#136 Citizen Kane
(1941, Orson Welles)
So here we go. The movie that is consistently voted as the GREATEST MOVIE EVER MADE. So this should be fun. So come on, Citizen Kane, IMPRESS ME!
Newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane has died. On his deathbed, the last thing he said was simply “rosebud”. Finding this curious, reporters trying to put together a suitable story on the man’s life go out to investigate why this was the case. During the course of the investigation, we discover who Kane was and what made him successful, and also discover the major downfall he suffered over time.
First of all, why is this movie considered the greatest of all time? Well, from what I saw, one major factor may very well be Orson Welles himself. Playing the lead role in various layers of makeup to represent the character’s aging, Welles gives a powerful performance that truly impresses. Shifting from a cocky upstart in his twenties to becoming bitter and anti-social in later life, Welles manages to play these shifts perfectly without making them feel too awkward.
The makeup job is also pretty good, since Welles becomes largely unrecognisable as he gets older, but never once does it look like a makeup job. Which is impressive since this comes two decades after most makeup jobs in film made people look vaguely like shocked pandas, and especially impressive because I’ve seen movies from the eighties with worse makeup. Praise all round for that makeup team. MAKEUP!
The plot is also intriguing, and told in a very interesting way. We learn about different aspects of Kane’s life through the eyes of various different people, sometimes giving slightly differing views of the character based on the teller’s opinion of him. It’s a fascinating story, and has a surprising and very clever ending that reveals what “rosebud” meant. Or at least it would be if everyone and their dog didn’t already know it.
However, here’s where the point of my blog comes out. Greatest movie ever made? Time to start ripping that claim apart.
First off, the movie is a little dated. The interactions feel like a product of the forties and there are times when the dialogue, with everyone talking really fast and right on top of each other, can grate. Whenever people talked over each other (and it was a lot), I’d feel lost and disregard everything that everyone was saying.
There’s also a musical number that crops up as Kane makes the New York Enquirer a major success and his team throws a party for him that I felt hadn’t aged well at all. It feels kind of appropriate, but I just couldn’t get into that scene and wished it would end sooner. Again, this may be due to a natural aversion to unnecessary musical numbers (which I have mentioned before) but it’s not a scene that translates well to the modern world.
There are moments of weirdness that feel completely out of place. The early scenes leading up to Kane’s death feel like something from a horror movie of the same era; less watching a dying man’s last breath and more warily approaching Dracula’s castle. There was also an incredibly bizarre shot where one of Kane’s pet birds appears and screeches at the camera for no good reason at the beginning of a later scene.
And of course, the major gripe I had with Citizen Kane was that essentially, the plot makes no sense when you really think about. The whole movie revolves around the mystery that Charles Kane said “rosebud” on his deathbed, and yet the opening scenes make it clear that no one was in the room with him when he said it. The nurse arrived afterwards, too late to hear the mysterious word. It kind of drags the “greatest movie ever” down a little when there’s such a glaring plot hole.
However, Citizen Kane is a very good movie all the same. There are imperfections and I certainly wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s the greatest movie ever made, but it’s a fine achievement and still a genuinely classic film.
Starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Dorothy Comingmore, Everett Sloane, Ray Collins, George Coulouris, Agnes Moorehead, Paul Stewart, Ruth Warrick, Erskine Sanford & William Alland
Written by Herman J. Mankiewicz & Orson Welles
Produced by Orson Welles
Music by Bernard Hermann
Cinematography by Gregg Toland
Edited by Robert Wise
Favourite Scene: Kane’s breakdown in Xanadu late in the movie, leading to him smashing up a room
Scene That Bugged Me: The musical number. Just felt longer than it needed to be
Watch it if: You’re curious about the “greatest movie ever made”
Avoid it if: You’re put off by the hype