Citizen Kane (1941)

by George Watches Things

****

Citizen Kane is the definition of visually striking. The way it transitions between scenes is something I’ve never seen before. The visual tricks are stupefying.

The shadows and smoky atmosphere of the early newsroom scene are wonderful. Shadows are used in other scenes to emphasize other parts of the shot. But the reporter is always in the dark. This world is not about the people who write the news, it’s about the people who are the news.

Citizen Kane is the story of Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles), who is sent away from his home at a very early age. He soon becomes a newspaper tycoon, and has more power than he knows what to do with. His story is told through various flashbacks.

This giant character starts off in his place. He’s just another character in another movie. But then he derails (oh, don’t worry, that’s a good thing). He’s bigger than the movie. He’s bigger than news. He’s bigger than his own giant palace (demonstrated clearly when he destroys part of it).

There are so many things to see in each scene. You can’t even check Twitter for two seconds to see who won what Emmy. The way the film tells the story through imagery is amazing. It shows time passing by showing a sled that has gathered snow. It shows how big and frightening Mr. Thatcher is to a young Kane by comparing him visually to a Christmas tree (I loved the mirrored sequence much later in the film, too). We see the Inquirer men reflected through the Chronicle window, and we see how the circulation of the papers differ. (The movie in general makes good use of windows and mirrors.) We see the campaign headquarters from the ground, where streamers are laying in piles of major disappointment. I would love to go on and on, which I will, when I do my “Required Viewing” on it.

The dialogue is often chaotic (again, in a good way), but the foreshadowing lines carry gravitas. There appears to be a lot of drama in the newspaper business. In the incredible breakfast time-lapse scene, we see that all Kane and his new wife talk about is the newspaper. During that two minute-long scene, we see Kane go from good-humored to bitter.

His looks evolve as he becomes more and more obsessed with power, and it’s not just regular aging. There’s something more there. He doesn’t become more evil with age, just grumpier. The younger Kane uses media to fight corruption and help the average person. He’s very humble. The older Kane jumps outside of the media business altogether, seeking power elsewhere.

I never cease to be amazed by the power and beauty of cinema. I had heard how wonderful Citizen Kane was. Words can’t really describe the awe I felt while watching it. It is truly unique. Before I saw this, I wasn’t able to pick just one best picture of all time. And now I am. You must see this movie.

Notes:

  • “If I hadn’t been very rich, I might have been a good man.”
  • “Don’t tell me you’re sorry.”
  • The second Mrs. Kane is overwhelmed.
  • I would like to mention the giant palace once again.
  • Citizen Kane is being re-released now in a 70th Anniversary version.
  • If you see and enjoy Citizen Kane, you might also enjoy Gone with the Wind and The Social Network.
  • Next time: my review of Moneyball
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