There’s clearly a reason why Citizen Kane is still considered one of the best films ever made, 75 years later and its aged like fine wine. An incredible work of fiction built from our own reality, at times during the film I believed Charles Foster Kane was actually real. I shouldn’t be surprised at that, Orson Welles the man behind the infamous War of the Worlds radio broadcast as a true talent for emerging his audience into the worlds of his film. Welles’s film is a story of a man known by all yet understood by no one, the film tells the story of a journalist who in the wake of Kane’s death is sent to discover the meaning of Kane’s final word “Rosebud”.
Welles starts the film with death then fills it with life, moments after Kane’s death we are played a newsreels all of his accomplishments, his failures but it never says who the man really was. It’s bullet point list of moments the world already knows, after the newsreel editor sees it he sends Jerry Thompson to find the answers to who Charles Foster Kane really was, to give the world understanding of an icon. With the present storyline, Thompsons visits the old acquaintances of Kane, none of them knowing the meaning behind “Rosebud” but tell stories of who he was to them. The moments from the newsreel are fleshed out, we see piece by piece how Kane got his wealth, built his empire, his ambition for politics, his need to be loved.
This structure works incredibly well, you’ve were basically given the cliff notes of Kane’s life and death right at the start. But just like Thompson, the audience doesn’t really know anything about Kane, the film is about discovery of character and you become invested in discovering what “Rosebud” means and who exactly was Charles Foster Kane. Citizen Kane is a film where the director is also the writer and the actor, Orson Welles portrays Kane at all in stages at his made possible by his immense talent and skilled make up team. Welles’s performance as Kane is one for the ages, its deeply layered, we see the transformation of a man who had everything in the world to a man who had nothing. Welles bases his performance and story in truth, Citizen Kane is based on the life of William Randolph Hearst, a newspaper publisher with political ambitions. This connection probably is what makes Kane so real in the film and why it is reflective on America. The idea of America is that anyone from anywhere can achieve anything, Charles Foster Kane represents that idea to the world.
The filmmaking techniques used in this film were the first of its kind, the cinematography creates a grand scale of scope to the film. Shots of Kane campaigning for governor in front of a giant poster of his own face shows the power of hubris, he thinks he’s doing for the good of the people but he does it show the people will love him. Welles’s use of shadows are also striking, in various scenes of emotion where characters truly reveal themselves. The scene in particular of Kane, his wife, political opponent and Susan Alexander is a scene that shows Kane with no control of the events of his own life. His opponent cast in shadow and reveals his face to Mrs. Kane as he makes clear his true intentions, during this Kane is then hidden by shadow, you can’t see he’s thinking, he’s vulnerable and hiding. When he emerges he has a front, he is not afraid despite defeat, he will not allow anyone to decide his fate expect himself. Sound and music add to the powerful scenes, everything about this film is of the highest quality, Welles reinvented filmmaking with his vision for Citizen Kane.
So much has been written and analysed about Citizen Kane that my opinion is merely another voice in a very large crowd. This is a great film, it isn’t overhyped, it deserves all its praise and study. So while my review is short I do plan to revisit this film for broader study perhaps update what’s been written here and find that opinion on Citizen Kane that is loud enough to be heard on its own.