#38: Citizen Kane (1941)

Citizen Kane strikes me as the kind of film you study rather than enjoy. I first watched it in my first year as an undergrad, and it opened my eyes to film as an art form - the dramatic employment of camera angles, lighting, and etc. If you want to get a handle on that sort of thing, Citizen Kane is the best place to start - it's just so obvious. Think, whose faces can you see - what does that say about the power relationships? Who's in the pitch black, and who the light? Director and star Orson Welles offers a crash course in spotting editorial and cinematographic devices. 
Now I mention it, it seems pretty ironic really. This is Welles' first feature-length Hollywood production, so the fact that Citizen Kane is notable for its cinematic techniques is notable itself. Welles claims that any innovation was due to sheer ignorance, and yet the film regularly tops 'best of' lists. Not for the IMDb, though. We could spend pages speculating over the type of person that votes on the site, but let's skip this and just call them the 'general viewing public'. The fact that Citizen Kane topped the Sight and Sound best of poll for years, but doesn't make the top 30 on IMDb backs up my opening point - the film attracts a certain, more intellectual, type of viewer. Don't misunderstand me - I don't mean more intelligent - it's just that I think this film is more for analysing in an academic environment.
I say this because Citizen Kane is itself an analysis, of the life, loves and losses of Charles Foster Kane (Welles), a character based on the newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. Herman J. Mankiewicz and Welles' script won an Academy Award, and it's aged well. Still at times laugh out loud funny (mainly for the intended reasons) Citizen Kane doesn't date (much) because it cuts to the core of the modern human life: what do we make of ourselves, of the opportunities given us? The film's central premise is a journalist's investigation into Kane's last words - 'Rosebud' - which generates opportunities to look at Kane's life through the eyes of his colleagues, lovers and friends. Kane is a man under scrutiny throughout his life and even after his death - but how much can you really know about a man, looking only at the external aspects?
Reasons to watch this film include learning about film art and the avoidance of the 'you-haven't-seen-it-yet?' eyebrow raise. For a general night in though? Maybe try something a little faster paced - this feels a little too much like a lesson.


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