Runtime: 1 Hour
and 59 Minutes
So this is it, eh? The greatest film of all time? According to pretty
much every critic known to man, the AFI, and Sight and Sound magazine,
among countless others. This is it, man. The one and only. There has
to be a film that's called the greatest and I suppose it may as well
be "Citizen Kane". If the critics of the world have to be
stupid enough to make such a list, you may as well put this at the
top of the list.
It goes without saying that this is the most overrated film of all
time. I mean, shit, how can it not be? Other titles I would put on
a Most Overrated List would go as follows: "The Searchers",
"The Godfather", "Psycho"
and "Barry Lyndon". But since
I have kicked the dead dog that is "Barry
Lyndon" once too often, I shall turn my spotlight instead
on Orson Welles' undisputed masterwork: "Citizen Kane".
I would like to take a flamethrower to this film. I would like to
rip it to shreds, set it on fire, and ceremoniously piss upon the
ashes. The only thing is that I can't. Damn, just forget that this
film is supposedly the greatest thing ever. Just forget for an instant
the bloated reputation of Orson Welles and the whole film. Forget
all that stuff and experience the film on its own terms. From a technical
aspect, this film is astounding! It really is. The amount of technical
skill and brio that is on display here boggles the mind. Almost every
shot is constructed brilliantly. The use of light and focus and matte
paintings and camera movement is simply awesome. Realize now that
this was one of the first times that the camera was given the license
to actually move! Gone are simple two-shots of two people, cutaways
from one person delivering dialogue to the next person delivering
dialogue. The camera here moves like a relentless animal, weaving
and bobbing and never resting long. The use of shadow, reflection,
sound effects. All are quite acute and supernaturally aware of themselves.
Look for an instant at Welles's eyes in this film. He was twenty-five
years old and he was making the greatest film of all time. And I'll
be damned if he doesn't look like he knew it! He fucking knew he was
making the film of the century! His cockiness, his ego shines through
the entire production. This film is as much a document of what happened
to Orson when he went to Hollywood as it is the fictionalized account
of Charles Foster Kane and his legacy (or William Randolph Hearst,
if that's what you want it to be). Welles never reaches these dizzying
heights of artistry again, and it's a shame. He came close on "The
Magnificent Ambersons": a film that may have trumped Kane had
it not been for the meddling of the studio. He did make a marvel in
"Touch of Evil" also, but he never quite paid the check
that he wrote with "Kane".
If he had, well, to hell with Hitchcock.
Forget, as I said before, all that stuff about this film being the
greatest ever. Think about it this way: this is the man's first film.
It is his first movie and he has gathered a level of technical craftsmanship
that other directors can only dream of. Many will use that "auteur
theory" crap to suggest that this was Welles's show and his only,
but that is just plain stupid. Look at the hypnotic, magician's mastery
of shadow and mirror that cinematographer Gregg Toland creates in
each shot. Listen to the crackle of Herman Mankiewicz's dialogue (oh,
I'll let Welles have a piece of that). Marvel at the editing of Robert
Wise (who would go on to make the original "The Haunting",
"Sound of Music" and "Star Trek: The Motion Picture"
among others) which lends this film a spry pace that most "great"
old films lack. Listen to the music of Bernard Herrman, one of the
original gods of film composition. Hell, look at the special effects
which seamlessly blend Welles into stock footage nearly sixty years
prior to "Forrest Gump".
When you forget the hype and set aside the rather mundane story, the
films visuals alone warrant your entire concentration.
Ah, but there is the shortcoming. Storywise, and often in terms of
character, this film is hopelessly melodramatic. Sometimes, the emotions
onscreen remind one of a soap opera. It's all just a little too much.
The movie is so eager to please, so anxious for you to surrender to
it, that it's often a bit too much. It's sometimes a little too bold,
a little too overwhelming. It has major lapses in logic ("The
desert coast of Florida?") and it's use of fog and mirrors and
its labyrynthine plot basically are there to disguise the enigmatic
hollowness of the entire enterprise. Sure, it looks great and it moves
briskly. But still. Shouldn't the greatest film of all time have a
better framework to hang all this on?
There are some marvelous themes under the surface here, however. Stuff
about the loss of innocence and the way that time and life can cause
us to forget where we started from and all that jazz. And Welles,
Joseph Cotton, Paul Stewart, Everett Sloane and the rest of the cast
do a marvelous job. And, hey, if I gave "Days
of Heaven" an "A" for simply looking really, really
great (and it does) then why can't I give "Citizen Kane"
an "A" for its better qualities. It may be overrated but
it still feels like the film is inventing modern filmmaking before
your very eyes.