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Citizen Kane


Having success the first time around is very uncommon. Orson Welles's first
 feature film richly realizes the full potential of excellent craftsmanship.
 Citizen Kane is almost indisputably the greatest achievement in the history of
 filming. In 1941, this film was considered by many as the best film ever made.
 This film is about the enormous conflict between two twentieth-century icons,
 publisher William Randolph Hearst and the prodigy of his time, Orson Welles.
 The rather overwhelming beginning of an opening sequence is still as
 electrifying as any in the history of movies. That tarnished sign on a
 forbidding black wire fence is the first thing we see in Orson Welles' Citizen
 Kane. Citizen Kane is a movie about perception and projection. Indeed, with
 the complex theme the whole movie seems to be placed in a kind of
 psychological trauma for the viewers. Citizen Kane is a portrait of a public
 and private figure that remains tantalizingly unfinished. Excellent acting was
 revealed for the first time as these new roles played out. Orson Welles was a
 director ahead of his time and his portrayal of Kane shows his acting ability.
 This film is one of the first films to rely heavily on style and visuals,
 Citizen Kane uses camera, lighting, and set techniques to show Kane's rise and
 fall from power. The movie as a whole -- though as artistically satisfying as
 a picture can get -- also leaves us with certain unexplicated pieces of Kane's
 life that only we, as viewers of Citizen Kane, can put together for ourselves.

 There's no doubt that Citizen Kane is a great movie. It is a pioneering
 film that forever changed film making. Its plot is one of the most creative
 and original in all of movie history. Citizen Kane is a brilliantly made film.
 I can't really take the full impact of it because it was made in 1941, and all
 the film techniques Welle's used, are used frequently today. Nowadays, a film
 has to be emotionally involving and have an original plot to get recognition.
 But back in the 40s, no one had ever seen some of them before, and so it was
 new and original.

 Conversely, the film features rapid montage sequences permitting sudden
 ellipses of time and space for the first time. This was a special technique
 that Orson Well used time progressing. Opening and concluding with the famous
 NO TRESPASSING sign outside of his palace, Xanadu, the film depicts newspaper
 giant Charles Foster Kane's economic and spiritual rise and his eventual ruin.
 The film opens with a long shot of Xanadu - the private estate of one of the
 world's richest men. In the middle of the estate is a castle. We see, inside
 the castle, a dying man examining a winter scene within a crystal ball. As he
 drops it, it smashes, and one word is heard - "Rosebud". What
 follows are pieces of newsreel like footage detailing how Kane amassed his
 fortune, and turning around full circle at the end. Rosebud becomes the
 elusive focal point for a newsreel reporter's investigation into the life and
 times of Citizen Kane, an exploration which provides the plot framework for
 the movie. The viewer first watches as Kane speaks his dying word --
 "Rosebud" -- and then follows newsreel journalist Thompson who
 interviews Kane's closest associates, hoping to find the meaning of
 "Rosebud", and perhaps Kane's life. The structure of "Citizen
 Kane" is circular, adding more depth every time it passes over the life.

 The movie opens with newsreel obituary footage that briefs us on the life
 and times of Charles Foster Kane. They provide a map of Kane's trajectory, and
 it will keep us oriented as the screenplay skips around in time, piecing
 together the memories of those who knew him. Curious about Kane's dying word,
 "rosebud," the newsreel editor assigns Thompson, a reporter, to find
 out what it meant. He triggers every flashback, yet his face is never seen. He
 questions Kane's alcoholic mistress, his ailing old friend, his rich associate
 and the other witnesses, while the movie loops through time.


Welles and Mankiewicz created an emotional chronology set free from time. But in 1941, film had only been around for a few decades, making it remarkably easy for a film to be original, not only because technology was improving, but because the ideas were from fresh, new directors. Yet, Citizen Kane is still original today. A film that can use so many different techniques and still incorporate a good story has to be good. Namely, that Citizen Kane is a complex, engaging story told with consummate skills. At any rate, Kane seems to summarize quite well within the above-described "layer" framework, and I hope to quickly demonstrate how below. In the search of "Rosebud" the death of publishing lord and leading American Citizen Charles Foster Kane, a reporter is given the assignment of finding the key to the manner and ceremony of his life. He is directed to discover what Kane meant by the word he uttered on his deathbed - "Rosebud" - and in doing so, gain the requisite knowledge to explain Kane. The story of the film, then, is thusly couched: it is an attempt to peel back the layers of Kane's life and illuminate the essential, inescapable truth of Charles Foster Kane. The most logical place to start in that search is the topmost, the epidermal layer: the Public Man. The deathly, dreamlike hush of Citizen Kane's shadowy prologue jumps abruptly into that blaring newsreel ("News On the March"), which introduces us to the Official Version of the Life of Charles Foster Kane. Hence the film's beginning with the "News On The March" briefly summarizes the life of Leading American Citizen, Charles Foster Kane through a parade of his various public accomplishments. But when the film runs out, flipping on the reel of the projector, we're left in the dark -- with that summarization, in its very brief-ness, lacks something, and so the reporter is directed to seek further - to seek the meaning of "Rosebud". The next layer - Kane's financial underbelly, as neatly bookended by his financial advisor, a Mr. Thatcher - provides more in the way of amusement which build toward a more realistically characterized Kane, but still fails to provide any information of final substance. So the closely related layers of Kane's occupation and his ideals are pierced, are then peeled through the recollections of a Mr. Bernstein who worked for Kane at one of his papers. With no more success; we are left with a more fully drawn person, but one who is still, essentially, unknown. Not a single person yet interviewed knows what is the final words "Rosebud". Boldly, our reporter continues. The next layer will surely reveal something of value, Jedediah Leland (who says, at one point, "If I'm not his closest friend, he never had one..."), we are still left with only a partial portrait. "Rosebud" is still distant. So our reporter reaches what he knows is as close to the core of Charles Foster Kane as he will get: he speaks with the second Mrs. Kane. With a final, incredulous gasp, he (and we) learn that not only does she not know definitively what "Rosebud" means, but that she more than anyone failed to make sense of Charles Foster Kane. Achievement is only further emphasized by Citizen Kane's expressionist set design and Welles's genius as an actor and director. Kane's characters move through the deep space of the film in real time, quite unlike any other film before or since Citizen Kane. Herman Mankiewicz, an experienced screenwriter, collaborated with him on the inspiration of the life of William Randolph Hearst, who had put together an empire of newspapers, radio stations, magazines and news services, and then built to himself the flamboyant monument of San Simeon, a castle furnished by rummaging the remains of nations. As his cinematographer, he hired Gregg Toland, who had experimented with deep focus photography--with shots where everything was in focus, from the front to the back, so that composition and movement determined where the eye looked first. For his cast Welles assembled his colleagues, including himself playing Kane from age twenty-five until his deathbed, using makeup and body language to trace the progress of a man increasingly captive inside his needs. Thompson (William Alland) interviews provides a different perspective, a contrasting image of the same man: Charles Foster Kane. Also the screenplay by Mankiewicz and Welles is densely constructed and covers an amazing amount of ground. Including a sequence showing Kane inventing the popular press; a record of his marriage, from early bliss to the famous montage of increasingly chilly breakfasts; the story of his courtship of Susan Alexander and her disastrous opera career, and his decline into the remote master of Xanadu. The film's construction shows how our lives, after we are gone, survive only in the memories of others, and those memories butt up against the walls we erect and the roles we play The movie is mostly told in flashbacks as this investigator track down people who knew Kane and try to find the meaning of his final word. It is such a simple idea, and yet, it allows Orson Welles to paint with broad visual strokes. The movie is a work of art and uses so many different techniques, that you have to admire the spirit and energy of the film. Its slow pace allows Welles to reconstruct the life of Charles Foster Kane so that we somehow begin to care for Kane. We progress through his childhood and end at the deathbed, and as he says his last word and drops the paperweight, we feel a sense of wonder and confusion. We still do not know what Rosebud means. No one seems to. And no one ever will... except us--the audience. In one of the film's most memorable images, Kane, having torn apart in anger the bedroom of his wife, walks trance-like down an echoing corridor lined with mirrors, where his reflection is multiplied a hundred-fold into the distance. Other examples of techniques is of the camera surmounting several layers/levels of fences and, in a series of dissolves focused on a lit window in a distant tower, moves across the dark, spooky, deserted grounds of Kane's Xanadu estate. That window remains in the same place in the frame -- upper right-hand corner -- in each successive shot, including one that turns the image upside down. As we approach the window, a light inside (and, soon, a life) is put out. Another match-dissolve takes us almost gradually from outside Kane's castle to inside his room, where it is snowing. A house sits nestled in a soft, white landscape, but the camera pulls back rapidly and we see it's one of those little liquid globes with fake flakes inside. This wintry world held tight in the palm of his hand, Charles Foster Kane loosens his grip on life. The glass bubble bursts on the floor as his disembodied lips whisper: "Rosebud." Welles knew that low-angle shots showed power, but the optical illusion was something just first being capable of showing on film. One of the best scenes in the film uses deep focus well, however, for an optical illusion, such as deep focus to work, you need the use of lighting, sets, and camera angles to make things look bigger, or smaller, than what they really are. In the scene where Kane walks back to the windows, Kane is the object which shows that those windows are much bigger than at first thought. In this scene, Kane hands over the company in Thatcher's office. The windows in the background look like normal, but after Kane signs the contract, he walks back to the windows and we see that the windows are really much more bigger than at first thought. He has suddenly become a small man. Of course, none of this could have been done without the cinematographer. Gregg Toland creates the perfect mood for the film, making the power of Kane look dark, dreary, and unappealing. Toland's use of low-angle shots and optical illusions is what makes this film rise above most great films. Welles knew that low-angle shots showed power, but the optical illusion was something just first being capable of showing on film In addition to its visual features, heightened sound is used in Citizen Kane as a features of intricately detailed soundtrack, aided by Bernard Hermann's musical score. Citizen Kane is a rare item in that it may be the only perfect film ever made. In radio Welles had developed a special montage technique using a gradually increasing of voices, each saying a sentence or sometimes merely a fragment of a sentence. This he carried over into film, photographing the various speakers in close-up against a blank background. Spliced together in quick succession, the shots gave the impression of a whole town talking. In addition to the techniques the movie is filled with original visual moments: the towers of Xanadu; candidate Kane addressing a political rally; the doorway of his mistress dissolving into a front-page photo in a rival newspaper; the camera swooping down through a skylight toward the pathetic Susan in a nightclub; the many Kanes reflected through parallel mirrors; the boy playing in the snow in the background as his parents determine his future; the great shot as the camera rises straight up from Susan's opera debut to a stagehand holding his nose, and the subsequent shot of Kane, his face hidden in shadow, defiantly applauding in the silent hall. Yes, we eventually find a symbolic meaning for the riddle of Rosebud -- even though none of the characters in the film is ever privileged to discover it. But, in the end, the movie reverses itself and we back out of the life and works of Charles Foster Kane the same way we came in: drawing back behind the fence and coming to rest on that stubborn NO TRESPASSING sign, as the remains of a man's life turns to smoke in the distance. There's no doubt that Citizen Kane is a great movie. It is a pioneering film that forever changed film making. Its plot is one of the most creative and original in all of movie history. The cinematography is stunning. Citizen Kane is about those images that we all reflect and project, the sum total of which -the impressions we make on other people- are all we that leave behind us. That central, unsolveable riddle of personality is at the core of what makes Citizen Kane so endlessly watchable. As Hearst began his empire with one small newspaper in San Francisco, then expanded to New York, he always wanted more, and eventually he controlled the first nationwide chain--with papers in Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, and Atlanta. Soon, an estimated one in five Americans was reading a Hearst paper every week. But in the course of making Citizen Kane, Welles' huge ego and his youth would blind him to the extent of Hearst's power and reach; he tragically underestimated Hearst's ability to counterattack. Indeed, Welles proved no match for the old man. Hearst threatened to expose long-buried Hollywood scandals his newspapers had suppressed at the request of the studios. His papers used Welles' private life against him, making blunt references to communism and questioning Welles' willingness to fight for his country. Major theater chains refused to carry Citizen Kane. Citizen Kane sparked so much controversy that it wasn't even known if the film would survive the 40s. Some powerful people wanted the movie destroyed, but the awesome grandeur of the film overcame the small-minded people. In fact, this film is about those kinds of people. And I hope you don't take offense if you are one of them. To see if you are one of them, watch the film. If you hate it or don't like it, you are. If you love it and consider it one of the best films of all time, you aren't. If you haven't seen Citizen Kane yet, go rent it today because it is certainly worth your time and money.


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