There’s history. The cinematography is stunning. Citizen
There’s no doubt that Citizen Kane is a great movie. It is a pioneering film that forever changed film making. Its plot is one of the most creative and original in all of movie history. The cinematography is stunning. Citizen Kane is about those images that we all reflect and project, the sum total of which -the impressions we make on other people- are all we that leave behind us. That central, unsolveable riddle of personality is at the core of what makes Citizen Kane so endlessly watchable.
The classic masterpiece, Citizen Kane (1941), is probably the world’s most famous and highly rated film, with its many remarkable scenes, cinematic and narrative techniques and innovations. The director, star, and producer were all the same individual – Orson Welles (in his film debut at age 25), who collaborated with Herman J. Mankiewicz on the script and with Gregg Toland as cinematographer. Within the maze of its own aesthetic, Citizen Kane develops two interesting themes. The first concerns the debasement of the private personality of the public figure, and the second deals with the crushing weight of materialism.
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Taken together, these two themes comprise the bitter irony of an American success story that ends in futile nostalgia, loneliness, and death. The fact that the personal theme is developed verbally through the characters while the materialistic theme is developed visually, creating a distinctive stylistic counterpoint. It is against the counterpoint that the themes unfold within the structure of a mystery story. Its theme is told from several perspectives by several different characters and is thought provoking. The tragic story is how a millionaire newspaperman, who idealistically made his reputation as the champion of the underprivileged, becomes corrupted by a lust for wealth, power and immortality. Kane’s tragedy lies in his inability to experience any real emotion in his human relationships. The apparent intellectual superficiality of Citizen Kane can be traced to the shallow quality of Kane himself.
Even when Kane is seen as a crusading journalist battling for the lower classes, overtones of self-idolatry mar his actions. His clever ironies are more those of the exhibitionist than the crusader.In the movie, Thatcher was furious with Kane’s success in attacking trusts in defense of “the people” and providing false headlines such as those about the Spanish Armada being anchored off of the Jersey coast, a headline printed with virtually no proof to substantiate it. Kane even used his paper to attack a company of which he himself, along with Thatcher, was the major shareholder. As Thatcher prepared to leave after his discussion with Kane on what new is, he mentioned to Kane his enormous losses, which totaled one million dollars for the year, a staggering sum to have been lost by one person, especially at that time.
Kane,. however, laughed it off, joking that, at that rate, he’ll have to close down in sixty years (Citizen Kane). All these things were characteristic of Hearst as well. He attacked the trusts in favor of “the people” (a favorite phrase of Hearst’s) and hired lawyers to try to get injunctions against the trusts and eventually destroy them. He supported the eight hour workday and the labor unions (Swanberg 235). He made up headlines preying on people’s fear and hatred of Spain and Japan which, not coincidentally, he had aroused by previous articles in The Examiner and other publications of his about Spanish atrocities in Cuba and the “yellow menace” of Japan (Swanberg 122, 352) Hearst threw money away as though to him it literally grew on trees.
A man with an income of fifteen million dollars a year at the height of his power, he had almost no savings and sometimes had to borrow money (Swanberg 88). What is “Citizen Kane” about? This is a thinly veiled account of the life of William Randolph Hearst. Welles’ masterpiece carefully exploits Hearst the same way Hearst’s papers exploited everyone else. By exploiting public interest in the life of the controversial Hearst Wells guarantees that he will have an audience and all the free publicity that a good controversy can generate. In the great tradition of yellow journalism it sacrifices the truth about Hearst for the sensational aspects of his story.
The film opens as Charles Foster Kane is uttering his last word “Rosebud”. Thus leaving historians and journalists with the task of attempting to discover what the significance of this is. From this point on our intrepid journalist will spend the rest of the film quizzing all of Kane’s former friends and employees in an atempt to find a way to explain the great man’s life. Ultimately “Citizen Kane” is a mystery story about one of life’s great mysteries, how the more you find out about someone the less you understand their character.
Just as the film begins with the camera penetrating mists, then passing through the barriers around the mysterious world of Xanadu, so it ends with the camera withdrawing until the mists cover the lens.This is a mighty exposition of American society and a devastating critique of the American Dream which, coming on the heals of the Great Depression found an audience that was all too aware of the shortcomings associated with a capitalistic free market enterprise system when it does not work. To a great extent the film is a contemporary version of Faust (a fact that was no doubt not lost on Hearst or Wells), the story of a man who gains the world and loses his soul in the process.Perhaps Orson Welles said it best himself “Citizen Kane” is, “a portrait of a public man’s private life.
” Hollywood legend has it that Louis B. Mayer offered to reimburse RKO for the entire cost of the picture if they would agree to destroy the film and all of its negatives. Indeed,stories abound that Hearst ordered his subordinates to do anything and every thing to suppress the film’s release. RKO, with a bit of skillful manipulation on the part of Welles, wisely refused. The newsreel sequence that is a satire on “The March Of Time” were achieved by rubbing the negative with sand to effect an aged look.The Making of a PersonalityCitizen Kane is a study of the personality of Charles Foster Kane seen not through his own eyes, but through those of the people closest to him. We learn about Kane from Mr.
Thatcher, his bank guardian; Mr. Bernstein, the business manger; Jedediah Leland, his closest friend and drama critic; Susan Alexander, his second wife; and Raymond, the head steward at the Xanadu palace. The use of flashback memories in this narrative style biography not only gives five completely different perspectives of Kane but reestablishes the fact that no one person truly understands anyone else.
The narratives combined with the deep focus flashbacks allow the viewer a more complete understanding of the man with a deeper insight about how issues regarding society, current events, love, and media can affect the inner life of an individual. Only the viewer, and what he sees in the last minute of the film, is able to draw a more concise conclusion of who and what Charles Kane represents and how and why he became the man he did.The opening scene shows Charles Foster Kane – rich, alone, and unloved – awaiting the inescapable hand of death.
He drops the glass ball with a log cabin snow scene to the floor while uttering the odd word, “Rosebud”. Now the search begins to find meaning in his dying word.The two dominant themes that intertwine throughout the film are power and love. Even in the childhood scene, these are both obvious. Mrs. Kane, the mother, becomes unexpectedly wealthy and signs guardianship of little Charlie, along with her fortune, over to the Thatcher and Company bankers.
She insists that Charlie be taken away from his sledding, snowman, and his “Union forever” games outside their Colorado log cabin for an education back east equivalent to his fortune. Charlie hates the idea of leaving his sled and his mother. He distrusts her words, “You won’t be lonely, Charles.” He distrusts Mr. Thatcher even more. You can see the hatred in his eyes that he has for Thatcher.
This begins his struggle for power and control of his life and he uses his sled to push Thatcher to the ground. He immediately holds on to his mother lovingly not wanting to leave. And while Charlie is traveling back east on the train, his sled is forgotten outside being buried in the snow.Why would Mrs. Kane send Charlie away? During the late 1800’s people who had very little traveled west in hopes of obtaining a richer and better life while most wealthy people stayed east to be close to the financial control and power.
This idea that the richest and most powerful men live in the east influences Mrs. Kane’s decision for Charlie. She performs the ultimate sacrifice of a mother. Only the love for her child allows her to send Charlie back east for the education equivalent to his fortune. But did she think about what Charlie might be losing or how this might effect his later life? It would have to, as he loses the daily affection of his mother, his sled, and his childhood pastimes.Twenty years later, his parents gone and himself expelled from many colleges, Charles Kane assumes control of the world’s sixth largest private fortune.
Only a small failing New York newspaper interests him. While Thatcher wants Charles to take an interest in his moneymaking investments, Kane demonstrates his power and control by defying Thatcher and insists he have some fun in learning to run the failing newspaper. Kane does show some love and compassion for the failing paper in his own way by losing a million dollars a year in trying to save it. Charles was not the stereotyped wealthy person who just sits in an office and lives off the interest of his fortune. He frivolously spends his money collecting expensive art items without worrying about making money and has fun in building this failing newspaper into a powerful publishing empire of thirty-seven newspapers. He starts as “the friend to the working man” with the motto to treat “all the news honestly.
” However, to gain the power of the media he sensationalizes the news and considers himself to be the voice of the people. It is no wonder that Thatcher remembers Kane as “nothing more or less–a communist who does not know how to handle money, he only spent it.”The fact that his first wife, Emily, is the niece of the President of the United States suggests another connection between power and love. Kane took a political stand even as a child. History tells us that Colorado’s decision on joining the union was happening while Charlie played his “Union forever” games in the snow outside his log home.
Knowing this fact, we see Charlie taking a political stand on an important issue at a very early age. It appears his love for Emily is sincere but as the years go by, we see how the love disappears in the morning breakfast scenes. Their life together begins at a small table, sitting side by side, chatting and laughing. As years pass, the table grows in length, the Kane’s move to sitting at opposite ends of the table. Conversation becomes more argumentative over the years, until finally they sit, with Charles reading the morning edition of his newspaper and Emily reading his competitor’s paper, never speaking to one another.
Once while discussing his attacks on her uncle, the President, Emily begins, “People will think””What I want them to think” Kane interrupts and finishes. Believing this, he becomes politically ambitious and decides to run for governor. Did Charles really love Emily or did he love the fact that she was the niece of the President and uses her to begin his life in politics? In the childhood scene, Charlie took a political stand and had his mother’s love behind him. Was Emily just the substitute for the supporting love of his mother? I believe Kane addresses this issue before the election when his affair with Susan Alexander is about to be made public news. His opponent, James Gettys, gives Mr. Kane the opportunity to withdraw from the election or face having his affair in all the newspapers. His wife, Emily, saying that the decision is already made, tells him it is time to leave Susan’s apartment.
Kane replies, “There’s only one person in this world to decide what I’m going to do, and that’s me.” Is Kane telling this to Emily or to his mother? The last time he was told that a decision was made for him he had challenged it and lost. Is this scene a reminder of the past and how he needs to prove he has control over his own life? Kane chooses his love for Susan over Emily. This power over love theme seems to intertwine his past and present.Kane’s life with Susan adds a more complex situation in the love and power theme of the movie. Kane first meets Susan by chance on a street corner and is delighted that she likes him even though she does not know who he is.
She knows very few people and he says, “I know too many people. Guess we’re both lonely.” That first night he also tells Susan, “I was on my way in search of my youth.” Did he fall in love with Susan because he is lonely, seeking love from anybody, and is searching for the love he feels he lost as a child? He describes Susan to his best friend Leland as “a cross-section of the American public,” suggesting that he believes “this proves that he can be loved by the people.” Perhaps this is why Leland refers Kane’s life saying, “Love is the story of his life. How he lost it.”While running for governor, power and love arise in a different text.
Kane wants the power of the political office, but he also sees the election as an opportunity for the people to show their love for him. When his affair with Susan ends his political career, he feels deprived of the love of the people, and decides to use his power and money to give Susan a career as an opera singer. This seems generous and noble at the start of her career but soon becomes a test of his power and control over her. He builds an opera house for her and insists that his newspapers give her glowing reviews even though she has no singing talent. He forces her to continue singing as she begs to quit.
After she attempts suicide, Kane realizes that he can push her no further. To regain his power over her he builds the palace Xanadu for her. We quickly see that power rather than love is his motivation because he isolates them there. Power and love are prevalent again and Susan finally gathers enough courage to leave him. As she walks away we see the rage in his eyes while destroying her room. It is the same look he had for Mr. Thatcher when he was separated from his mother.
Perhaps his love for Susan is as deep as the love Kane had for his mother and the loss of a deeper love causes the violent reaction from Kane. To Susan, Charles appears as a monster that forced her into a disastrous singing career. She relays that he was mean, materialistic, and incapable of loving anyone adding, “Everything was his idea, except my leaving him.”Raymond, the steward of Xanadu, considers Kane a pathetic old fool.
He is the only person who ever heard Charles Foster Kane say “Rosebud”. While Kane is destroying the bedroom as Susan leaves him, he sees the log cabin glass ball. He picks it up, puts it in his pocket, softly speaks “Rosebud”, and then calmly walks out of the room.
Is it the memory of his childhood in the log cabin and the love of his mother that calms him?The only person close to Kane who seems to remain a friend is Bernstein, his General Manager. He says that Charles was “a man who lost nearly everything he had a man to be pitied.” Little did Bernstein know that he is the closest to describing and understanding “Rosebud”.
Tangye Lean, in his November, 1941 review states “significant things that happen to us are the ones that get condensed, overlooked, forgotten” (63) and I personally believe the revelation of “Rosebud” in the last scene of the movie substantiates this idea.The puzzle of “Rosebud” is never found as the investigators are listing all of the art items in the basement of Xanadu and they give up the search. “If you put all this stuff together,” says one of them, “what would it spell?” “Rosebud?” suggests another. “I dont think so,” the first replies. “I don’t think any word can explain a man’s life.
No. I guess Rosebud is just a piece in a jigsaw puzzle, a missing piece.” The camera then sweeps up revealing the full extent of the crated art pieces, which look exactly like a jigsaw puzzle from overhead. It moves downward over many of the art items until it will select a single object, which is being thrown into the furnace by a workman. It is a sled with the name “Rosebud” painted on it. It is the sled little Charlie was forcibly separated from in his childhood. And that, except for the smoke billowing out the chimney, is the end.
So it is only in the last minute of the movie that the viewer finds out what “Rosebud” is. Putting together the memories of the five people closest to Kane can not finalize who Charles Foster Kane is. It is the revelation of what “Rosebud” really is that the viewer can now put together all the pieces of the puzzle and come to their own conclusion of who and what Kane represents and how and why he became the man he did.
I believe Kane’s childhood, or rather the memory of it, plays a large subconscious part in making him that which he was. He had very little family life, but just enough to remind him of those sweet childhood memories as an adult. He seems to admit this twice in the movie. Once, in the beginning of running the newspaper, he says, “I never did like the silver spoon.” Secondly, when the Depression forces the sale of his newspaper empire he says to Thatcher and Bernstein, “If I hadn’t been very rich, I might have been a great man.”The power of Kane is the story of his search for love, emotional loyalty, and the unspoiled world of his boyhood, symbolized by “Rosebud” and the winter log cabin glass ball. He is unable to enter back into the life surrounded by the glass.
He is unable to obtain the life and love he feels he lost as a child. He is unable to buy these things with his fortune. Had he been able to love and give these feelings freely to those around him, he would have attained love with an inner feeling of power. Instead we see his life as he lived it: the power of wealth without love. So it is fitting that the story of Charles Foster Kane began with his lonely death, his encapsulated childhood memory opened with the broken glass ball, and concluded with the destruction of his life symbol “Rosebud”. What is the place of wealth in American society? how does this relate to big houses, lifestyle, etc? What does the film say about power? Who has power? how do they get it? how do they use it? for what purposes? What is the role of women in this film? Are these particularly “American” values?