The reason we are still talking about Citizen Kane in the fag end of 2020 is because it is truly timeless. It is at once political and personal. The themes it dealt with were worldly but also felt so intimate and human.
Orson Welles’ directorial debut Citizen Kane, which he also co-wrote, co-produced and acted in, is regarded by many as the greatest movie of all time. I don’t know about the ‘greatest’ tag, but Citizen Kane is certainly a well-made movie far ahead of its times (it released in 1941). Film schools show the feature as a part of their curriculum, and one regularly hears reigning Hollywood stars claim it as the quintessential American movie experience. The second part is not far from the truth. Right from its structural frame, to the way it was written and shot, Citizen Kane is surely a one-of-a-kind movie. Its legacy has spread far and wide over the years. From the celebrated Lawrence of Arabia to The Godfather, the movie has left its imprints everywhere it could. It is said that the narrative structure of Lawrence of Arabia was influenced by the Orson Welles directorial, while the character of Charles Foster Kane has inspired several writers to churn out their own distorted, complex versions of the man.
Citizen Kane is also regarded as a semi-biographical movie as it is said to have drawn inspirations from a variety of real-life people, including the screenwriters themselves (Orson Welles and Herman J Mankiewicz). The movie traces the rise and fall of the megalomaniacal Kane, who grew up to be the richest man in the world and established a big business out of doing yellow journalism. The feature also throws light on the selfish ways he promoted himself in the world, not caring whose heart he stomped over. A significant portion of Citizen Kane shows the audience the kind of man Charles Foster Kane was in a marriage. He married twice and failed to keep the relationships alive. But what is perhaps most discussed is its opening scene, ‘the famous last words.’ In this beautiful sequence, we visit Kane on his deathbed, where he is holding a snow globe. Soon, Kane drops the globe and utters the word ‘Rosebud’ before he passes away. A reporter is assigned to find the meaning of Rosebud and why was it said by the important man during his last moments on earth. From thereon, Welles and his talented team showcase a compelling portrait of a lost, ambitious man.
What is especially remarkable about Citizen Kane is the way Welles was willing to hire a mostly new team for his pet project. Needless to say, his instinct worked. But that’s not to say that there was not any chaos behind the scenes. Writing the script alone took so much out of Orson Welles and Herman J Mankiewicz. And even though the film picked up an Oscar in the Best Screenplay category, its credit is still being debated over. It is over this very debate that the new David Fincher directorial Mank is based upon. Mank tells the story of how Citizen Kane came into being, but from screenwriter Herman J Mankiewicz’s point of view. The reason Mank was made, the reason we are still talking about Citizen Kane in the fag end of 2020 is because it is truly timeless. It is at once political and personal. The themes it dealt with were worldly but also felt so intimate and human. It is because of this duality that the Orson Welles movie still endures. And Welles was what? Only 25-26 when he made the film. Even within the film, his character Kane ages from a young man in his 20s to someone in his 80s, and he still looked credible in every frame of the film. The art department, the camera work, the scripting, the acting, the editing, the music — everything was in perfect harmony. The puzzle fit together.
Long time ago, Orson Welles had said during his appearance on The Dick Cavett Show that he didn’t think Citizen Kane was a great movie and that movie-making could be learned in a day and a half. If not the greatest, then Citizen Kane is most certainly a ‘great’ movie. And if by any chance you are planning to watch Netflix’s Mank, you would do well to revisit this classic first.
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Citizen Kane is available for streaming on YouTube.
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