Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Citizen Kane (1941) A Film by Orson Welles

The opening sequence of Orson Welles' Citizen Kane introduces a myriad of striking detail shots around a cryptic mansion. A fence standing before fog, a cat seated slyly by a creek, a man's mouth whispering the word's "Rosebud"; each lends itself to a rather bold noir atmosphere, especially given the fact that they were indeed the first frames being committed to film under a studio agenda by a writer/director who came to be one of the most exemplary cinematic practitioners of sound film. Welles transitions from this cryptic style frenzy to a news montage covering the life and death of Charles Foster Kane, the heavyweight of New York City press. The two scenes are remarkably dissonant, and such a decision is certainly an audacious one for Welles. Once the film finally snaps into reality (that is, in relation to the remaining conventions of the film) in a small screening room, the sheer tenacity of the image's willingness to play with a Godly slice of light officially signals the coming of a truly grand film.

Welles, who assembled a band of Hollywood experts to work with on Citizen Kane, including scriptwriter Herman Mankiewicz, cinematographer Gregg Toland, and quintessential Hitchcock composer Bernard Herrmann, must still unavoidably be deemed the one man wrecking ball for the film. His portrayal of Charles Kane, the massively successful press tycoon based loosely on the real-life William Randolph Hearst (who attempted to block the film's release because he found it offensive), is charismatic, hilarious, and believably varied. The film covers his whole life in flashback, however the chunk of material surrounds his entrepreneurial adulthood, rising to power in the news industry and carrying his power spontaneously to new heights, such as the creation of a prestigious theater to showcase his not-exactly-prima-donna-material mistress. A reporting crew in the present (after Kane's death) is on a mission to decipher the seemingly immortal last line of Kane: "Rosebud".

The film cycles in between the story of Kane's life and the quest of the reporters with faint urgency. Nearly every stretch of fine tuned pacing holds its parallels with the ensuing 67 years of Hollywood movies. Each newspaper montage created since most certainly has a tiny place in its heart for Citizen Kane. This doesn't necessarily excite me, for I find that the newspaper montage has become an insanely banal technique, but rather cements my belief in Citizen Kane's influential nature. The culmination of the film is shattering; Kane retreats to an almost cumbersome palace (these interiors are the high points in the film visually) with his singer wife Susan Alexander only to discover what his success and money have really brought him. Pluck out the simple but universal message and witness how so many films since have reworked it, but never to such a virtuous degree.

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