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Citizen Kane

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Template:Infobox Movie Citizen Kane is the first feature film directed by Orson Welles (he had directed two short films previously), and is loosely based on the life of the newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, the reclusive aerospace and movie mogul Howard Hughes, and the Chicago utilities magnate Samuel Insull. Welles maintained that the character is a composite of several historical individuals. Internally while it was under production, it was referred to as RKO 281. The film premiered on May 1, 1941. Endlessly discussed and dissected by critics and viewers alike, this innovative film is perhaps the most influential ever in film history.

The movie has some parallels to the 1933 movie The Power and the Glory.

Ruth Warrick was the last main cast member still living. She died on January 15, 2005. The only remaining living cast members are Buddy Swan and Sonny Bupp, who played Kane at age 8 and Kane's young son, respectively.

Contents

Overview

Produced in 1941, the film deals with the inability of Charles Foster Kane (played by Welles) to truly love. Instead Kane has only "Love on my own terms". As a result, Kane eventually alienates every loved one around him and dies a lonely recluse in an opulent, but crumbling estate.

Kane dies in the opening scene of the film; this is followed by a newsreel pastiche documenting Kane's public life (this segment was produced by RKO's actual newsreel department). The remainder of the movie is told through flashbacks being related to a reporter trying to improve the newsreel — the newsreel is regarded as functional but not especially profound, and furthermore the reporter is searching for the meaning behind Mr. Kane's dying word, "rosebud".

Citizen Kane, directed by and starring , is here commemorated on a .  In this famous scene Kane gives a political speech with a giant portrait of himself in the background.
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Citizen Kane, directed by and starring Orson Welles, is here commemorated on a postage stamp. In this famous scene Kane gives a political speech with a giant portrait of himself in the background.

What is revealed has been described by Jorge Luis Borges, in a 1941 review, as a "metaphysical detective story. [Its] subject (both psychological and allegorical) is the investigation of a man's inner self, through the works he has wrought, the words he has spoken, the many lives he has ruined... Overwhelmingly, endlessly, Orson Welles shows fragments of the life of the man, Charles Foster Kane, and invites us to combine them and reconstruct him. Forms of multiplicity and incongruity abound in the film: the first scenes record the treasures amassed by Kane; in one of the last, a poor woman, luxuriant and suffering, plays with an enormous jigsaw puzzle on the floor of a palace that is also a museum. At the end we realize that the fragments are not governed by a secret unity: the detested Charles Foster Kane is a simulacrum, a chaos of appearances".

The film combines revolutionary cinematography (by Gregg Toland, whom Welles shared a title card with, which was considered a massive nod of approval for Toland's overall contribution to the film) with an Oscar-winning screenplay (by Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz -- though most film history circles consider Mankiewicz's contribution to the screenplay to be far greater than that of Welles), and a lineup of first time silverscreen actors, associates of Mr. Welles' from his stint at the Mercury Theater, such as Joseph Cotten and Agnes Moorehead.

Film-making innovations

Film scholars and historians view Citizen Kane as Welles' attempt to create a new style of filmmaking by studying the various forms of movie making, and combining them all into one (much like D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation did in 1915). Examination of the techniques used by Welles and his crew reveals elements of expressionism in the use of light and shadow, noting the influence of German and Russian filmmakers. The film is even seen as one of the predecessors of method acting, as seen during the scene where Kane vents his anger at his political opponent, Jim Gettys, at the top of a flight of stairs. (Welles actually tripped and broke his ankle during the filming of that scene, but the scene continued and made it into the final print of the film.)

The most innovative technical aspect of "Kane" is the unprecedented use of deep focus. In nearly every scene in the film, the foreground, background and everything in between are all in sharp focus. This was done by legendary cinematographer Gregg Toland through his experimentation with lenses and lighting. Anytime the deep focus was impossible—for example in the scene when Kane finishes a bad review of Alexander's opera while at the same time firing the person who started the review—Toland used an optical printer to make the whole screen appear in focus (one piece of film is printed onto another piece of film).

Another unorthodox method used in the film was the way low-angle cameras were used to display a point of view facing upwards, thus allowing ceilings to be shown in the background of several scenes. Since movies were primarily filmed on sound stages and not on location during the era of the Hollywood studio system, it was impossible to film at an angle that showed ceilings because the stages had none. Welles' crew used black cloth draped above the set to produce the illusion of a regular room with a ceiling, while the boom mikes were hidden above the cloth.

One of the story-telling techniques introduced in this film was using a series of jump cuts shot on the same set while the characters changed costume and make-up between cuts so that the scene following the cut would look as if it took place at a time long after the previous cut. In this way, Welles chronicled the breakdown of Kane's first marriage, which took years of story time, in a matter of minutes. Prior to this technique, filmmakers often had to use a long period of screen time to explain the character's changed circumstances. For example, in Erich von Stroheim's masterpiece Greed, the breakdown of the marriage of the main characters takes almost an hour of screen time, even in the most abbreviated cut.

Welles also pioneered several visual effects in order to cheaply shoot things like crowd scenes and large interior spaces. For example, the scene where the camera in the opera house rises dramatically to the rafters to show the workman showing a lack of appreciation for the second Mrs. Kane's performance was shot by panning a camera upwards over the performance scene, matching it with a painting showing the upper regions of the house, and then matching it again with the scene of the workmen.

During the filming (June 29, 1940 - October 23, 1940), Welles prevented studio executives of RKO from visiting the set. He understood their desire to control projects and he knew they were expecting him to do an exciting film that would correspond to his The War of the Worlds radio broadcast. Welles' RKO contract had given him complete control over the production of the film when he signed on with the studio, something that he never again was allowed to exercise when making motion pictures.

Conflict with William Hearst

Much of Kane's life is seen by critics as a fictional parody of (or attack on) media baron William Randolph Hearst. The most notable reference to Hearst comes early in the film, as Kane (played by Welles) provides a quote that mirrors Hearst's own comment on the Spanish American War: "You provide the pictures, I'll provide the war." (An often-debated Hollywood legend says that the reference to "Rosebud" was also an attack on Hearst: allegedly, it was a nickname used by Hearst to refer to the private anatomy of his mistress, Marion Davies).

On hearing about the film, Hearst offered RKO Pictures $800,000 to destroy all prints of the film and burn the negative. Although it's often said that Hearst was upset because the film was about him, one alternative theory is that Hearst was more upset about the portrayal of Davies (as talentless singer Susan Alexander) than himself in the film. Davies was a gifted light comedic actress who was talked by Hearst into starring in pompous costume dramas many thought were out of her depth. Roger Ebert, in his full-length commentary of "Citizen Kane," suggested that the Alexander character had very little to do with Davies, but, rather, that it was based on the wife of another famous man upon which the Kane character was developed.

When RKO refused Hearst's offer, Hearst was so angry that he banned every newspaper and station in his media conglomerate from reviewing or even mentioning the movie. This struggle was, itself, turned into a movie, RKO 281. Although these efforts damaged the film's success, they ultimately failed considering that almost every reference of Hearst's life and career made today typically includes a reference to the film's parallel to it. The irony of Hearst's efforts is that the film is now inexorably connected to him. This connection was reinforced by the publication in 1961 of W. A. Swanberg's extensive biography entitled Citizen Hearst.

Awards and recognition

The 1941 Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Screenplay was shared by Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz as the only Oscar awarded for the film. It was nominated, however, for another eight awards:

It should be noted that boos were heard almost every time "Citizen Kane" was referred to during the Oscars ceremony that year. Most of Hollywood did not want the film to ever see the light of day considering the threats that William Hearst had made if it did.

Although it was little seen and virtually forgotten until its revival in the 1950s, its critical fortunes have skyrocketed since. Critics world-wide began crediting it as among the best films ever made. For Welles, however, this was too late. Hearst had been successful in blacklisting Welles in Hollywood so that no studio would agree to work with him.

Many critics consider the film the best ever made; the American Film Institute ranked it #1 on its "100 Greatest Movies" list; it has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry; and the film is consistently in the top 20 on the Internet Movie Database. Beginning in 1962, and every ten years since, it has been voted the best film ever made by the Sight and Sound critics' poll.

Prints

Welles's original master film negative of Citizen Kane was destroyed in a fire in the 1970s. Until 1991, all existing theatrical prints of the film were made from copies of the original. When the film became owned by Turner Entertainment (which bought the rights to the MGM and RKO film libraries), film restoration techniques were used to produce a pristine print for a 50th Anniversary theatrical revival reissue in 1991 (released by Paramount Pictures). The 2003 British DVD edition is taken from an interpositive held by the British Film Institute. The current U.S. DVD version (released by Warner Home Video) is taken from another digital restoration, supervised by Turner.

In 2003, Orson Welles' daughter Beatrice sued Turner Entertainment and RKO Pictures, claiming that the Welles estate is the legal owner of the film. Her attorney said that Orson Welles had left RKO with an exit deal terminating his contracts with the studio, meaning that Welles still had an interest in the film and his previous contract giving the studio the ownership of the film was null and void. Beatrice Welles also claimed that, if the courts did not uphold her claim of ownership, RKO nevertheless owes the estate 20% of the profits, from a previous contract which has not been lived up to.

In the 1980s, the film became the catalyst in the fight against the trend of film colorization. When Turner Entertainment announced plans to colorize the film, both public outcry and a previous clause written by Orson Welles himself led to these plans being cancelled.

References to Citizen Kane in other work

  • Russ Meyer's movie Up! - Sweet Li'l Alice (Janet Wood) says "rosebud" and looks at the camera after seeing the flower tattoo of Margo Winchester (Raven De La Croix).
  • The last chapter of the comic book The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck by Keno Don Rosa is heavily influenced by Citizen Kane.
  • The White Stripes song "The Union Forever" is made up entirely of quotes from Citizen Kane. A young Kane yells the title while playing in the snow. The chorus, "it can't be love for there is no true love", is originally sung by the jazz band during the camping trip. It also features the "Charlie Kane" song in a breakdown.
  • The flash-backs to childhood in Oliver Stone's Nixon closely resemble Citizen Kane stylistically.
  • The animated television program The Simpsons has had many, many references to Citizen Kane, including an episode entitled "Rosebud", which concerned tycoon Montgomery Burns recovering his teddy bear Bobo, which he had lost as a young man, ala Charles Foster Kane and his sled. In DVD commentary for another episode, one of the show's producers half-jokingly claims that all the Citizen Kane references made throughout the series could be pieced together to comprise the entire film from start to finish.
  • In the children's television show The Adventures of Pete and Pete, Pete drops a snow globe in the episode Sick Day just like in Citizen Kane.
  • Several animated programs, including Animaniacs and Family Guy have revealed what "rosebud" is in a satirical manner; one of Family Guy's more memorable quotes involves Peter Griffin taping over the film and revealing the ending for the next viewer, exclaiming, "There, I just saved you two long boobless hours."
  • A level in the computer game Oh No! More Lemmings is called Citizen Lemming.
  • In an episode of the children's television show Arthur the rich Muffy has a sled identical to Kane's.
  • Ruth Warrick who played Emily Monroe Norton in Citizen Kane became better known later in her career for playing Phoebe Tyler Wallingford on the America soap opera All My Children from 1970 until her death in January 2005. In this show it became a recurring gag to make references to this film when Phoebe was in the scene.
  • In 2004 a documentary film titled Citizen Black detailed the career and downfall of newspaper baron Lord Conrad Black.
  • In episode 137 of "Cheers" ("A Tale of Two Cuties", aired 1/21/88), Frasier, upset that the regulars have ruined the ending of the book he is reading, takes revenge by revealing the endings to several classic films in rapid succession, including the fact that Rosebud was Kane's sled.
  • In the video game Final Fantasy 6, in the part where Locke is asked to choose a password from 3 words, one of them is "Rosebud".

See also

External links

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