Sunday, April 1, 2012

Citizen Kane

I have a long standing 'must see' list of classic movies which I've been chipping away at slowly. This past Friday I was able to check one of those movies off my list, Citizen Kane, named #1 in the American Film Institute's list of Best American Movies, and revered by many as the greatest picture of all time.

Citizen Kane starred 24-year old Orson Welles in his first feature film in the main role of newspaper publishing tycoon, Charles Foster Kane. The movie opens with a shot of Kane's dark and foreboding palatial estate which sits on a hill. Our first glimpse of Kane is of him on his death bed, holding a snow globe, as he utters his dying word "Rosebud" as the globe slips from his hand and crashes to the floor. Through news reels announcing the death of this at times loved and hated man, we learn of his vast empire, his tragic and turbulent personal life, and some of the exploits surrounding the triumphs and failures in this one man's life. As speculation rises on Kane's mysterious final word, a news reporter is tasked with interviewing key people in Kane's life who might hold the key to unraveling the mystery of Rosebud. It's through these interviews and the use of flashbacks during each that we get a fuller picture of the man; his humble beginnings as he's separated from his beloved mother, his rebellious and idealistic youth as he charts his own path in life, his meteoric rise to fortune and power, and his driving need to be loved.

While I'm not qualified to judge its artistic greatness, I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed this film. The acting, both from Welles in the lead, as well as the supporting cast, including Joseph Cotten as his best friend Jedediah Leland, and Dorothy Comingore as his paramour and later to be second wife, Susan Alexander, was superb. For me, Welles was at his best in the early scenes where his own youthful optimism shined through to his character. Overall, its just a great story. A cautionary tale of the inherent evils found in extreme wealth and power, and a simple reminder that sometimes our greatest treasures in life aren't those bought and paid for with the almighty dollar.

The documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane, which came in the particular boxed set I borrowed from the library, was as compelling as the movie itself. The documentary details the real battle between 24-year old Orson Welles and 76-year old publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst, on whom the movie is supposedly based, over the release of the film. Incensed by the fact that his life had been laid bare on the silver screen for the whole world to see, Hearst did everything within his considerable means both to stop the movie from seeing the light of day, as well as to destroy Welles' future in Hollywood. Geniuses each in his way, the film documents the rise and fall of each man and how their lives intersect over this one film.