This is part three of my “Citizen Kane” write-up. You can find Part One here and Part Two here.
- “Citizen Kane” premiered in New York on May 1st, 1941, and opened in other major cities throughout the year. While the film received mostly good reviews (a few even declared it “the best movie ever” right out the gate), Hearst’s efforts to discredit the picture led to its underperformance at the box office. During the run, Welles’ RKO contract expired, and his new contract did not grant him final cut on his next film, “The Magnificent Ambersons”, leading to some massive re-cutting without Welles’ approval. When George Schaefer resigned from RKO in 1942, Welles lost his cheerleader, and his contract was terminated. As Welles would later say about his filmmaking career, “I started at the top and worked my way down.”
- The person responsible for the eventual revival and reappraisal of “Kane” is French film critic André Bazin and his 1947 essay “The Technique of Citizen Kane” (“Kane” would not be released in Europe until after the war). Praising the film’s use of mise-en-scène, Bazin’s essay (and subsequent writing) helped sway French opinion that American films could be art instead of just merely “products”.
- The re-evaluation of “Kane” came stateside in 1956, when a fledgling RKO re-released the film in conjunction with Welles’ return to the New York stage. That same year, RKO sold their film library to television, “Kane” being among the hundreds of films that would receive a second life on TV.
- I rarely mention a film’s standings on various “greatest films” list, but “Kane” deserves a mention. “Kane” first showed up at #22 in the 1951 Festival Mondial du Film’s director’s poll of greatest movies (generally considered the first Greatest Movies list). From 1962 to 2002, “Kane” ranked #1 in Sight and Sound’s decennial list of greatest movies until being dethroned by “Vertigo” in 2012. In recent years, “Kane” has been hailed as the best film by countless magazines, review aggregator websites, and film organizations, including being voted #1 on both of AFI’s Top 100 Movies lists.
- It wasn’t just the critics who started gushing about “Kane” in the ‘50s. Pretty much the entire film industry took notice (“Kane” is a prime example of the then-popular auteur theory of film). The filmmakers inspired by “Kane” are too numerous to list, suffice it to say that every white male director (and therefore 99.9% of film history) has cited “Kane” as an influence on their work.
- While Orson Welles never repeated the pinnacle of filmmaking he reached with “Kane”, he continued to make movies for the next 35 years, including three more NFR entries (“Ambersons”, “The Lady from Shanghai” and “Touch of Evil”). I’m a big fan of his documentary “F for Fake”, as well as “The Other Side of the Wind”, whose troubled production is as fascinating and as generation-spanning as “Citizen Kane”.
- “Kane” was the first movie score for radio composer Bernard Herrmann, who would spend the next 35 years composing the iconic scores to “Vertigo”, “Psycho”, and “Taxi Driver” (among many others). Although Hermann did not win the Oscar for his “Kane” score, he did win that year for his work in “The Devil and Daniel Webster”.
- Another up-and-coming talent on the “Kane” production team was editor Robert Wise, who would go on to be the acclaimed director of “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, “West Side Story”, and “The Sound of Music”.
- Over thirty years after William Randolph Hearst’s death in 1951, his son William Jr. (or possibly his son William III) admitted to enjoying “Citizen Kane”, and even offered Welles a stay at Hearst Castle “on my tab”. This never happened, but “Kane” was eventually screened at Hearst Castle itself in 2015.
- While many films have paid homage to “Citizen Kane” by way of deep focus and quick editing, just as many have referenced or parodied specific elements in “Kane”. One of the first was 1941’s “Hellzapoppin’” an absurdist comedy which includes a cameo by…Rosebud? I thought they burned that.
- “The Simpsons” have parodied “Kane” so often that showrunner Al Jean has claimed you could recreate the entire film using their clips. Most of the “Kane” references are connected to Charles Montgomery Burns, the show’s resident evil billionaire, and his long-lost childhood teddy bear Bobo.
- “Simpsons” cousin “The Critic” also referenced “Kane” and made good use of Maurice LaMarche’s Orson Welles impression, including a fake commercial Welles allegedly did for “Rosebud Frozen Peas”.
- Another “Kane” moment that gets referenced a lot: this gif
- So let me get this straight: After Kane died, Xanadu lay dormant until 1980, when it was converted into a disco roller rink by Olivia Newton-John and ELO?
- “Kane” is one of the rare movies that warrants its own documentary. “The Battle Over Citizen Kane” focuses on Welles’ clashing with William Randolph Hearst, and was eventually nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar. “Battle” also served as the basis for the 1999 HBO movie “RKO 281” with Liev Schreiber as Welles and James Cromwell as Hearst. Although based on the documentary, the movie takes several liberties regarding the facts surrounding “Kane”.
- And finally, upon purchasing the RKO film library in 1986, Ted Turner started colorizing classic movies for television, and publicly considered doing the same for “Citizen Kane”. While Welles’ original RKO contract prohibited anyone else from altering his film, the public outcry was enough for the government to take precautionary action. In 1988, the US government passed the National Film Preservation Act, creating the National Film Preservation Board and the National Film Registry. Turns out I owe my obsessive film-blogging to “Citizen Kane”.
Thank you for coming along with me for movie #500 (though technically this is post #551). We’re almost 2/3rds of the way through the list; off to the next one!
By the way, did anyone end up making that “Heart of Darkness” adaptation?
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