March 19, 2010

AFI #1 - Citizen Kane (1941)

What first comes to mind upon my re-viewing of Citizen Kane is just how masterfully done it is. I really do believe that Orson Welles, in his first attempt at a motion picture in Hollywood, was able to make a masterpiece that has stood the test of time. He virtually perfected the art of the classic Hollywood film. As such Kane should not only represent Welles' achievement in cinema but the achievements of those that came before him and paved the path for such a film to be possible.

People often throw around the title of "Greatest Film of All Time," but to the untrained eye the film itself seems unremarkable in that capacity. What's so great about Kane is the subtleties and nuances that make it what it is today. In addition to its many innovations, it marked an important time in cinema: a culmination of the achievements of the films that came before it and the future for the Hollywood industry for years to come. Only with time and distance did Citizen Kane really get the credit it deserved. The film failed to make its money back at the box office initially and took several years to gain the critical acclaim it carries today. It didn't even win the Oscar for Best Picture that year (although to be honest, many films have had this happen to them--more here and here).

Re-watching it I was initially astounded at how many more nuances I picked up on. It definitely helps to know the ending, as the allusions to the illustrious "Rosebud" are jam-packed throughout the film if you know what you're looking for. The narrative of the story was incredibly intricate for its time. The way Welles ties together the beginning and the end of the film is brilliant in my opinion, one of the best endings to a film I've ever seen.

Even the second time around I still have trouble following some of the first few scenes featuring a grown up Charles Kane, but even still I think that the fast pace of the main character serves the film well. Whenever Kane is seen he's always moving, thinking, talking and acting quickly. The few times that he's not are moments of importance to the film. The scene that comes to mind that is representative of this is the scene where Kane and friends move into "The Enquirer" for the first time. The current manager and calm, quiet staff is at once overwhelmed and usurped by Kane and the quick, almost impulsive way he acts.

The actor who most impressed me was Everett Sloane who plays Mr. Bernstein. Perhaps it is because he's the only endearing character in the entire film, but maybe also because he does such a convincing job as Kane's right-hand man. I thoroughly enjoyed every scene he was in. It was interesting to note that he was the only character to show the utmost respect to Kane. Bernstein never made his interactions with him personal, and as such was able to stay out of Kane's personal mess that is essentially what defined the entire film.

The scene with the mirrors, after Kane destroys Susan Alexander's bedroom stands out to me as the most interesting, and most beautiful scene in the entire film. I know it's a very blatant moment in a film filled with subtleties, but I can't get past how amazing the cinematography is in the scene. It portrays Charles Kane as such a lonesome figure, someone so filled with despair and self-loathing that he cares about no one but himself. To me it really is the culmination of Kane's ultimate demise.

As an entire film, Citizen Kane serves an important moment in cinema history. It bookmarks the moment where modern cinema came together in a physical form that is still relevant today. As such, Citizen Kane should be recognized not necessarily for its outstanding acting, narrative or cinematographic moments but for the moment in cinema history that it defines: the culmination of different film forms into one fluid, perfect movie.

As much as I would like to give this film a perfect 10/10 rating, I can't bring myself to do it. Despite me raving about it, there's something in Kane that doesn't grab me as much as some of my favorite films of all-time. The narrative structure is perfect, but if I'm really being honest the narrative itself, the topic of the film, doesn't interest me as much as it should in order for it to be a "perfect" 10.

Rating: 9.8/10

Other Relevant Links:
Citzen Kane - RottenTomatoes
Citizen Kane - IMDb
Citizen Kane - Wikipedia

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