I sat down to watch this movie three years ago. Fell asleep twenty minutes in and woke up when the ending credits showed up on the screen (that is not an exaggeration). Didn’t touch it again until last night. Watched an hour of it, fell asleep for half an hour, woke up and watched the part I missed and finished the movie. And yet…I still don’t understand why Citizen Kane is consistently voted the best movie of all time by AFI. (The one thing I did learn is to take a nap before watching the movie.) Also might be best to have something like this on hand (I promise I didn’t read this till after I wrote this up….decided to be friendly and make this addition for the interested reader.)
So, after finishing the movie at 3 am, and being thoroughly disgruntled I read a little bit of analysis on Citizen Kane. To those not familiar to the story, the story’s primary focus is Charles Foster Kane. In the movie a reporter follows a trail of primary sources to learn more about Charles Foster Kane, so as to make sense of the man’s dying word “Rosebud.” In this narrative flashback form of story telling, each primary source retells some of his or her experience with Kane, and therefore the audiences learns the history of Kane’s life. Through these retellings we learn that after Kane’s mother came onto a fortune, she sent her son off with a miserly banker such that he could have the life he never could have had at his parents’ place. Once he gets older, Kane acquires a newspaper and practices yellow journalism professionally, under the pretense of fighting for that which is ‘right.’ Much happens in his life (if interested watch the movie!), including two failed marriages and a lonely death in an unfinished palace.
Most of the analyses I ended up reading commented on the Orson Welles’ groundbreaking cinematic techniques. I agree in many regards. The filming was beautifully done for many of the scenes. One of my personal favorites was the campaign speech scene because it was angled for triumph; he owned that camera as he owned his audience. Power shots all around. Another one of my personal favorites was the scene right after his second wife leaves him, in particular the camera shot where he’s standing in front of the double, reflective mirror and there’s just bunch of reflected Kanes, standing and looking after Susan (his wife).
I also did like the narrative style of the movie; it helped to build Kane’s character little by little. Each source also paints Kane the way he or she experienced him–and thus the way he lives on in their memories.
However, I didn’t find the plot to be anything that spectacular. I had guessed that Rosebud was related to his childhood in some way shape or form. (To be honest, I had narrowed it down to his sled or a possible nickname for the area he lived at with his parents.) The linear progression of Kane’s life was that of a man who wanted to gain everything, including the genuine love he had left at his parents place when he left. His tragic weakness was his desire to accomplish and finish everything he had ever put his mind to, and by doing so to earn the love he had been missing for many years. This tragic weakness led him down a path of anger, loneliness, and loss. After his second wife left, and he was left alone and unfulfilled…yet again, he realized that the only time he felt happy was when he was a child playing with Rosebud (his good ol’ sled that gets burned as junk after his death…really tragic actually).
I guess the important thing to remember is context. In particular, the year it was filmed. Something that I hadn’t kept in mind watching this movie was the year it came out in (~1940). I don’t have much cinematic experience…or knowledge. I still have much to learn before my thoughts are worth two cents, but importance of an art derives from what came before it and what came after it. Citizen Kane’s importance derives from the fact that nothing like it had existed before hand.
In any case…..I struggle to fully appreciate that which makes Citizen Kane a landmark history. Perhaps I’ll try again in ten years time.