Archive for the ‘Orson Welles’ Category

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“Citizen Kane,” dir. Orson Welles

April 6, 2010

The most common appraisal I hear from non-majors and casual filmgoers – “Yeah, I can SEE why it’s supposed to be great, but I wasn’t crazy about it.”

So why do I love it? First off, pervasive influence has a bad habit of dimming originality, but the layered virtuosity of how this picture was put together frame-for-frame is still astounding. But stylistic virtuosity means nothing without substance, and a few detractors say Kane is a bit hollow, not much more than a bag of tricks. I think this is partly due to the story, and many say the answer to Kane’s last words simply betray a lost childhood or innocence. I couldn’t disagree more, I think Kane’s life was always empty and shallow.

In the earliest flashback, as his future’s determined inside his parents’ home, he’s playing outside by himself, shouting political slogans he couldn’t possibly understand. When he gets older and powerful, he thinks he’s a crusader for the underprivileged, and he tries convincingly, but it’s not really what he is. As his first marriage grows cold, he tries to be the romantic again, but again, he overidealizes this affair – he even puts too much stock into Susan’s vocal talents.

Whether it’s something small, like trying to be the life of the party, or something grander like romance, professional ambition or reaching for something greater than his own personal interests, Kane never does anything that’s completely and naturally him, it’s always forced. His public stature grows, but he remains as a hollow as ever. Fittingly, his surroundings grow cavernous and empty, and as he slows with age, he drifts further and further from everyone around him, and the people that remain in his inner circle grow fewer as they do distant.

A composite of two shots - notice how the image goes soft around the archway even though it remains sharp deep in the background as well as the foreground.

When he mutters his last word, he’s really grasping at one more illusion. Maybe that explains everything, being denied a normal, loving home as a child…but you know it isn’t true. It sounds too easy, too simple, and I think Thompson himself would agree, even if he found that sled. So in one way, “Rosebud” doesn’t explain anything, because it’s just another lie Kane tells himself. But, as the last and perhaps most romantic fabrication he’s made of his life, maybe it does.

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