On this day, 101 years ago a legend in the world of cinema was born, Orson Welles, a man who’s feature film debut is considered either the best film of all time or a close-second, Orson Welles is a marvel of cinematic ingenuity, and I would like to dedicate this review to discussing his master-work, Citizen Kane. As signaled by the title, I will get into certain plot-points of this film which if you haven’t watched, first don’t read this because it’ll mar your viewing experience and second, go and watch Citizen Kane right now. A truly original biopic focused on a “fictional” character, Orson Welles directed, wrote, produced, and acted in Citizen Kane, which chronicles the life of Charles Foster Kane, a prominent world figure recently declared deceased. In a very original work, Citizen Kane works as an investigative piece on the life of Charles Foster Kane in which our journalist tracks down people who were close to Kane in order to try and find out the meaning of his last word: “Rosebud.”
Presenting you with the man’s life through a series of perspectives, a model which many films such as Rashomon have adopted since, Citizen Kane first presents you with the life of Mr. Kane with a very direct newsreel that gives you the basic facts and events that made up his life, from his rise in power to his failed political campaign and then the later years of his life where he became a recluse, Orson Welles intelligently presents us with a very straightforward summary of this man’s life before delving into flashbacks from a very distinct group of people who were involved with him one way or another. Paralleling the life of William Randolph Hearst, Citizen Kane very intelligently tells and re-tells definitive moments in Kane’s life from different perspectives to go further into who and what Kane meant. Sure, he was the big, egotistic rich man every generation has with it, but once we start going back in time and playing with the moments that define Kane, Mr. Kane becomes an deeply layered character brought to life by an incredible performance from Orson Welles.
But its not just the original spin on a classic tale that makes this film so important, its the way Welles manipulates technical and narrative grandiose, the way in which he propels a story forward, the manner in which he able to delve so deeply into the soul of Charles Foster Kane in a runtime of under two-hours, directing each scene to its fullest potential, constantly changing the definition of Charles Foster Kane and then by the end when you finally figure out the meaning of “Rosebud,” at first it doesn’t strike you as much, but once you reflect about it enough and connect it with the emotional trajectory Kane’s life took towards the end you realize, Rosebud is that last thing that hearkens back to a time in which he wasn’t the grand Charles Foster Kane, a time where he was an innocent young child playing in the snow, when suddenly that was taken from him and he was beset on this power to greatness that ultimately destroyed him. The tale of Charles Foster Kane is tragic one, but one so marvelously told it leaves you are feeling pure transcendent beauty from a viewing experience like no other.
This whole project being a result of Orson Welles genius way of embracing all of his talents and translating them perfectly onto the big-screen. Defining story-techniques that would resonate in film history for years, providing the perfect, timeless story that could get re-named under different names and different eras, Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane is practically perfect film that embodies the artistic nature of film while also being remaining human enough to work as an accessible film multiple people could get into and retrieve a different message from it with each viewing. The way Welles constructs the story from a variety of tales discussing entirely different phases that are tied together by the presence that is Charles Foster Kane is amazing. A perfect example of this being Welles’s choice to jump from Mr. Leland’s story about being Mr. Kane’s only friend to then proceed to what at one-time seemed like Mr. Kane’s only love and deconstructing those stories by the very individuals who tell them makes for a jaw-dropping emotional response that makes you realize the truth behind Charles Foster Kane. And there are so many more spell-bounding moments like these in Citizen Kane, such as my favorite in which Orson Welles deconstructs the image of marriage in a naturalistic format that only spans two minutes of the film’s runtime yet the emotion of that scene resonates through the rest of the film and gets immediately attached to the persona of Kane and his first wife, but then proceeding by juxtaposing that crumbling relationship with what seems like the blossoming of a sincere love at first sight experience brought to life by by the naive-looking, amazing performance from Dorothy Comingore as Susan Alexander Kane adds even more depth to the scene just depicted on screen.
Perfect staging, acting, characters, and furthermore, there’s a reason this film is ranked #1 by the AFI, its effortlessly human, its a perfect biopic on a non-existing character that seems so real, it brilliantly challenged what you could do with film at the time, it pushed narrative boundaries and so much more. Featuring Oscar-calibre performances, especially from Orson Welles in one of his first roles, being able to carry such a presence and depict a character for the entirety of his life, undergoing so many changes and making them all seem like a natural progression of Charles Foster Kane as a human being, what Orson Welles was able to do with Citizen Kane is remarkable. Like the film I reviewed yesterday, the only issues I have with Citizen Kane are some effects that are just to noticeable, such as some birds flying in the background that look awfully fake by today’s standards or the fact that even though they’re in Colorado under severe cold conditions towards the beginning of the film you can’t see their breath, but that doesn’t affect the genius of the story in any way or what Orson Welles was able to accomplish with the masterpiece we’ve come to know as Citizen Kane, rating at a 99 out of 100 from my behalf.