Citizen Kane (1941)

Review

Citizen Kane

I first watched Citizen Kane in 1997. For me 1997 was the year I actually buckled down and decided that I wanted to be a critic, and that I had better take this job seriously. With that in my mind, I switched my focus from new releases to retrospectives, designing myself to be able to do what I had at first loathed in critics: make obscure references to movies I had never heard of.

As a point of fact, when I actually got into the business I heard of those movies. And I heard more about those movies. And more. And, when the AFI named Citizen Kane as the best film of all time, I decided that it might just be a good idea to see it.

I do not regret that choice.

Citizen Kane, as described by Welles himself, is the story of a man who gains the world and loses his soul (and based on the life and times of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst). In addition to being the first great independent movie, Citizen Kane is the first great character drama.

The character drama always uses some minor plot as fodder for the psychological action, and, in Citizen Kane‘s case, it is the search for the meaning of Kane’s last words ‘Rosebud.’ One reporter, in a quest to unearth the truth about this, ends up unearthing the darker side of Kane.

The movie is told throughout flashbacks, each one done from a different character’s viewpoint. In the cinematography of the film, each character’s viewpoint is subtly inserted. An example of this is the bright lighting on Kane’s face as he is first met by one of his wives (a singer), and the incredible shadow that falls on it when the divorce is decided.

On the offc hance that you do not already know, I will not tell you what Rosebud is. All I will say is this: that when you finally are greeted with Rosebud, you understand Kane. In the process of understanding Kane, you understand the thought of unhappy successful men: that they would give all of their fortune up for the one thing that makes them happy.

Editor’s Note: Released at long last on a collector’s edition DVD, Citizen Kane features two commentary tracks. The first is not really notable, courtesy of Peter Bogdanovich, a famous director and a friend of Welles, delivered in what sounds like a stoned daze. The second is just the opposite, an animated narrative from Roger Ebert. Ebert’s knowledge of the film is enormously vast, and he spews all of it out over the two hours during which the movie runs. While it’s a bit much (with Ebert telling us every single scene that has low ceilings, oversized furniture, deep focus, and matte paintings), it does manage to increase your appreciation of the film from both a technical and a thematic standpoint. I’ve seen the movie a dozen times and I learned so much from this track that it might be something I’ll have to listen to again.

The DVD also includes tons of extras detailing the deleted scenes in the film, trailers, newsreels, ad campaigns, and more. Also included is the documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane, on a separate disc, which is reviewed separately on filmcritic.com.