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  • Writer's pictureJust Films & That - Josh

Self Film-Solation | Film 10 | Citizen Kane


Well here we are then, Film 10 and the last of my self film-solation. I’m heading back to work tomorrow and so this will be the last in this particular series of blogs.

So, what better film to finish than the film that is consistently voted as the greatest of all time.

So, what did I actually know about Citizen Kane? Well take the prestige as read, I knew the basic elements of the plot as well as the real-life parallels. I also knew that Orson Welles was very young when he completed the impressive feat of writing, directing and starring in his magnum opus. Other than that, I didn’t know a great deal so I was keen to watch the film to see if it lived up the biggest of all hype.

I think the first thing to say is that I can really see why this film has been so influential and so lauded over the years. For me the most impressive thing about the film was the script. It is an absolute marvel.

Firstly, the way the film presents us with its story. The film employs flashbacks and a non-linear narrative and so we are shown the life of Charles Foster Kane early in the film by way of a news story upon his death. By giving us all this information early on it allows us to watch the remainder of the film with a greater connection to the characters as we can apply what we already know contextually to what is happening in front of us. This only increases the emotional impact Kane’s actions have on us when we actually see them. It’s a masterclass in exposition.

The film then continues to employ this nonlinear structure using the investigating journalist as our window into the life of the characters. By bouncing around through the timeline of Kane’s life (and beyond) the effects of his actions and his descent into madness driven by his lust for power are all the more impactful. We see our characters age and begin to wear their pain on their faces and in the way that they carry themselves.

On top of the actual structure of the script, the dialogue is also pure dynamite. Every word drips with meaning and poignancy so that not a word feels wasted. Such classic lines like “Memory is man kinds greatest curse” or “Old age is the only disease you don’t look forward to being cured of”.

It’s almost like poetry. In fact, I preferred this to most poetry.

The acting is also a real highlight. Not only Welles himself but the entire supporting cast.

They all have a hell of a job on their hands. To portray characters from youthful exuberance through to an old age filled with pain takes real work. It should be said that the make up and costume trickery help a great deal, but they can’t do all the work. Each of the performers convinces by showing us subtle changes in their physical and or voice.

I read that the majority of the cast were from Welles’ own theatre troupe and it shows. The film is almost a halfway house between a film and a theatre piece. It’s the best of both worlds as it has all the emotional impact of a great play whilst employing all the additional benefits a film can offer over theatre.

So, I usually now go into things that I perhaps didn’t like about the film. I have to say I’m struggling to find anything that isn’t more than what I personally like as opposed to the film itself. For example, I’d usually say that I found Kane unlikeable and some of his actions deplorable and that I don’t like films that present us with a lead character we’re supposed to root for but have them act in a way that renders them unlikable. I have made no secret on the pod of my disdain for Scarface. But in this case, I’m not sure I am supposed to like Kane. He is complicated yes but the film does not present him to us for us to like him, the film simply says here he is.

Clutching at straws a bit but I’d perhaps like to have seen more of the impact of Kane’s actions on the people closest to him. What of his son or his other close friends?

Its no secret that the film is inspired (amongst others) by the life of William Randolph Hearst. Perhaps the only real way that history has not been kind to this film is that this context has eroded slightly over time. Hearst is a famed figure from history but as time goes by less and less people will know who he is or what he actually did that rendered him worthy of this treatment. I myself know very little about him but I’m certainly interested to read more. Not necessarily a criticism of the film. More of an observation about something which is now almost 80 years old.

Overall, the film is a masterpiece of story telling in every way. The script and structure are sublime. The acting is incredible, and direction is impeccable. Whilst the context of the direct comparison to Hearst may have eroded over time, the relevance of men like this remains as relevant as ever and so no impact is truly lost. When considering the context in which the film was made and what an achievement in innovation it was, it deserves every bit of praise it’s had and will continue to have.


Originally published on Tumblr on 1st April 2020

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