Citizen Kane has often been called the greatest film of all time, and the most overrated film of all time; and it has never been without controversy.
It was controversial upon release, because its main character was based on the most powerful private citizens in America, at the time; and its controversial today as it sat entrenched atop Sight and Sounds top 10 list for 5 decades.
Is it the greatest film of all time? Is it the most overrated film of all time? Perhaps yes to both of those questions, but more likely the truth is somewhere in between.
So I present a dozen or so english language talkies to see before you watch Kane, another dozen or so to view after, and a handful of other Orson Welles films to track down and enjoy.
To even get to the film, I would recommend seeing other films before it, and after it, and I would recommend it also be seen a second time-with the Ebert commentary, and even a third time-with the Bogdonavich commentary.
So, I am creating this syllabus, of sorts, which can function as a history of early english language talking pictures, centered around the most controversial/overrated/misunderstood film of all time.
I would recommend watching 5-10 of the films made before Citizen Kane, and then watching Kane 2 or 3 times, at least one time with one of the commentaries, and then watching 5-10 of the films that came after Kane. Try to keep them in chronological order to see how filmmaking progressed-and always keeping in mind the techniques used in Kane, and how many of the were never adopted, or were not adopted until the 1960s.
What sets Kane apart:
>It was produced, co-written, directed, and starred a man who was all of 25 years old.
>Nobody in the film had ever been in a film before.
>It has more effects shots than Star Wars-see the Ebert commentary on that.
>Great performances by actors playing characters twice their own age.
>Welles plays a man in his 20s, 40s, and 60s.
>The movement of the camera was radical and rarely seen in any film, especially Hollywood.
>Deep focus photography-everything in the the frame is in focus-this requires massive amounts of lighting.
>You can see the ceilings in Citizen Kane. Before, and usually after, Kane, you never see a ceiling in a movie, because there are no ceilings on sets-that is where the lights and microphones go. Welles hid the microphones with false ceilings made of cloth.
>Welles’ camera angles- obtuse or ‘dutch’ angles, camera in the floor, check and check.
>The star of the film is not seen for almost the first 20 minutes of the film.
>The movie begins with faux newsreel footage.
>No credits before the movies starts.
>Just a simple title “Citizen Kane, by Orson Welles”
>Possibly the first film in which its story is pieced together out of order-something that Pulp Fiction was lauded for some 5 decades later.
All of these things are remarkable, and things that just weren’t done in Hollywood, or in hardly any film studio any where before and for many years after Citizen Kane-all of this talk about sound pictures, in Italy they didn’t even record sound with the film until the after they started making color films-and Welles is recording sound while showing ceilings in his shots!
Now, keep in mind, all of these things are remarkable, and they do set Citizen Kane apart; but none of this can make a mediocre film great. Ah, but Kane is no mediocre film. It is a very good film. How good? Well that is a debate that all film lovers must have with themselves over the course of their lives, but one well worth having.
Aside from understanding the context of the movie, and why it stands out, to watch it, you must also put all of that aside, and just see it as a film.
In the end it is a film, loosely based on American tycoons-primarily William Randolph Hearst-Rosebud was a pet name for his mistress’ private part. His mistress was good friends with the co-writer of Kane. It is a film that is about a newspaper man searching to find out who the real Charles Foster Kane was, and it is a film about Charles Foster Kane searching for his lost childhood. Take it in as it is, a film about people remembering a powerful but wounded man, who was just as human as any of us-a man searching for his lost past.
Then consider all of the other things to be bonus points. It is a film that we all should see several times over the course of our lives-which is remarkable considering that it was made by a 25 year old.Read less