Directed by Orson Welles (1941)
by Ashley McClosky
"Twenty-five thousand bucks! That's a lot to pay for a dame without a head!"
It has been voted the best film of all time and is the recipient of countless accolades. It is Citizen Kane. What self-respecting Moviejawner hasn't watched it? Me. I haven't. Actually scratch that, because I am lacking self-respect because I have never seen Citizen Kane, and yet I have watched Beethoven's 2nd at least seven times. At least.
I didn't feel I could do any sort of writing for such a fine fixture without viewing the "best film ever made," so I decided to finally watch it. Not once. Not twice. Please join me as I submerge myself in the Cinema Immersion Tank (coined by my movie guru, Matt Sloan) and finally watch Citizen Kane five nights in a row!
To start, I will follow in the footsteps of one Charles Foster Kane and announce my Declaration Of Principles:
1) I promise to totally immerse myself into Citizen Kane, watching nothing else for five days in a row.
2) I promise to not cheat and read reviews that have been written time and time again, but to swim in my own thoughts and interpretations, even if they are unpopular or not in line with general consensus.
3) I promise to not solely focus on the fact that Orson Welles is a total babe.
Well, I did it. Part of me is happy it's done, but a bigger part of me wants to just watch it again instead of writing this. Lemme break this down into three categories: Visual/Audio, Characters, and Meaning.
"I can't believe I've never seen this!" - Day One
"There's so much to look at....wait...there really is....is the camera focused on everything?" - Day Two
Deep focus photography. My God, this is a beautiful thing. When I watch Citizen Kane, I can't be lazy the way I am when I watch, say, a Hitchcock film. Take Psycho, for example. In the scene where Janet Leigh is packing before she leaves town, Hitchcock's camera tells us exactly where to look - at her, at the suitcase, at the money - it's as if the camera is a character. But with deep focus photography, we have to actually search for important evidence.
It took me four days before I saw that the snow globe was in Susan's apartment first. Then the movie took on a whole new meaning for me. Lots of filmmakers would focus on it and make sure you see it. But not Mr. Welles.
This, combined with unique camera angles, allow for some absolutely amazing scenes:
Young Charles playing in the snow, unaware of how his life is about to change. Kane's post-election loss discussion with Jedediah where he looks larger than life while his best friend cuts him down. Kane finishing Jedediah's article with Mr. Bernstein looking on far in the distance. The overhead shot of all his treasures, then all his "junk..." I could never tire of the visual style of Orson Welles, especially with Gregg Toland as cinematographer.
With my man, Bernard Hermann, doing the music, you can never go wrong.
"Why does Orson Welles' voice just remind me of Brain from Animaniacs?" - Day Two
Jedediah Leland, Mr. Bernstein, Mr. Thatcher - all important characters in the life of Charles Foster Kane, but no one seems to have an effect like that of Susan Alexander. On the night where Kane meets Susan, we see him at his best - he is happy and carefree, not trying to impress anyone. She has no idea who is is, and therefore how rich and powerful he is, but she genuinely likes him. However, it is also this night that leads to his demise. If you draw a graph of Kane's life, Susan would be the peak, and the start of his downhill fall. On day one, I found her annoying. Then by day three, I felt bad for her. No matter what you think of her, this lady was good at jigsaw puzzles!
As for Charles Foster Kane, he is an enigma. He does such selfish things, yet, why can I not dislike him? The scene after his political speech where his son leaves in the taxi and he looks sad, wondering why his wife sent him in a taxi - it makes me feel bad for him! Oh, she's going to see if he's cheating....well, fine. Or when Susan says she's leaving him and he begs her to stay by saying, "You can't do this to me." I feel bad for him. The dude was taken away from his parents with no choice in the matter. He is emotionally immature and needs love and approval. He tries to fill the empty void in his life with possessions rather than people...
"He is....oh man....He's me!!" - Day Three.
I get ya, CFK. Good thing I'm not rich, because I would probably be an awful lot like Kane. People, this hit me hard.
Before it even began, I knew what "rosebud" was. Anyone who has ever watched any documentary or list of classic films knows it's the sled. His whole life wrapped up in a sled? My first impression that Rosebud reminded him of his last moments of childhood innocence and happiness, playing with his sled. Then by night four, I wondered if he was also thinking of the night he met Susan (since the snow globe was hers). Maybe being with her reminded him of when his life was more simple and he didn't have to be "Citizen Kane." Maybe being with her reminded him of those moments before he was taken away from his childhood home. Maybe he was thinking about his son who died in a car crash (why did we not learn more about this??). When Susan left and he destroyed her room, her snow globe was the only thing he kept. You can bet I'm going to buy a replica now and hopefully act out this scene when it's my time to go.
All in all, this was an eye-opening and beautiful ride. My notes filled a great deal of my notebook and I enjoyed it so much that I want to keep watching it (and Orson Welles - see, I only said it once!). It has amazing cinematography and acting, and I'm at a loss to say anything negative about it.
So, is it the "best film ever made?" I don't know. But if it's not, then I surely don't know what is.