Sunday, March 6, 2016
75 YEARS OF "CITIZEN KANE"
Starring Orson Welles,
Directed by Orson Welles
Written by Herman J. Mankiewicz, Orson Welles
Runtime 119 minutes
The most highly critically-acclaimed movie in American history turns 75 this year.
When asked in a 1960 interview, “Where did you get your confidence from?” Welles, in his mid-forties at the time, says, “Ignorance! Sheer ignorance! There’s no confidence to equal it.” (Look for the interview on YouTube titled “Orson Welles Talks About ‘Citizen Kane.’”)
He had, at the age of 25, been given by RKO Pictures a contract to direct films with landmark latitude. This was because of a radio broadcast in 1938 where Orson Welles, director of the Mercury Theater, altered HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds to sound like radio news bulletins of a Martian invasion of the country. The result panicked many listeners, some of whom died frantically trying to head for the hills. (Check out the fascinating documentary on the subject from PBS’s The American Experience.) Due to the overnight international fame Welles immediately accidentally achieved, the filmmaking offer came his way. Which he initially rebuffed. Eventually the offer given him by the head of RKO, while not financially remarkable, held such total control, Welles accepted. “The rushes couldn’t be seen by anyone,” he says. “I got that good a contract because I didn’t want to make a film.”
Citizen Kane is a movie about a rich guy who goes into politics. He inherits the money as a kid, but when we first see him, it’s on his deathbed. He says one thing, “Rosebud,” and then he dies. Most of the movie consists of various nameless and faceless reporters seeking the people who knew Charles Foster Kane, a man of fabulous wealth walled off from the world, to find out what was the last thing on his mind when he was heard to utter his final word.
The story is of course everything. But what makes the film particularly compelling is the innovative way that it’s presented. The camera work, all glorious black and white, is in Citizen Kane still as different from most films as the sentence structures of Shakespeare and Faulkner and Joyce are from those in TV Guide blurbs. “I didn’t know there were things you couldn’t do,” says Welles.
“I thought that you could do anything with the camera that the eye could do, or the imagination could do,” he adds. “I do feel that a man like Kane is very close to farce, very close to parody, burlesque.”
The fabulous estate owned by the phenomenally-acquisitive Kane, called Xanadu, in Florida in the film, reminded people even as Welles was shooting it of the castle in California owned by William Randolph Hearst.
“Kane isn’t really founded on Hearst in particular,” says Welles. “Many people sat for it, so to speak.”
Stewart Kirby writes for