Movie. Citizen Kane, 1941. (HIx: 0)

Posted by T on May 23, 2007
By Title, Movies

Kane, a powerful newspaper magnate, dies. The news team fans out to get a story on his last word, “Rosebud.” This leads to a series of interviews with various associates, through which the entire story of his life is told from several perspectives. The upshot is that he was a man that came into great wealth, and tried to buy the love of the proletariat and women by starting progressive newspapers and opera houses; but he died miserable, for money cannot buy love or happiness.

Pretty banal stuff, that. Why, then, you may be asking, is this film consistently ranked the #1 of all time by various cognoscenti such as the American Film Institute? Good question.

Those “in the know” expect me to point out all the marvelous technical advances represented by this film: the crisp depth-of-field photography, the unusual, striking angles, the narrative technique of nested flashbacks, the time-lapse montage, the thematic coupling of theme and staging. No doubt film students could dutifully rattle off a half-dozen other reasons.

There are several reasons why none of these things nudges Citizen Kane into the category of a movie that needs to be seen even a single time.

1. Mere innovation in technique is worthless if it does not serve to make a movie more enjoyable, or at least worthwhile under some independent criterion. The Edsel car had some innovative features also, like steerable headlights. So what? The package turned out not to be what people wanted or needed.

2. Doing something for the first time is not necessarily difficult if you have a bottomless source of funds to work with. It’s not as if the Physics of depth-of-field were not already understood. There is an economic aspect even to works of art. No painting would be worth a painter spending his whole life on. No movie is worth sinking the GDP of California on.

3. Doing something for the first time is not necessarily important or noteworthy in any case. The first talkie movie might have historical interest just for that alone, but it is not necessarily a great movie for that reason alone.

4. The subject is everything. Sooner a Shakespeare play down at the local high school than a technically advanced, brilliantly directed play about a self-centered bore that is surrounded by women and colleagues equally self-centered and boring; a world peopled by look-alikes that only lacked the wealth to make such a loud and dull thump when they landed on the earth.

The real questions surrounding this film are more along these lines: (1) why was Orson Welles, aged 26, given such power to do whatever he wanted with this, his first film, and (b) why did Hollywood (along with the fellow-traveling gaggle of critics and film instructors) fall over gaga right from the get-go, even though the movie was barely a box-office success?

The answer undoubtedly is wrapped up somehow in a political, not literary angle. The movie was recognized by everyone to be about William Randolph Hearst. Hearst, in turn, though a populist demagogue himself in earlier years, had turned against Roosevelt and the New Deal. Moreover, according to the HBO docu-drama RKO 281, Hearst had all kinds of dirt on the Hollywood in-crowd, their homosexual and other perverse liaisons, including photographs, that he could use to blackmail them. It was high time to deal a knock-out blow to Hearst’s own credibility. Apparently in reality, Hearst almost succeeded in shutting Citizen Kane down, he himself chiefly motivated by chivalric indignation that his mistress Marion Davies (“Susan Alexander” in the movie) was so abused in Welles’ treatment. The syndicate of Jews plus Disney met to figure out what to do, and wanted to put the kibosh on the movie in fear of Hearst’s threats; but the stockholders of RKO were badgered into releasing it by the yet bigger trump-card of Welles’ judicious appeal to the N-word. (I mean of course, Nazi.) In short: Hollywood is Hollywood.

Forget all that. Who really cares about Hearst or Hollywood? or Orson Welles’ adolescent snuff job on Hearst and craven exploitation of Hollywood? If a movie is neither edifying nor fun to watch, it does not belong on anyone’s list of the top one hundred. Don’t bore yourself to sleep with this one even once.

8 Comments to Movie. Citizen Kane, 1941. (HIx: 0)

  • How is it not instructive to see the horror of a life lived for self?

    If you read up on Welles you would realize that Shakespeare is one of his favorites (he wrote a textbook on how to enjoy him at a very young age), and much of that shines through in Kane and Arkadin, and and and…..

    I can see how you might not want to give it your highest rating, but a 0 is really overkill.

  • Say, I criticize Jones’ ability as a musical composer; then a defender of Jones comes back and says, “if you read up on Jones you would realize Brahms is one of his favorites.”

  • You oversimplify my response.
    I pointed to Shakespeare because you mentioned Shakespeare.

    Further, I did not just say that Shakespeare was a favorite of Welles, I stated that much of Shakespeare shines through in Welles’ work. I can empathize with your frustration over hearing technique emphasized above substance, but that does not speak to the substance of movies like Citizen Kane. As I said before, it is instructive to see the horror of a life lived for self.

  • No Jonathan, no frustration! I’m quite blissfully happy in my ignorance (if ignorance it be).

  • Some movies are bad and yet are still enjoyable to watch because some aspects of them are so good. Think of Tombstone.

    Some movies are bad and yet are still enjoyable simply because they are so bad. Think of Top Gun.

    Some movies are bad and yet we deceive ourselves into enjoying them because we want them to be good. Think of Gods and Generals.

    And some moves are bad and yet we find ourselves feeling guilty that we do not enjoy them because we are told they are so good. Think of Citizen Kane.

    I concur with the zero rating. Nobody could possibly sit down for the first time and enjoy the movie on its own merits. And since nobody could possibly sit through it for the third or ninth time and enjoy it on its own merits, the best solution is to avoid it altogether — even if the only alternative is to watch Maverick and Iceman dual for the coveted “Top Gun” title for the tenth time.

    And speaking of Kane, the American Film Institute has come out with its new top 100 movies. It should come as no surprise that the Hollywood scum have ranked it number one.

  • I’m glad that some viewers more astute than myself didn’t like the movie either. I never could understand why I watched it at all, and certainly didn’t like it, when everybody seemed to think it was so great. See the reviews on Netflix. Either they or we must be from another planet.

  • Actually, they are from another planet. It is called planet Hollywood, as you have already pointed out.

  • Jim — exactly. Orson was goy, but his rapid ascendancy appears to be a textbook case of correlative goy/hebe exploitation.

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