Citizen Kane (1941)

The Greatest Film Ever Made [& by a 24 year-old wünderkind], O.W.’s 1941 new-age opera, political-drama, black comedy, romance, satirization, & noir biographical/psychological-pièta changed everything, catalyzing a bloom-evolution of the history & artform of cinema; a complex, beautiful avant-garde metaphor of power, love, money, news, & tragedy. 10/10.

Plot Synopsis: When a reporter is assigned to decipher newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane’s (Orson Welles) dying words, his investigation gradually reveals the fascinating portrait of a complex man who rose from obscurity to staggering heights. Though Kane’s friend and colleague Jedediah Leland (Joseph Cotten), and his mistress, Susan Alexander (Dorothy Comingore), shed fragments of light on Kane’s life, the reporter fears he may never penetrate the mystery of the elusive man’s final word, “Rosebud.”

*Possible Spoilers Ahead*

Official CLC Review

The Greatest Film Ever Made?

RKO Pictures Did The Unimaginable In 1940: Offer A 24-Year Old Wünderkind A Carte Blanche & Pure Creative Freedom To Make Any Picture With Anyone – On Any Subject

Photograph Courtesy Of: RKO Pictures

The Greatest Film Of All-Time. Over 500,000+ movies have been made since Louis Le Prince & Eadweard J. Muybridge created the first motion picture using zoöpraxiscopes and glass discs to settle tavern wagers over the locomotion of animals back in the 1870’s – all desperately craving the crown and throne. The title breeds inevitable discourse across the cinematic world: from mafiaic undergrounds to whistle-tuned desert westerns to noir private-eyes to galaxy star-children. No other project title in history, though, evokes such a prestige, bone-chilled awe, depth of passion, and communal eulogization as one: Citizen Kane. A poverty-stricken film landscape and struggling RKO Pictures fueled the unimaginable in 1940: offering a 24-year old NYC wünderkind named Orson Welles a carte-blance & absolute creative freedom to make any picture of any genre with any cast – on any subject. The result of O.W. & his chosen lineup’s [headed by sardonic, acclimatized drunk-screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz] ambition with perilous endgame to hunt impossible sociopolitical game is a chef d’oeuvre masterpiece just as celebrated & immortalized nearly a century post-release. The project boasts the king mantle of ‘greatest film ever made’ by the ~complete-universe of critics, literary/academia publications, and pop-culture – holding 100% scores on both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, while being so complex and layered, it’s been analyzed-and-reanalyzed for generations with not an end in sight. The film changed everything for its artform – the biggest legacy in cinematic history, challenging every preconception of what cinema is, was, and will be and saving a dying medium by proving it can be literature, art, and music combined and as complex [or more] as Shakespearen theatre. Does it still hold up in 2021; does Citizen Kane still merit its hierarchical moniker as The ‘G.O.A.T.’? The answer: yes. The Greatest Film Ever Made [& by a 24 year-old wünderknd], OW’s 1941 new-age opera, political drama, black comedy, romance, satirization, & noir biographical/psychological-pièta changed the history of movies, catalyzing a cinematic bloom-evolution to the movie landscape we know today: a complex, layered, plot-eclectic, beautiful avant-garde metaphor of power, love, money, news, & tragedy.

I. The Opening Scene

Through Audiovisual Cues & Pure Cinematic Language/Technique, O.W. Mystifies Canvas By Creating A Dark, Slow-Burned, Ominous Atmosphere: Sharp Juxtaposition To Xanadu

Photograph Courtesy Of: RKO Pictures

The opening scene of Citizen Kane is the greatest ever filmed: a pure textbook showcase of cinematic technique and bravura optical intelligence able to lay important groundwork for the entire film without more than one single spoken-word. To pay homage to the classic, reverberate its avant-garde plot-structure, and because it’s packed with so much analyzable content, social-commentary, and hidden meanings/metaphor in every line & frame, we’re going to do this review differently than others here at CLC. A dichotomized review in two self-contained threads, one thread will be prefaced by Roman Numerals (I-XX) analyzing each major scene of the film and how it synergizes with others to elucidate the overall meaning of the film, and the other thread prefaced by Alphabetical Letters (A-I) will be a classicized film review analyzing the backstory, technique, innovations, cinematography, score, performances, direction, legacy, etc. Beginning with the opening flickers of film, the first shot that bludgeons our view is of a grimy sign with the words ‘No Trespassing’ zoomed-in so closely, it takes up nearly the entire frame. The cinematography, dusk-set sky of storm-clouds, and heavy chiaroscuro create a dark atmosphere of palpable dread – one whose score parallels its thematic [cimmerian] smokiness and caliginosity with spine-chilling, ominous strings. The shot begins to pan up the fence – highlighting its geometric shape with movement before bringing in rich slow-burn fades of other geometric gate/fence decorations to both disorientate and melt our senses into the environment, while also establishing themes of importance and ritzy opulence; only a very celebratized and wealthy figure could even afford to spend such endless resources on the gate outside his house. A dual-staged shot sees us outside the gate looking at the K family crest and larger-than-life castle in the distance: Xanadu – how far it is from us further highlighting the riches of its owner with miles of backyard, how much he/she values privacy, and how physically out-of-reach we are – a sharp difference of class-status & bourgeoise established solely by scale. The shot-cycling begins to further antagonize us with the impossible wealth of Xanadu: a private zoo, lake, golf-course, mountain, & more braggadocios impracticalities no homeowner could ever privately-own except in their wildest dreams/fantasy. However, cues in the audiovisual canvas [sharp, jagged edges and gothic architecture alongside a minor key woodwind score creating disharmonic cryptograms as they glide across the scales, alternated with deafening silence] paint a mystery through juxtaposition and atmosphere: why is everything presented with such a bleak and desolate view? Where is everyone? Where is the magnate owner of such palatial opulence? How could anyone ever be sad & alone in a place like this?

A. The Backstory & Real-World Inspirations

The Mercury Theatre Saw The Prodigal Rise Of A New Star Chased By Hollywood Execs Since Mid-1930’s – Finally Lured With A Big Idea & Sniper’s Target On Back From Day 1

Photograph Courtesy Of: RKO Pictures

The backstory of Citizen Kane begins in The Mercury Theatre. Orson Welles was a prodigal rising star Hollywood had been trying to woo since the mid-1930’s after the breakout financial and critical success of his plays and The War Of The Worlds broadcast CBS radio series. Studios like Warner Bros. had offered multiple scripts and hand-invited him to make obscene amounts of money in the far-easier landscape of film than theatre – but O.W., like his own version of a young, idealistic Kane, couldn’t have cared less about the money and instead prioritized his burning passion/love for theatre. Financial trouble struck after a couple of his plays like Five Kings and The Green Goddess were not-as-well remunerated at the box-office [despite being critically-so], and Welles finally humored the incessant knocks at his door by Tinsel-Town elites out of necessity. The first studio tour he was taken on exposed Welles to a new cinematic world amongst the bright lights and rolling green hills of Los Angeles: what he called ‘the greatest electric train-set a boy ever had’ and fell head-over-heels in love with, having far more possibilities and endless budgets to make the masterpieces of his hyper-ambitious young mind [without such real-world limitations or considerations in the comparatively-small/dying theatre]. RKO Pictures offered him a blank-check contract with final cut privilege and absolute creative freedom – to the shock, controversy, and mock/ridicule of the cinematic world/press having never seen such a massive, risk-frought, groundbreaking contract.. & all on a first-time, unproven director. Official newspaper headlines called the move ‘laughable’ and ‘the biggest mistake any studio ever made.’ [Who’s laughing now?] The collaborator on the screenplay chosen by Welles was Herman J. Mankiewicz: a sardonic, acclimatized drunkard viewed as a washed-up has-been by the Hollywood landscape, but whom O.W. saw fleeting greatness within beneath the whiskey-breath and slurred exterior façade. Pitching the bold/groundbreaking idea to make a film about the life and psychology of one of the world’s richest and most famous men [who also happened to have been in Mankiewicz’ social-circle, before he grew to hate him after being exiled from his castle post-melée], Welles put a sniper lens on the hunt of impossible game: William Randolph Hearst.

II. News On The March!

The Complete Antithesization Of The Gloom & Desolation Of The Previous Scene, A Glitzy, Celebratory Real Estate Docufeature; Really A Veiled Critique Of News/Capitalism

Photograph Courtesy Of: RKO Pictures

The editing progressively brings us closer and closer to the one window light in the otherwise shadow-overwhelming, desolate canvas until we find ourselves right outside the window and the orchestration crescendoes. We see a man alone on his deathbed, clutching nothing and no one but a snow-globe of a wintery scene as his lips curl off a single word ‘Rosebud’ & his hand goes lifeless – leaving the globe to shatter as he dies to startle us with iconography and perplex our empathy and interests of who this mystery person is.. and why we should care? The scene is perhaps the most content-packed, thematically-complex, viewer-hooking, striking, and avant-garde in cinematic history – a piece that instantly evokes your sensibilities and draws you into the mystery while also being critical to understanding the film’s codex of ecosystemic innerworkings, establishing a non-linear plot structure from the opening second: telling the story from the end instead of the beginning. The bizarre double-take of the light in the window cutting off as the crescendo silences perhaps symbolized CFK’s death, connecting Xanadu and Kane synergistically by syncopation before taking us back inside his final moments [a proto-replay, if you will] to see what he told the world & us beyond the fourth-wall about himself in his dying breath. After the gloom and tragic despair of the previous scene, Citizen Kane reverses tone like a Mexican jumping bean to complete antithesization: a celebratory, jubilant news featurette doubling as a real-estate docufeature on the palace of Xanadu. Of critical importance here is that mentioned even before the man who owned it is his possession. The scene backgrounds the impossible building of a modern wonder of the world – a Florida gulf coast kingdom named after Kublai Khan as labor-intensive as the pyramids: 100,000 trees, 20,000 tons of marble, and the treasures of the world where money was no object. The acicularity of contrast between this hyperidealized, luxurious vision of Xanadu [what we’d imagine of its experience by preconceptions] and the real one we saw in the opening scene kickstarts multiple running themes throughout Citizen Kane: the futility and multi-reflexive moralization of the news, a caustic eschewal of capitalism, cynical nihilism of riches, & psychoanalysis of the incomplete puzzle and [ironically Christian-divergent against our core principles] point of view America takes on celebrities.

B. ‘The Greatest Toy A Boy Ever Had’

A Groundbreaking, Risk-Frought Contract By RKO Pictures To Secure O.W. Scathingly Indicted By News Reporters & Studios; More So When They Learned Of Chosen Subject

Photograph Courtesy Of: RKO Pictures

Though a principal source for Charles Foster Kane [hereby abbreviated: CFK or Kane] was never officially confirmed by the duo – claimed a synthesis of different personalities and life events from the giants of journalism like Pulitzer, Northcliffe, & Bayard and a few of Welles’ childhood business-tycoon friends like Insull and McCormick – it was clear to the world and press that Kane was referential to Hearst. Both CFK and Hearst: 1) were the sons of parents earning a fortune in mines, 2) attended Harvard before 3) getting expelled, 4) inherited newspapers they turned into empires with 5) yellow journalism [splashy headlines & sensationalism over true, objective reporting based on facts], 6) ran as leftist politicians ironically 7) promising as silver-spooners to be ‘champions for the working class’ but 8) failing to achieve elected office, 9) had scandalous romantic affairs with 10) showgirls whom they 11) used their news resources to try jumpstarting their entertainment careers, 12) used the word Rosebud [Hearst claimedly using it as a pet name for Davies & her genitalia], and most obviously: 13) built impossibly-grand kingdom estates on 14) thousands of coastal acres (California and Florida) over decades that 15) were never finished. News On The March satirized the journalistic style of The March Of Time docuseries, Walter P. Thatcher was based on J.P. Morgan, and the inspiration for Rosebud was born from a treasured childhood bicycle stolen from a young Mankiewicz [with the name also being from the famed racehorse he bet on at the 1914 Kentucky Derby, symbolizing his loss-of-innocence from that childhood carefree kid to meld with an overarching theme of Citizen Kane’s biggest symbolized mystery, as we’ll definitely explain later]. The wildfire that followed when news of this broke to the press is a circus just as theatrical, proving-of-concept, and entertaining as the film.

III. News, Capitalism, & Social Prerogatives

A Blazing Satire Of American Life/Values – Our Celebration & Idol-Worship Of Capitalism & The Rich-And-Famous; The Exploitability Of News To Shape Public View

Photograph Courtesy Of: RKO Pictures

Sugar-coated simplification of complex, multi-faceted, diverse world problems into superficial tidbits spoon-feedable for the public has been a problem with the news for generations – one that’s only gotten 100X+ exacerbated by the instant gratification & TL:DR culture of The Social Media Age it’s a borderline miracle Citizen Kane was able to predict nearly a century ahead of its time [and is the reason I founded CLC in the first place]. The sequence begins meta-analysis of American capitalism: how we idol-worship celebrities, covet their possessions like Xanadu while proclaiming religious piety/holiness, prioritize what a man owned over his contributions and good paid towards society, and overequate money as a cure-all medicine to solve all problems – when it’s not always that simple. This is all done contemporaneously as the film introduces its prismatized protagonist: Charles Foster Kane. The newspaper headlines exaggerate and sensationalize with bold audacity that ‘the entire nation mourns the death of an outstanding American and sponsor of democracy; the greatest newspaper tycoon of this or any other generation after a lifetime of service. This laughable puff-piece editorial clearly-satirical in farcical tone and disingenuous (as we’ll learn from the rest of the film) further establishes the futility and exploitable propaganda-machine of the news, while reverberating how society does celebrate people like this CFK over [truly] outstanding Americans who actually do give lifetimes of service like doctors, teachers, firefighters, etc. without ever a headline or thank you. This isn’t a localized phenomenon either; civilizations across the world engage in the same self/sociologically-destructive behavior [as hinted by the splice-montage of headlines in various languages from Japanese to Egyptian to Italian] that psycho-conditions us to wow at the wrong things; America just does it far more than most as the perfect stage for the allegorical tale of Charles Foster Kane. The film shifts gear once again from a Greek tragedy opening to documentarian real estate news vignette to semi-autobiographical piece chronicling the rise-and-fall of the capitalist bourgeoise newspaper-tycoon billionaire.

C. A Hunt Of Impossible Game

An Eclectic Canvas Of Real-Life Inspirations For Citizen Kane’s Characters, But One Of The World’s Most Powerful & Richest Men For Protagonist: William Randolph Hearst

Photograph Courtesy Of: RKO Pictures

The pre-release controversy of Citizen Kane only further italicizes the magnitude of its achievement, real-world implications, and artistic significance. Orson Welles knew the film would send shock-waves throughout the industry and world by the Moby Dick-sized whale they were hunting like Cpt. Ahab – so he kept access & publicity strictly-limited to the bare minimum required by studio execs and contract. A private, credentialed screening for members of the press was infiltrated by an uninvited columnist working for a paper in Hearst’s news conglomerate by the betrayal of someone involved with the film [a noir/spy-like gritfest in real-life] – and she immediately recognized the sharp-edged satirization and references to her boss. The only one to give it a negative review amongst the critics at-presence, she ran an article highlighting point-by-point comparisons between CFK & WRH before threatening a lawsuit if the film were to be released. News got to Hearst – who enacted the Old Testament fiery-wrath of an unforgiving God and iron fist of a dictatorial and tyrannical/corrupt megalomaniac: commanding every newspaper of his conglomerate of hundreds or thousands to ban any mention or promotion of Citizen Kane or RKO Pictures. To give an idea of the power & influence William Randolph Hearst had over the public, he ~single-handedly (along with a racism-fearmongering Harold Anslinger) ran a smear campaign against marijuana to protect his interests/investments in the timber industry that experts attribute to the lasting delegalizing of the drug even today in the 2020’s worldwide – over half a century later by the commandments of one man. When power-abuse and media-shaming failed to douse the fiery ambitions of Welles & co., WRH resorted to blackmail with threats to expose the private lives of people throughout RKO/Welles’ circles and film studios alike – plus threats to ruin the reputation of any theatre deciding to premiere or show the film.

IV. The American Dream

A Rags-To-Riches Story Of Easy Beginnings & Hungry Aspirations Turned Empire Of 37 Newspapers, 2 Syndicates, A Radio Network, Grocery Stores, Apt Complex, Factories, Etc.

Photograph Courtesy Of: RKO Pictures

The ~10 minute NOTM backstory of Charles Foster Kane is loaded with so much subtext and hidden metaphor/meaning, it could be its own film – and serves the purpose of an origin one, outlining the major events of CFK’s entire life so that the rest of the film is free of plot-shackles and able to go wherever and whenever it wants to put a finer lens. The newsreel frames Kane as The Ultimate American: The American Dream personified, rags-to-riches, and what should be the aspirations of us all to become like. From humble beginnings in Colorado, he grows up the son of a boardinghouse keeper coming into a supposedly-worthless deed to an abandoned mine-shaft – one stricken with hidden gold. The sudden extreme wealth sees his parents give Kane up for psuedo-adoption to a wall-street businessman to learn his ways, one he physically-assaults with a sled on their first acquaintance [extremely important symbolism later-on]. Nevertheless, he’s powerless as a child and has to obey his parents’ wishes – later building his inheritance into an empire of 27 newspapers, 2 syndicates, a radio network, grocery stores, paper mills, apartment complexes, factories, etc. reaching from coast to coast. The puff-piece editorial previously-outlined becomes more grounded in reality here – exposition on both the good and [shockingly]-bad of Kane on his stance-taking/partnerships on every public issue for 40+ years. He fights for low-income families against the wealthy one-second, and sips tea with world leaders like Hitler another: extremely complex moral dichotomization that only further-fuels our blazing intensity of fascination with him. The brilliance of Charles Foster Kane as a protagonist owes major credit to Orson Welles’ performance: the most impressive multi-achievement in cinematic history in his directing/acting/writing/producing/etc. hat for every role behind-the-scenes. The ability to play a man throughout his entire life [young to old; adolescence to deathbed] like this is a miracle of thespianship – even more impressive given his age of only being 24 years old, barely a man, when he delivered Citizen Kane to screen.

D. The Trenches & David v. Goliath

To Give An Idea Of WRH’s Power & Influence On The World Of Mankind: News Campaign Against Marijuana Led To Its Delegalization For Over 50+ Years – Even Still Illegal Today

Photograph Courtesy Of: RKO Pictures

The looming apocalypse of studios and execs being exposed to the general public [their customer-base, which WRH showed proof he wasn’t bluffing on by running a story that studios were profiting off free labor by immigrants without fulfilling their promises to pay them at the time] led to even the biggest sharks and presidents of the cinematic world coming forward. MGM patriarch/founder Louis B. Mayer hand-offered RKO & Welles ~$1M [today: $20M+] personally to destroy all prints of the film and burn the negative to wipe it from existence. Though RKO refused, they started to feel the hot grips of panic and doubt of whether they made the right decision backing Welles – violating their contract’s promises of non-interference by frequently sending spies onto the set whom were supposed to report back updates on what they saw, of which O.W. and the cast kept sharp eyes and would cease shooting to play softball every time they found one until they left. One RKO spy managed to evade detection & steal a copy of the Citizen Kane script, which they leaked to the press: the ultimate cinematic sin and slap-of-the-face of a film crew/director, perhaps to soften the blow – more so, a spite of O.W.. The director responded by further-trolling and revengefully provoking the news and circus: the long-awaited trailer thrown to the pack of ravenous wolves after months of silence didn’t feature even a single second of footage of the actual film itself: an original, tongue-in-cheek, behind-the-scene five [sic] minute pseudo-doc conjuring on the film’s production with trick-shots and studio-introductions instead of any narrative material or footage. Real-world dystopia like a sci-fi film, hijinx/satire like a comedy, and fear-based corruption like a political drama paved way to horror when WRH’s rage at not getting what he wanted [likely, for the first time in decades] opened a Pandora’s Box in the trenches. On his way home from a speaking engagement after studio-time one day, Welles was notified by police not to go back to his hotel. A malicious frame-plot involving a little girl in the closet was waiting for him there, according to intel & witnesses.

V. An Entire Man’s Life In 10 Min

The NOTM Feature Outlines The Major Events Of Kane’s Life, Giving Plot-Structural Freedom To Explore + Establishing Complex Moral Dichotomization & A Man Of Mystery

Photograph Courtesy Of: RKO Pictures

The regal authoritarian presence, booming thunder of a voice built for teleprompters, robust comportment, and clean-cut opulence of a news-ready banker’s smile with a hearty chuckle make you both love and hate him at the same time – one of the most indescribable and chemically-equilibrized mixes I’ve ever seen on-screen. The characterization is just as complex and dichotomized: the newsreel claims ‘few lives were more public’, but there’s a lot going on behind-the-scenes. Thrice married and twice divorced, the timeline and personal life of CFK are extremely-suspicious – hiding dots just-enough-connectable without outright proof to limitlessly provoke our curiosities. His first life divorcing him in 1916 and dying of a sudden motor-accident with their son in 1918 implies a troubling possibility: did Kane’s superiority complex and lust-for-control lead him to order a hit on his ex-wife with his child as a casualty or fellow-target? Two weeks later remarrying a showgirl named Susan Alexander, the turnaround without ostensible grief/mourn gives further credence to the ghastly conspiracy above – while adding a scandalous affair that makes him lose the governorship of Kansas with The White House in next-view by a wife perhaps leaking the story to turn CFK’s own vehicle/weapon against him: the press. The tragedy of being divorced again after flaunting his money and building his opera singer Suzie her own opera house in Chicago at a cost of $3M ($56,000,000+ in 2021) and the palace of Xanadu evokes pity and empathy for a man with everything on paper – a man many of us thought we’d give anything to be like at the beginning of the scene. Three important themes hinted lightly here to be further-developed later are money vs. love, abandonment, and childhood-trauma. Does CFK hate divorce and abandonment so much because it brings him back to that childhood event of his parents giving him up for adoption? Can money buy happiness and love, or does it shield/falsify it for us? All of these questions linger on the palate as the featurette comes full-circle back to where we started: Xanadu on the dusky night of the death of Kane before it cuts black – leaving exponentially-more questions than answers of what happened to Charles Foster Kane.

E. A Gamechanging Win For Art Freedom

RKO Studio-Interference, News-Blacklists, Hitjobs, Blackmail, Softball Games, Lawsuits, Fake-Trailers, & Box Office Threats: The Journey To Kane’s May 1, 1941 NYC-Premiere

Photograph Courtesy Of: RKO Pictures

One night shortly after the ploy failed and the movie was days away from release, a chance-encounter between Orson Welles & William Randolph Hearst in an elevator at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco pit the two archenemies and their egos/tension in a box of merely feet wide. Welles wryly offered him a ticket to opening night of Citizen Kane, of which he never responded and couldn’t look him in the eye. As WRH got off on his floor after perhaps the most humiliating and humbling experience the world’s most powerful man ever had, Welles said one final line to him as the elevator closed: “Charles Foster Kane would have accepted.” The kaleidoscopic mix of real-world genres Kane experienced on its journey to the big-screen is just as packed, diverse, and extensive as the film itself – the craziest backstory in the history of movies, one we hope gets its own movie one day, and proof of the validity of every psychoanalytical and social-commentary point the film made on the news & William Randolph Hearst. The trench-warfare Citizen Kane experienced in its journey to release made the premiere of this David v. Goliath miracle the greatest triumph of artistic freedom in cinematic history when it finally opened at the RKO Palace Theater on Broadway in New York City on May 1, 1941. Kane failed at the box office by the looming shadow of its patriarch and endless strong-arm corruption tactics placed on any theaters or company talking about the film – but, without its herculean bravery and intensity of strength/conviction to not bend in the face of unfathomable adversity, cinema would have suffered a fatal blow to artistic freedom. Not the slightest bit exaggeration or superlative: movies would have never been the same or been more than toys or propaganda-vehicles for the rich & powerful – and we have to thank Kane for saving cinema.

VI. ‘Not Enough What Did; Who Was He?’

After The Newsreel Concludes, The Smoky Backroom Of Editors Feel It Lacks Depth & Needs Exposition Beyond Headlines: Positive Representation Of Journalism – One Of Few

Photograph Courtesy Of: RKO Pictures

After the newsreel concludes and fourth-wall is broken to take us into a backroom mini-theatre of newspaper editors watching the same vignette-reel we just did, one man sparks a discussion on the merit of the segment. The cinematography in this sequence is impeccable – proto-noir ocular majesty by its heavy chiaroscuro, deep-focus mise-en-scene, atmospheric light/smoke so thick-you-could-cut-it-with-a-knife, and tricky shadow-play as the editors are both physically and metaphorically in-the-dark about who Kane really was. The depth and analysis of the NOTM scene is criticized – one man named Thompson vowing to go beyond the superficial newspaper headlines ‘everyone knows’, which the newsreel previously focused. This is one of the few positive representations of journalism in the entire film; he nails the driving principle of reporting and writing: ‘it’s not enough to know what a man did, who was he?’ and cleverly plans to explore the angle of finding out what his dying final word means: Rosebud. Going hard-boiled detective mode straight out of Dick Tracy comics, the film shifts genres yet again [after a twinge of black comedy/satire in the line ‘Rosebud: it’s probably something very simple!’ (Yeah, not so much.)] with a booming thunderbolt used as transition-cover for a startling buzzsaw-cut into a larger-than-life mural of Susan Alexander Kane on her new nightclub. The fast-pan over the top of the building by the El Rancho Nightclub sign through a rooftop window into the lounge of a washed-up alcoholic Ms. Kane below is perhaps the first [& best] establishment of the aesthetics of the genre of film-noir: heavy rain, neon-signs, chiaroscuro, xylophonic and flute minor-keys, and thematization of private eyes investigating in grimy, sinful venues. Though films in the 1930’s had proto-noir characteristics like The Maltese Falcon, Crime And Punishment, M, Pépé Le Moko, The Beast Of The City, etc., none truly defined and fueled a resurgence of its popularity beyond the fringes of indies like Kane – and an argument can certainly be made that it should be regarded as the creator of how we know the genre today. The introduction to Susan Alexander Kane is a phenomenal one – the bitter snarl of Dorothy Comingore’s performance as the vehemently-rude drunkard wallowing in self-pity [humorously-dichotomized by Will Alland’s fizzy, effervescent Mr. Thompson] is sensational, further evocative of our curiosities of why a divorced woman given everything by Mr. Kane has turned to substance-abuse to drown her ostensible pain and sorrows.

F. The Greatest Character Of All-Time

A Monarchy Of News, Lies, Ignorance, & The Drug Of Money Born From Childhood Pain, Tragedy, & Rejection; A Man Who Becomes Everything He Hates By The Cruelty Of Fate

Photograph Courtesy Of: RKO Pictures

The Greatest Character In Movie History, Citizen Kane’s portraiture of its central emperor of newsprint is one for the textbooks and ages – like being in the presence of God, hand-crafting a perfectly-cinematized painting of a man’s life & everything about him in 1hr59min. A child playing in the snowy winter of Colorado is put up for adoption to a bank against his will, and his life is never again the same. The core-stricken tragedy and traumatization of that event shapes the rest of Charles Foster Kane’s life: he grows up alone and isolated, internalizing self-worth doubts and trust issues without a real guardian or the love of parents before inheriting a fortune he doesn’t want on his 25th birthday. Rebuking every penny of it except for a newspaper he flips as a weapon to attack the institution responsible for his life’s woes, the rich and powerful are hunted by CFK’s The Inquirer as their newspaper-circulation grows by honest, grassroots journalism reverberated by Kane’s handwritten declaration of principles/morality to ‘always fight for the average joe and little guy’ [symbolically-representative of him as a child]. The drug of money, fame, and notoriety poison the veins of that plucky, charming, suave, principled Young Mr. Kane and his editorial staff – & he begins to change, eventually becoming the fatcat capitalist villain he so vehemently opposed and promised he’d never become. The Jekyll-turned-Hyde transformation begets tragedy in facets in stark juxtaposition to the material luxury driving [& ruining] his life: rejection by lovers, the public through politics, and his friends – eventually rewriting his newspaper’s raison-d’être as dishing out types of corruption and fake-news by the complete loss of everything he once stood for. Finally, with no one left besides Suzie, his God-complex tries to fabricate a world of his own at Xanadu filled with only lifeless statues [symbolized of his ignorance of how to love/trust, preferring slabs of marble that look like people, but are metaphorically-and-physically without heads and free-will to betray him] he can rule along with her over in a dictatorial monarchy mired in tragedy, pain, childhood-trauma, and the cruelty of fate. This is Godlike character-development of a tier you simply won’t see in any other film ever made – brought to life by a perfect performance and echoed by the rest of Citizen Kane’s cast.

VII. The Defining Of A Film-Noir Genre

A Brilliant Lightning-Clap Transition Births The Aesthetics Of One Of Film’s Greatest Genres: Rain-Soaked Neon Signs, Private Eyes, Chiaroscuro, Grimy Venues, Sin, Etc.

Photograph Courtesy Of: RKO Pictures

The suicidal-depths of behavior and erratic rebukes of any conversations to before Charles died, when she’d been reported by employees [humorously getting their memory jogged by crisp dollar bills in classic noir black comedy sin] as ‘just as soon talking about him as anyone – even sooner’, further draws us into the existential intrigue/complexity of their relationship: if she loves and mourns him, why’d she divorce and speak ill of him beforehand? The revelation that even Kane’s own wife doesn’t know what Rosebud is similarly fuels and adds depth to the mystery guiding the film. If this is a secret so deeply-entrenched in a person’s psyche, they’d hide it from a wife they built the biggest castle ever-made & a $56M+ operahouse for, it must go back to childhood or family – Thompson’s next stop. The Walter P. Thatcher Memorial Library is a grand, cold, sterile, plain/unimaginative, marble-laden spectacle farcically-exaggerated by the clever use of echo-distortion of its receptionist’s and Thompson’s voices and fitting for the personality-deprivation of its patriarch banker. Finally getting to the unpublished memoirs of Thatcher [further-mystery as to why they went unpublished even post-death: perhaps forbade by Kane’s legal iron-fist? Perhaps out of guilt?], we’re detailed his first encounter with Mr. Kane on a snowy day back in Colorado in 1871. A 5 year-old CFK frolics in bliss on a winter morning of childlike innocence and not a care in the world: sledding, snowball-fighting, and building snowmen in a canvas of visuals and score that feel almost like a cartoon or Christmas-special in how sugar-coatedly happy/celebratory it is. Unbeknownst to the cavorting youngster having the time of his life, a sinister plot amongst the worst that can ever happen to a child is being mechanized by his parents backstage: consideration of giving him up for adoption – worse, to the farthest thing from a parent: a fatcat banker-capitalist named Walter P. Thatcher. The dichotomization of the best and worst days of CFK’s life happening synchronically mere feet away from each other is highlighted by a masterpiece shot of cinematography and movie-innovation by Toland, ASC: staging both antithetical scenes in different planes of view within the same frame so we can see both scenes happening at the same time. Perhaps commenting on how life and one’s world can change in the flick of an instant by the cruel hand of fate, the inevitable dark prospectus on the horizon uncomfortably approaches as we view the pure cowardice of its parents’ conversation and paperwork.

G. The Performances & Cast

From Comingore’s Bitter, Snarling Suzie To Couloris’ Prim-And-Proper Bank Capitalist To Agnes’ Cold Mother To O.W.’s Miracle Of A Lead: Groundbreaking Italian Neorealisme

Photograph Courtesy Of: RKO Pictures

The performance of Orson Welles is a life achievement. Being only 24 years-old and also the writer/director/producer of the film, it’s a damn cinematic miracle one man was blessed with such multi-talents – he hits every note of the ensemble beyond the touch of directors 2-3x his age and with absolute perfection, foremost in acting. The herculean task of playing a character throughout their entire life was – and, is even today – a ludicrous proposition for one actor, rarely-if-ever asked: an impossible task solely plausible by homework to capture the physicality and nuance of things like old age while still in youth, without life experience to have experienced anything like it. The young, clean-cut, suave, charming boy-wonder straight out of college dripping with energy wanting to start a newspaper to fight injustice to the grandiose, booming-voice, thunderous presence of a mid-career politician magnate succumbed to the temptations and delusions of money/power to the frail, hopelessly-alone old man mourning the simplicity and loss of yesteryears are all beautifully painted: entirely different characters even antithetical of one another Welles plays flawlessly – with surgical precision and theatrical thespian pedigree. The rest of the performances are just as sensational; Citizen Kane boasts a once-in-a-lifetime cast & characterization canvas of stars-aligned it’s borderline-impossible was filled by new actors/resses to the screen. Dorothy Comingore’s performance as Suzie Alexander Kane is the masterpiece alongside Welles’ – just as diverse and characterizationally life-long, going from the delicate, feathery, compassionate, effervescent Bronx-talky showgirl and chemistry-fizzy love interest to shrill, angry, suicidal public-slave of CFK singing operatic hymns pleading the gods to strike her down to the alcoholic woe and snarling bitterness we first see her with alone at the El Rancho nightclub. George Couloris is perhaps the shining cinematic example of a snooty, privileged, proper fatcat banker capitalist, Will Alland’s Mr. Thompson the perfect journalist placeholder for audience experience overflowing with charisma and wisecracking jokes to lighten the heaviness of the journey, Everett Slone a humorous and loyal right-hand man, Agnes Moorehead a cold mother ice in her veins but twinges of motherly care, Joseph Cotten the heavy-hitting best friend turned public enemy and emblematic reminder of CFK’s fall from grace, etc. The fact such a cast of diversification and breathtaking character-balance/development was crafted from a series of first-times to movies plays by the rules of Italian Neorealisme, while breaking the ones of Hollywood: proving the greatest performances can come from anywhere, not just the mansions of L.A.

VIII. The Best & Worst Day Of A Child’s Life

A Winter Wonderland Of Childlike Purity & Paperwork Of Being Given Up For Adoption, Simultaneously Captured In One Frame By Cinematographical Magic Of A Toland, ASC

Photograph Courtesy Of: RKO Pictures

The inexorably-dark, morbid, offensive brutality of the idea is recognized by Harry Shannon’s drunk/rugged-yet-caring Mr. Kane, belligerently-rebuking Agnes Moorehead’s frigid, ice-cold mother as old-fashioned and conservatively-rigid as her hairstyle. Presented as a villain even colder than the winter day outside putting a price on her child with barely a hint of emotion or facial expression, Mary Kane ignores the cries of her husband’s spot-on analysis we echo in the crowd: this being wrong and ‘a banker being no substitute for a mom and dad’ [even effectively making us hate her by having the audacity to dismiss the argument as ‘nonsense’] and signs to give Thatcher custody in exchange for 50k/year for them for life. The religious iconography and twisted allegory in this scene is breathtaking: a mother named Mary sells her boy-child to a money-crazed, sweet-talking, and expensively/ornately-dressed man with a contract. This could be re-interpreted and packs the existential power of a ‘what if’ scenario of The Virgin Mary selling Jesus Christ as a child to the Devil – supported by details like the suspicious name-sharing of its mothers, namelessness of the fathers in the scene, and well-established pop culture imagery/urban-legend of the devil being connected to banks & using contracts/money to steal souls and first-born children. The power of money plays a big role in the scene – even pacifying Kane Sr. when the amount of money is stated out-loud, driving the betrayal of unfathomable proportions [even though he still objects in powerlessness to his wife’s will, being the owner of the mine/wealth in her name]. As she’s signing the papers, there’s a hint of sorrow in her voice and eyes as Moorehead’s performance and the dynamic shifts – finally displaying some regret and forlorn self-resentment as she reveals some clashing details in sharp juxtaposition to the evil figure we saw for a character as complex as CFK. Revealed is that she’s had his trunk packed for a week, calls out in mother tone to ‘be careful’ of the cold and ‘keep his scarf on’, and leaves the inheritance and principal of the company’s monies in a trust-fund for Charles to be opened on his 25th birthday – reframing the act as perhaps one of [misguided] love and ignorance. Newly-rich, maybe the weight of the pressure of having all that money convinces her to seek a guardian who is well-versed in the subject and knows how to be a rich gentleman in society – something that would be difficult for low-class Coloradoans like the Kanes to even be able to fake amongst the high society now merited by their net worth.

H. The Bible/Encyclopedia Of Techniques

Deep-Focus Cinematography, Chiaroscuro Lighting, Temporal Jump-Cuts, Ceiling Shot Considerations, Cigarette-Burns, Nonlinear Chronology By Multiple POV Narratives, Etc.

Photograph Courtesy Of: RKO Pictures

The chip-on-shoulder hunger and youthful tenacity by the cast to prove wrong the critics and naysayers doubting their resumé/abilities is tangible – paralleling The American Dream & underdog ambitions, as well as a major theme throughout the rest of the film’s architects behind-the-scenes. The veritable encyclopedia of techniques and pioneering avant-garde stylistics in Citizen Kane include: deep-focus cinematography, chiaroscuro lighting, temporal jump-cuts, ceiling shot considerations, flashback-dominant storytelling rejecting linear/chronological narratives to reimagine storytelling through multiple divergent POV’s, omniscient perspective only in the beginning and end scenes with personable/unreliable narration between, vignettes, cigarette burns, overlapping montages, panchromatic film, and newsreel footage outlining the highlights of its protagonist’s life story from birth to death at the beginning of the story – only to fill in the gaps later-on. The film is perhaps the most technically-diverse of cinematic history: an achievement even more impossible by the comparatively-nescient time in movie progression to work with and outright-lunacy of being a one-try, freehand masterstroke by a new directorial prodigal son in his first-ever outing on the big-screen. Imagine painting Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ the first time you ever held a paintbrush, scoring Beethoven’s ‘Ninth Symphony’ the first time you ever pressed a piano key, or writing ‘The Iliad & The Odyssey’ having never written a book before: that’s the equivalent of how insane the accomplishment of Citizen Kane is. Ignorance being bliss, Welles’ naïvety of cinematic preconceptions and Hollywood/directorial customs-and-traditions proved to be his emancipation – profiting off his previous theatrical experience, stylistic flamboyance, and attention-to-detail to translate them to a new, bigger canvas he nevertheless paid extensive research/analysis.

IX. Religious Iconography, Darkly-Twisted

Full Of References To Christianity & Messiah Origins Subverted In The Darkest, Most Vile Multinterpretative Ways – A Complex Puzzle Of Morality & Flipped Character Dynamics

Photograph Courtesy Of: RKO Pictures

Perhaps Ms. Kane truly believes this will be best for him in the long-term no matter how tough it is now, deluded by fantasies of the rich-and-famous/bourgeoisie panderative to Marxist proletariats and the scary prospect of raising a child in a new reality out of your comfort-zone/experience. Of course, there’s also the possibility the Kanes just gave him up out of selfishness to enjoy their money for the next 20+ years without having to raise Charles – supported by the fact they didn’t even try to see if they could raise him to be a fine young man who just happens to have money, and the fact he’s so young. The real motivations and benevolence/morality of the scene are left ambiguous and up to the multiple interpretations as the conclusion finally reaches: how to tell a young child that they’re leaving forever and will never see their parents again. The reaction of CFK is heartbreaking: palpable disgust, fear, and anger escalating into physical assault of Thatcher with his sled [extremely important symbolism for later exposition]. As if the dynamic wasn’t complex enough, Kane Sr. threatens Charles with a ‘good ol’ thrashing’ for his outlandish and rude [yet understandable] behavior – and the statement by Mary of ‘that’s why Charles is going to be raised in a place where you can’t get at him’ while she hugs him implies this a regular occurrence or pattern, further calling into question our preconceptions. The scene exemplifies the film’s master-craftsmanship of being able to flip characters developmentally with surgical precision/touch and create impossible-decisions/scenarios: here eviscerating our first reactions by reframing Kane Sr. from hero to villain and Mary from villain to hero, while letting both be partially-correct with no clear solution of what to do about Charles Foster Kane. The time-lapse of snow piling on the sled outside Kane Boardinghouse, graphic-matched to a Christmas present of a new sled for an uncaring CFK is spliced mid-sentence into a fast-forward/jump-cut of 20+ years: one of the most ambitious and unheard-of editing progressions in cinematic history.

I. An Impossible First-Try Masterstroke

Imagine Painting Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Scoring Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Or Writing The Iliad & The Odyssey On Your First-Ever Try In A New Medium; A Miracle

Photograph Courtesy Of: RKO Pictures

Rumors of O.W. having film textbooks delivered to him on-set and watching such works as The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, Stagecoach, & the films of Frank Capra, Fritz Lang, King Vidor, John Ford, and Jean Renoir with studio-execs and technicians who worked on them to ask how/why things were done paint a young man with unbridled ambition to learn the medium. The work-ethic was never-before-seen – according to reports, Welles spending 16-18 hours/day on set from 5AM to nighttime [including weekends, when most hollywood fatcats would be passed out in their multi-million dollar hillside mansions with a bottle of hennessy hungover with their own Suzie besides them]. It got to the point that he would be the only car parked in the studio-lot and be only greeted by security-guards on night-shift at the insane hours he worked: the legwork to achieve a masterpiece refreshingly more like a military bootcamp than the glitz, glamour, and egocentrism of classical Hollywood. The big dreams of the director went so far as to reject the usage of master shots because he had learned his idol John Ford never used them – almost impossible and unheard of at the time [master shots being historically the most important shot of any scene of a film beforehand, recording an entire dramatized scene from a camera angle that kept all players in view so as to function as an establishing shot and foundational camera coverage] only rebuked by a master of the craft with decades of experience this first-time director wanted to emulate. This is, quite literally, the cinematic equivalent of first learning to ride a bike at the tour-de-france.. down a hill.. without training wheels – and it’s matched by reports that Welles frequently demanded perfection of the cast and himself in a clockwork-mechanized studio schedule, requiring rehearsal on your own time so as to capture scenes in one take without reshoots. The techniques in Citizen Kane might not be the first-times they were ever used: deep-focus, chiaroscuro, and temporal jump-cuts being found in German Expressionist films of the 1920’s, VFX in the films of Méliès, ceiling shots in von Stronheim’s 1925 Greed, newsreel montages by Dziga Vertov, flashbacks in 1933’s The Power & The Glory, etc. Kane was the first one with the balls to bring them all together simultaneously and perfect each, though: deserving credit for giving them meaning & cinematic life historically.