Previously on “#500) Citizen Kane”…
- The opinion of “Kane” being overrated probably stems from the film’s overall lack of emotional resonance. While the film is just as powerful as any undisputed classic, it lacks the heart of “The Wizard of Oz” or the romanticism of “Casablanca“. Even “The Godfather” outpaces this movie in terms of sympathetic depictions of its reprehensible protagonist. The cold central figure of Kane, mixed with the film’s outstanding technical achievements, makes “Kane” an admirable film on an academic level more than a personal one.
- Right from the start you know this movie is going to be different. After the RKO logo, there’s no opening credits with a mood-setting score, just a title card in silence, and we’re off to the races. This I feel is the key to appreciating “Kane”. Welles was not a filmmaker, so he’s not going to lean on the standard film tropes of the day out of habit. “Kane” is a movie by a theater director making up his own cinematic language as he goes along, with the added luxury of zero studio interference. Welles didn’t invent any of the techniques in “Kane” (some of them date back to “Dr. Caligari”), but he was the first to put them all together in a mainstream Hollywood picture.
- Who or what was the real Rosebud? Stories that Rosebud was Hearst’s nickname for Marion Davies’, um, person, stem from an unsubstantiated 1989 Gore Vidal essay. More likely, Herman Mankiewicz named Rosebud after Old Rosebud, a Kentucky Derby winner that Mankiewicz allegedly won a lot of money betting on. This, paired with a bicycle that Mankiewicz lost as a child, make for a more plausible inspiration for Rosebud.
- I do love that whole “News on the March” sequence, edited by RKO’s newsreel staff for authenticity. Blink and you’ll miss a cameo by Hitler!
- Shoutout to Maurice Seiderman, the film’s makeup artist, for creating some surprisingly convincing old-age makeup. The HD transfer points out some of the seams, but overall the makeup does not distract from the film. And kudos to the cast, most in their late ‘20s to mid ‘30s, for effectively playing their older counterparts.
- If this film has a breakout star other than Welles, it’s Agnes Moorehead nailing her one scene as Kane’s mother Mary. It’s so weird to think that one of the actors in the greatest movie ever would go on to play Endora on “Bewitched”.
- Gregg Toland you beautiful bastard. Cinematographer Gregg Toland personally requested to work with Orson Welles on “Kane”, knowing that Welles was new to film and therefore more open to experimental camerawork. And boy, does he not disappoint. Toland’s mastery of storytelling, composition, and deep focus (shots with the background and foreground in focus simultaneously) are on full display in this movie. Everyone’s Oscar snub is surprising, but Toland’s is unforgivable.
- The comic relief in this movie is few and far between, but Thatcher’s reading of “I think it would be fun to run a newspaper” (and subsequent fourth-wall harrumph) gets me every time. Also keeping things light: Erskine Sanford’s performance as the perpetually befuddled Herbert Carter.
- Orson Welles is so damn charismatic in this movie. You never fully sympathize with Charles Foster Kane, but Welles makes a strong argument, and you can’t help but be charmed by him, especially in his earlier flashbacks at the Inquirer.
- Another good line: “It’s no trick to make a lot of money, if what you want to do is make a lot of money.”
- I always forget there’s a musical number in this movie. Welles continues to lay on the charm with his dance moves; he should teach them to the chorus girl on the far right who messes up the routine.
- This movie has its share of incredible montages. The big one is the breakfast scene between Kane and his first wife Emily. In a matter of minutes, we see 12 years go by as their marriage deteriorates, each progressive shot showing subtle differences until the final pan of their extended table. Kudos to everyone involved.
- For years I had heard that Kane’s mistress/second wife Susan was based on Hearst’s mistress, film star Marion Davies. Now that I’ve seen Davies’ work (fellow NFR entry “Show People”), I can conclude that it’s Davies in only the vaguest terms. While Hearst did push Davies to play more dramatic roles, she was an accomplished and talented comedian, and certainly not a no-talent opera singer. To Welles’ credit, he always pointed out the lack of similarities between Susan and Marion, calling Ms. Davies “an extraordinary woman” and “nothing like the character”.
- During his political campaign, Welles vows that his first act will be to put his opponent in jail. It’d be funny if it weren’t so depressingly prescient. Side Note: what do you think is Trump’s “Rosebud”? I’m guessing some sort of physical affection from his parents. It would explain why he keeps hugging the flag.
- As good as “Citizen Kane” is, it is increasingly difficult to sympathize with a man we would today refer to as “the one percent”. Sure he wasn’t born into this life, and he was separated from his parents, but you can’t feel too bad for a man who is stinkin’ rich.
- When Palmer shows up to the office drunk, Joseph Cotten allegedly fumbled his line about “dramatic crimiticism”, but ad-libbed a cover and kept going. Welles was amused by this and kept that take in the final film. This is also the famous shot where you can see both the floor and ceiling in the frame, created by placing Toland’s camera in a hole drilled into the cement floor.
- I don’t know, I thought Susan’s singing sounded fine. She’s not the best singer, and certainly not the best voice for opera, but she sounded okay to me. Maybe I just don’t get opera.
- I’m still sheltering in place while watching this, so the scene where Susan puts together a giant jigsaw puzzle goes beyond its metaphoric use here. Can I borrow that when you’re done with it? I’ve gone through all of my puzzles.
- Gah! I think the random screeching cockatoo shot was to make sure everyone was awake for the last scenes.
- After destroying Susan’s bedroom, Kane walks down the hallway and past several large mirrors that reflect him into an infinity. Dramatic use of mirrors? File that one away for later, Welles…
- Wait, the butler heard Kane say “Rosebud”? I’m willing to concede that Raymond heard him say “Rosebud” on a few occasions, but he was definitely not there for the deathbed version. Some have theorized that those opening camera shots are from Raymond’s point of view, and to that I say “bullshit”. By that logic, the opening of the movie is Raymond flying over Xanadu into Kane’s window and pressing up to his lips. Not buying it, film snobs.
- Like so many of the classic movies on this list, the surprise ending was spoiled for me long before my first viewing. That being said, it still stings when we finally learn what Rosebud is, and the film does a good job of subtly hinting at it throughout. In the end, Kane’s lost childhood was the one thing he could not buy and control.
- Did you miss the upbeat opening credits? Don’t worry, because this movie ends with upbeat closing credits! It’s an odd choice after that dramatic ending. I was half expecting them to show bloopers.
Continue to Part Three for “The Legacy of Citizen Kane”…
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