I am a lover of film. I would not describe my tastes as hugely broad or all-encompassing, but I would like to think that I have a good knowledge of cinema and that I do appreciate much of what the film industry has to offer; from independent cinema and foreign films, all the way to Hollywood blockbusters. Yet, there are huge gaps in my knowledge and appreciation; the work of Orson Welles is one of these gaps, and as this year marks the 75th anniversary of its release, I felt compelled to finally sit down and acquaint myself with his seminal work — Citizen Kane.
Orson Welles is a man with whom cinema is so clearly intertwined. Yet, up until watching Citizen Kane, his work is something that I have never really engaged with. His name is, quite naturally, one with which I am familiar; most of my favourite directors would probably cite Welles as an inspiration for them on some level or another. With that being said, Citizen Kane is not a film that any of my peers or film-loving friends have ever recommended to me; I feel as though this film is something that, today, only really resonates with people of a certain age, or with those who study film. That is to say, it is not a movie that I felt pressured into watching so that I could join in with a conversation that people were having (although this is hardly surprising considering the movie is 75 years old). With this in mind I want to point out that my decision to watch this film is because I felt that I had to, not necessarily because I wanted to.
“Orson Welles is a man with whom cinema is so clearly intertwined.”
Citizen Kane‘s influence is far-reaching and has great depth; Martin Scorsese was clearly inspired by one scene in particular which is practically lifted straight out of Citizen Kane and placed directly into The Wolf of Wall Street (although to a greater extreme), it is a movie that has even been parodied in The Simpsons! The cultural significance of Citizen Kane is apparent, and I wanted to see if the film itself, for my money, is really worth all of this praise.
The reverence with which Citizen Kane is held made me feel as though I could not truly describe myself as a lover of cinema without seeing it. It is #67 on IMDb’s Top 250, it has a 100% ‘fresh’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it is #2 on Film4’s ’50 Films to See Before You Die’, and is second only to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo in Sight and Sound’s ’50 Greatest Movies of All Time’. Clearly then, Citizen Kane is adored; both as a piece of art, and simply as a movie in itself. Upon viewing it, I have to say that I now understand why.
“As a character study, Citizen Kane is spectacular.”
The beauty of Citizen Kane, for me, lies in its mystery; the driving force behind the narrative — what does “rosebud” mean, and why was it Kane’s last utterance before he died? The picture is told through a series of flashbacks which piece together Kane’s life, and his interactions with various friends, former friends, and partners.
To begin with, I found myself liking Kane, just as those around him do — he is charming, intelligent, and kind. Yet, as the story progresses we learn more about the man, and discover that there is more to him; his selfishness, his delusions of grandeur, his belief that he will be the political saviour of the people — his eccentricities if you will. As the film went on, my dislike of the man who wished to be loved by all continued to grow and grow. As a character study, Citizen Kane is spectacular.
“I already know that it is a party I shall revisit in the near future, and a party that I shall continue to revisit for some time.”
On a technical level, Citizen Kane is an amalgamation of great cinematographic traits, and it is plain to see exactly why it is dissected so fervently by students of cinema. One particular scene stood out for me; Kane’s political rally, and the point at which Jim Gettys (Kane’s political rival) looks down at Kane and his supporters; the set design is fantastic, and the way that the moment is captured is superb.
Citizen Kane is one party that I am glad I finally indulged in, however late. I already know that it is a party I shall revisit in the near future, and a party that I shall continue to revisit for some time. I initially saw Citizen Kane in my mind as a film that — while influencing the work of many directors whom I enjoy — I might find uninteresting, tired, or even lacklustre by today’s standards; a film that has been overly praised and overly appreciated, far beyond its actual quality. I now know that this is simply not the case. Citizen Kane truly is as great as it is made out to be; as for Charles Foster Kane himself, well, I’ll leave that for you to decide.