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It isn't for the sake of iconclasm that I have chosen not to give ten stars to a film regarded by many to be the greatest American film ever made. (The video boxes of two different releases of this film, as well as the trailers and mini-documentary before and after the film on the one I rented, all make this claim.) No, I give this 9-1/2 stars because that was about how entertaining it was to watch.
During a modern-day viewing of this ground-breaking film of yesteryear, the disadvantage of time works heavily against it. The cinematic advances Orson Welles made are not to be overlooked, but they now are so pervasive as to feel old-hat in spite of this film being the origin of their tremendous influence. On top of this, the subject and style are severely dated no matter what the praisers of the film say. The truth is that Charles Foster Kane (played by Welles) suffers from low self-esteem, and it makes him feel hurt and causes him to hurt others.
The darkness of the human psyche is still rich fodder for movies, but nowadays story-tellers must go deeper than the realization itself. A modern-day Citizen Kane would plumb much greater depths, and characters would understand the protagonist's psychic situation with much greater familiarity, without devoting soliloquies to it. And finally what detracted most from my recent viewing is that I've already heard so much about this touchstone of cinema. I already knew how the film was going to end. Unfortunately, it's legendary. In the same vein, if you've heard about, but haven't seen, The Crying Game, don't expect to be surprised by it.
9-1/2 stars, then, is my rating of the experience of seeing the film last Sunday. If I were rating on merit alone, I would need to factor out datedness in the name of fairness and give this my top rating because, friends, every aspect of this film is rendered with intensity and care. The acting, cinematography, direction, sets, lighting: all is extremely well-done. The films are few and far between that are so strong all around.
Orson Welles and The Mercury Players tell this tale of newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane, a filmic effigy of William Randolph Hearst. (Notice how the scansion of the two names is identical, and Orson's own full name, George Orson Welles is only one syllable short.) Anyhoo, Kane, like Hearst, goes from dirt-poor beginnings into a world of wealth when he is placed in the care of a millionaire along the lines of Mr. Burns from The Simpsons. I was a little confused by this-something about his real parents either losing money or making money on a mine in Colorado....
Anyway, Kane grows into adulthood and asks his guardian to let him run a small newspaper. Kane takes the newspaper to greatness through a combination of strategies, foremost among these, championing the working classes and printing sensationalist lies. He also parlays his wealth back into the paper, hiring the best writers and editors in the business away from his competitors. In all, he plays a cut-throat game of business and soon enough has enough money for anything he wants.
He marries the president's niece and begins to campaign for governor (with eyes on the White House). He is stymied though in a frighteningly contemporary sex scandal, and his wife leaves him. Kane tries to make his new wife a successful singer, but she's not very good. He builds her an opera house and hires the best teachers in the world for her, but the situation remains the same: he wants her to be great, but she's not.
Kane doesn't really love either wife, of course. Mainly, he just wants to be loved by as many people as possible. Major separation issues thrown into the mix of his overwhelming ambition are what drive him to national prominence. As a loved and feared man, he builds himself a castle, yet another representation of Hearst, and goes into reclusion.
His dying word, "Rosebud" actually happens at the beginning of the film. It prompts a team of news-reel reporters to look into Kane's life in search of the personal mystery whose answer is this one enigmatic word. Kane's life is narrated through those who knew him-old estranged friends, business partners, wife #2-and dramatized in flashbacks. Though we, the fortunate viewer, finally learn the mystery, the reporters never do. Their conclusion is that personal life, especially of public figures, will remain a mystery. Though the living can psychoanalyze the actions of the dead, those critical moments that change one forever can never be rediscovered by another.
Powerfully acted throughout, this film is important to see, I believe. Though stygian in pace compared to anything shot in the last 25 years, it shows a care and awareness that is mostly lacking in 99% of all other films. Still in all, if you want pure entertainment, you might consider something silly and stupid: Tim Green's Road Trip. In comparison, this film is careless and vapid, but may make you giggle and does have some interesting elements for a teen sex and adventure fantasy. And that's enough of a review....
©1999 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.