Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane

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Citizen Kane’s last word: “Rosebud.” It was newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst’s pet name for his mistress’s vagina. Hearst’s love for the female sex organ may be Kane’s deathbed-grasp for childhood (here, rendered via toy-sled-as-metaphor) but Orson Welles is always willing to suggest it’s something else entirely. In the end it doesn’t matter, proving that Kane’s fortune, indeed his life, was so big it could never be cataloged and appraised. Welles’s masterpiece is, at its simplest, a backward detective story with Kane’s lost childhood as an elusive puzzle piece in a lifetime of megalomania. More importantly, it’s a guided tour through Kane’s freak show past, one that exposes the man’s fiendish and compensatory need for a self-made empire and the rationale behind its subsequent decay and downfall. The film’s technical innovations are now legendary, from Welles’s deft rift on Time’s “March of Times” series to his revolutionary use of deep focus. Kane loses his empire and walks to the other end of his office; ordinary windows turn gargantuan, emphasizing Kane’s economic castration anxiety. There are no special effects here, just one of Welles’s many camera tricks. While Citizen Kane’s quirks and hat-tricks have nothing on Dr. Arkadin and the dizzying The Trial, it’s the closest thing to a pitch-perfect how-to guide from Hollywood’s golden age. A master when it came to narrative conservation, Welles showcases the deterioration of a marriage via a breakfast table sequence predicated on swish pans, one-shots, age make-up, loveless dialogue and seemingly elongating furniture. Its themes are multitudinous (the creation of love, the ownership of power, the relinquishment of control), its sights so set on dazzling the eyes that Kane’s Xanadu (Welles’s answer to Heart’s Ranch) is never less than a circus master’s house of mirrors. It’s a sentimental journey that is, nonetheless, always ready to remind the spectator that there is no trespassing. Indeed, as they say they in the film: “I don’t think any word can explain a man’s life.”

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Distributor
RKO
Runtime
119 min
Rating
PG
Year
1941
Director
Orson Welles
Screenwriter
Herman J. Mankiewicz, Orson Welles
Cast
Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Dorothy Comingore, Ray Collins, George Coulouris, Agnes Moorehead, Ruth Warrick