Friday, March 21, 2008
Citizen Kane; drama, USA, 1941; D: Orson Welles, S: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Ruth Warrick, Everett Sloane, George Coulouris, Paul Stewart, William Alland, Agnes Moorehead
Enormous castle Xanadu, somewhere in Florida. Before it's owner, the old millionaire Charles Foster Kane, dies, he utters his last words: "Rosebud". The newsreel sums up Kane's life, but a reporter decides to investigate his rarely heard private life. He questions Kane's second wife, Susan, and his living friend Leland. He discovers Kane was born to a poor family and had to leave his beloved mother to live with Mr. Thatcher so that he can become wealthy. In New York, Kane took over the Enquirer newspaper and got married to Emily. But when he was a candidate for the president, his reputation was destroyed when his opponent revealed his relationship with singer Susan. The reporters fail to find out anything about "Rosebud". Some men throw his old things into the fire - among them his old sled named Rosebud.
It is probably unnecessary to point out that "Citizen Kane", the directorial debut of the then only 26 year old Orson Welles, is considered to be a masterpiece and even "the best film of all time" by some critics. Of course, there is no such thing as a film that will please absolutely everyone, and thus it is possible that one man's masterpiece can be an other man's bad film, which explains why numerous people do not understand "Kane's" reputation and question what is so special about its two hours of running time that distinguish it so much from thousands of others two hour films. Indeed, it is a very demanding and heavy film, and already the first 10 minutes of it are so complicated and crammed with numerous details and stylistic techniques that some will probably abandon it. But precisely the fact that the authors placed so many details and visual innovations on such a small scale shows why "Kane's" two hours are worth more four hours of some other films. Because of its hermetic nature and highly complicated style, it seems remarkably modern even today. Welles shows a rich movie language and thus "Kane" is filled with an incredible visual style: deep focus; unusual camera angles; dissolution of scenes; a photo of the staff of the Chronicle newspaper becomes "alive" in next scene; a person starts a sentence and a cut goes to a different scene where another person finishes it; a hand darkens the whole lens of the camera...
But despite all of those tricks and cinematic techniques, there lies a touching, humane, intimate story of the main hero, a rich man without happiness, an empty shell of a person. The legendary sequence where his dying words are "Rosebud" just shows how he achieved great success, material prosperity, luxury, riches and power, but realized it all went nowhere, because he felt his life was hollow: his political career, business plans and marriages all failed, and the only thing that never disappointed him was, ironically, something as banal and small as his sled, a symbol of his lost childhood, the only time he was truly happy in his life, but was forgotten with time. Whether Kane is based on a real person is besides the point, since its emphasis was to show how wealth alone will not fill the gaps in lives of celebrities. There is this great sequence that is rarely mentioned in reviews of this film, but is essential to demonstrate that theme: after his divorce, the old Kane realizes how nothing matters in his life. He starts wrecking everything in his room: furniture, statues, lamps, until he stops at the only thing that means something to him, a snow glass ball that reminds him of "Rosebud", and quietly leaves, passing by a set of mirrors that reflect his image within the image. "Kane" is a great film precisely because it combined substance and style into a marvelous match.