Before watching Citizen Kane
Before watching Citizen Kane, I listened to the COM 154 Podcast 1-2. I agree that the human brain can distinguish a real set from a CGI set, and it’s part of why superhero movies of today seem so artificial and unrealistic versus 1954’s Godzilla, despite immense technological advancements. Orson Welles was a bit of an unorthodox director, whose films strived off sensitive subjects and controversy even if it was not his intent. For example, his realistic radio dramatization “War of the Worlds” where martians attack the country, spurred a nationwide panic as listeners failed to realize it was not real. On Citizen Kane, I read about how the movie was initially a box office flop, and at 1941’s Academy Awards the film was booed every time one of its nine nominations was announced. But despite the widespread hatred amongst critics, the American Film Institute voted Citizen Kane the #1 film of all time in 1998. This sparked my interest in a movie that otherwise otherwise wouldn’t have. How could such a flop suddenly be considered the greatest film of all time?
After watching Citizen Kane, I understand the American Film Institute’s decision. Citizen Kane tells the life story of a wealthy newspaper tycoon, in not such a positive light. The first time we meet Charles Foster Kane he’s on his deathbed in a massive mansion called Xanadu, where he is dramatically letting out his last word. Orson Welles tells the story of Kane through flashbacks of interviews with Kane’s former acquaintances such as his second wife Susan, reporter Jedediah Leland, and business manager Mr.Bernstein. The flashbacks initially put Kane
at a young age, where he is a disciplined and moral man, with goals to be a successful businessman. The later flashbacks do little to put Kane on a pedestal, rather showing him as as the contradictive, manipulative, and grandiose fool he becomes.
Citizen Kane pioneers the use of deep focus lenses so that everything in a scene is in focus at once. This is unlike all past films, where just the foreground, or maybe the background was in focus. Unlike traditional film at the time, Citizen Kane doesn’t use focus to focus your attention in a scene, but rather dialogue and motion. Lighting is another element that Welles’ production team employs. Lighting is manipulated to provide visual insight into power dynamics, a vital part of the story of Charles Foster Kane.
What I took away from the 1941 film is that Charles Foster Kane, a character widely based on William Randolph Hearst, struggled to find love and affection as he only thought to obtain it through money. Kane is a very rich man, but not a very happy man in the slightest as he grew older. He tries to use his wealth to bring him love, and finds it unattainable despite his success in business. William Randolph Hearst was undeniably irate about the way Welles chose to represent him, so he used his great influence over media of the day to slander Oswelles and block promotion of the film. While this did crash the box office, it further proved Oswelles point. Looking back on the film today, the backlash from Hearst is part of what has made Citizen Kane such an integral piece of film history.