Citizen Kane

Movie Information

In Brief: This year marks the 100th birthday of Orson Welles -- May 6, in fact -- and the Hendersonville Film Society is marking the event with a screening of Welles' masterpiece Citizen Kane (1941). While that might seem the most obvious choice -- almost too obvious -- it really isn't. In fact, this is the perfect time to remind the world what a truly great film it is, especially in light of the fact that the Sight & Sound critics' poll (held every 10 years) of 2012 preposterously unseated Kane as "the greatest film of all time" (a position it had held since 1962) by placing Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958) above it. Even if you believe -- and you should -- that such polls are imbecilic and exist mostly to draw attention to the publication containing them, this is just wrong. A fresh look at Kane -- and at what Welles did with the basic tools of film -- will more than show you why. Aside from that, Kane is a hell of a lot more fun in the bargain.
Score:

Genre: Drama
Director: Orson Welles
Starring: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Ruth Warrick, Dorothy Comingore, Everett Sloane
Rated: NR

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Citizen Kane is a title that immediately leads to the question of whether or not I have anything fresh to say about it. The truth is that I probably don’t. Kane is a film that has been discussed, dissected, studied, and endlessly written about. Someday someone — and it probably won’t be me — will look at the film with new eyes and come up with a reading that will blow us all away. Till then I would like to suggest that people approach it as “just another movie” and not as some kind of cinematic holy writ. Keep in mind while watching Kane that Orson Welles himself referred to movies as “the best set of electric trains any kid ever had,” and maybe you’ll get my point.

 

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I’ve said this before, but I think it bears repeating. I can remember when I first saw Kane on an Orlando TV station late show when I was in high school. I vaguely knew it was a great film (though for some reason I then tended to confuse it with All the King’s Men), but I really didn’t know much about it. And I wasn’t all that jazzed about seeing it — until it started and I discovered that it was anything but the nasty-medicine-that-is-good-for-you I’d more or less expected. No, it was fast-paced and fun — and a lot of it was actually funny. By the time it hit those delightful — and unique — ending credits that also function as a reminder of some of the high points in the film, I was hooked and I was excited by what I’d seen.

 

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Oddly, it would be years before I saw it again. I did try to see a midnight show of it in September 1972 — a day or two before my first year at the University of South Florida started (which is why I remember when this was). It was supposed to be playing in the big theater at USF — where I’d already seen one film when I was in high school, and where I would later be exposed to The Ruling Class (1972), Women in Love (1969), The Music Lovers (1970), the restored King Kong (1933), Ben-Hur (1925), and lots of others. I wasn’t at the school yet, so I bamboozled a friend to travel 65 miles with me to see Kane. The place was packed. Unfortunately, no film ever materialized. After a restless 20 minutes, someone jumped up onstage and asked, “Does anybody know what ‘Rosebud’ means?” He was soon followed by someone else announcing, “You’re all the victims of a hoax by Orson Welles!” It was annoying, but somehow amusing — and I suspect it’s part of the reason why I think of the film more in terms of fun than greatness.

 

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Yes, Kane is a remarkable film. It may not actually do anything new—nearly every one of its technical achievements can be found in earlier movies. But no film had so packed those things into the confines of one single picture. And it tells a particularly trenchant and very American story. But forget all that and just look at it from an entertainment standpoint. What you’ll find is that it’s a very entertaining and always extremely playful film. Welles is having the time of his life simply wallowing in the sheer possibility of the medium for its own sake. Join him on that level and realize that maybe his greatest trick of all lay in him getting away with making an “art film” fun.

The Hendersonville Film Society will show Citizen Kane Sunday, May 3, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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10 thoughts on “Citizen Kane

  1. trexguy .

    Fantastic. I know it’s superfluous to make a “top ten of all time” but regardless this is my number two. (After Terry Gilliams Brazil, followed by On the Waterfront) Yes, what is there to be said that hasn’t been said about this groundbreaking game changer. It was only considered that in retrospect but it’s true. It is scary how close RKO was to burning the negative.

    • Ken Hanke

      I understand (even if I don’t agree with) the first two, but not the third.

  2. trexguy .

    There is a lot of good stuff out there on the making of this. The PBS American Experience doc about Welles vs Hearst and the HBO movie with Liev Schriber’s outstanding performance. RKO 281.

  3. I couldn’t agree more. I was lucky enough to get this out of the school library at the age of 12 or 13. I was a big Orson Welles fan (mainly due to CASINO ROYALE and his radio work), but didn’t have a real sense of the imposing reputation KANE had as ‘the greatest film of all time’, and I found it to be a great ride and totally reflective of Welles’ personality as a writer and filmmaker.

    • trexguy .

      Big Welles fan too. There is a great Welles Radio podcast on iTunes.

        • trexguy .

          Stranger things have happened. (i e, doing voice work in Transformers)

          • Ken Hanke

            Being in The Late Great Planet Earth, selling “no wine before it’s time,” etc.

    • Ken Hanke

      In more helpful terms it’s on Fri., May 1 at 1:45 a.m. (which is really Sat. morning, but TCM’s website works on TVGuide time where the day changes at 6 a.m.).

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