah, it is a fantastic film, and I agree with your comment on A&F - why on earth isn't this in the top 100?

  2. I am less and less amazed by the 2011 list. Then again, I've not seen 39 of the 100 films on the list, so I'm not *really* qualified to say... I'll be tackling quite a few of those later in the Spring, so I guess we'll see if the list grows on me at that time.

    I will be nominating Citizen Kane in 2013, without hesitation, and will be campaigning for its inclusion.

  3. Don't worry, I'll campaign with you.

  4. Well, we've got two years to make a case for it. Between both of our brains, can we make one solid and indisputable case? ;)


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