Saturday, January 26, 2013

Blind Spot 2013: Citizen Kane

Directed by Orson Welles and written by Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz, Citizen Kane is the story about the life of a publishing tycoon as people investigate his final words as they reflect on his triumphs and scandals. The film is an exploration into the life of a man and how he became successful but also infamous as Welles plays the lead role of Charles Foster Kane. Also starring Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Everett Sloane, Ray Collins, George Coulouris, Agnes Moorehead, Paul Stewart, Ruth Warrick, Erskine Sanford, and William Alland. Citizen Kane is a towering film from Orson Welles.

The film is essentially the story about the rise and fall of a publishing tycoon who tried all he can to make the world love him and be loved in the hopes to find happiness. Instead, he dies a man who has surrounded himself with all sorts of things like statues and various objects yet keeps uttering the world “rosebud”. That word would set the story in course as a reporter named Jerry Thompson (William Alland) tries to uncover the mystery about this word. Is it about someone in his life or an object he held very dearly? By talking to various people in this man’s life, Thompson finds himself trying to figure out what does it all mean. Yet, he also learns that the life of Charles Foster Kane is just as mysterious as the meaning of Kane’s final word.

The screenplay that Orson Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz creates does use the rise-and-fall schematics as part of a plot device. Yet, it is told unconventionally since it’s more about the life of a man told by other people. The film begins with Kane uttering his final words and then goes into this newsreel montage of who Charles Foster Kane is. Through this newsreel, Kane is revealed to be a man who was adopted by a rich banker only to be surprised by Kane’s ambitions to run a newspaper and then become a man of great power. Yet, Kane would be married twice in his life and later divorced while becoming obsessive in building a paradise of his own called Xanadu. Kane would also endure scandal and failure as his desperation to be loved by the world only has him driving away those who cared for him where it leads to his own downfall.

Since it’s a story about a man’s life told by others, it allows the character of Thompson to figure out what “rosebud” means. There, he goes through the archives of Kane’s late guardian Walter Parks Thatcher (George Coulouris) while interviewing associates like friend Jedediah Leland (Joseph Cotten), business manager Mr. Bernstein (Everett Sloane), and his butler Raymond (Paul Stewart) at Xanadu. Then there’s Kane’s second wife Susan Alexander (Dorothy Comingore) who would be the woman to end Kane’s first marriage and his political campaign to be New York state governor. With the exception of Raymond, the individuals that Thompson meets would reveal a lot about who Kane is but also his flaws as a man where they all endured his cruelty though none of them including Raymond know who or what “rosebud” is.

Welles’ direction is entrancing for the way he presents the story about the life of this man in such a wide range of style. From the use of newsreels to help establish who Kane is before the film’s main narrative begins as well as the array of montages and stylish compositions. The direction is often filled with an array of arresting imagery from the look of Xanadu shown from its gate with this amazing mountain castle as it’s backdrop to the presentation of the opera scenes that Susan performs in. It’s all part of this world that Kane lives in as it lives up to the sense of grandeur of who this man as he is a larger than life figure. Welles uses all sorts of unique crane shots and other stylized compositions to establish this larger-than-life persona that Kane is including in the scene where he makes his campaign speech to the people.

The direction also has Welles create compositions that are striking in the way he puts an actor in the background while another is placed very closely to the camera. It’s Welles establishing of what is happening such as a scene where the eight-year old Kane (Buddy Swan) is playing outside of the house while the focus is inside where Thatcher talks to Kane’s parents about adopting him. It’s a framing device Welles would use to establish the sense of detachment that occurs between Kane and the people in his life. These are among the many stylized shots including the film’s opening sequence that is filled with an array of dizzying dissolves and special effects shots courtesy of Vernon L. Walker. Notably as it play to Kane’s death and what he was craving for in his final word.

While Welles does use a lot of stylized shots to establish key dramatic events or environments that play up to the characters Thompson interviews. There’s also moments where Welles would create images that are simple yet ominous. Notably at objects where it plays to the obsessive mind of Kane who fills his life with statues and things yet it also reveals the emptiness he is as a man. It all comes back to that final word that he says in “rosebud”. “Rosebud” does get revealed but what is revealed says a lot more of not what just Kane lost in his life but the path he had taken in his life that had brought him a lot of things but also ruin. Overall, Welles creates a very fascinating yet exhilarating portrait of a man who has everything and then loses everything.

Cinematographer Gregg Tolland does what is truly some of the most exquisite use in the art of photography. From the simpler shots for some of the film‘s exterior scenes to the gorgeous compositions for many of the film‘s backdrop settings. Tolland‘s photography is a major highlight in the film‘s technical field that includes some mesmerizing shots in many of the film‘s interiors from the way he uses shadings and lighting schemes to set the mood. Editor Robert Wise does fantastic work with the editing to play up the sense of grandeur that Kane is where Wise definitely goes from style from the use of transitional cuts in dissolves and wipes as well as montages to play up Kane’s rise and fall. Art director Van Nest Polglase and set decorator Darrell Silvera do amazing work with the set pieces from the look of Xanadu in all of its spectacle landscapes and buildings that plays up to Kane‘s persona to the sets such as the Inquirer newspaper building and the opera staging for Susan.

Costume designer Edward Stevenson does wonderful work with the costumes from the suits that Kane wears to play up his persona to the clothes that Susan wears to establish who she is as a woman that eventually becomes lost in her role. The makeup work of Maurice Seiderman does excellent work with the makeup for many of the film‘s male characters to age to represent what they‘ve become including Susan who looks like a woman who‘s been worn out. The sound work of John O. Aalberg is fantastic for the atmosphere it creates from the scenes at the opera house to the more chilling, intimate moments at the Xanadu estate.

The film’s music by Bernard Herrmann is superb for the sense of drama that it plays to with its orchestral score from the ominous opening scenes to the more heavier moments with bombastic arrangements to play up the melodrama. The film’s soundtrack consists an array of music from opera to jazz as it plays to the times that Kane has lived in as well as some of the emotional moments of the film.

The casting by Rufus LeMaire and Robert Palmer is outstanding for the ensemble that is created for the film. Notable small roles include Buddy Swan as the young Kane, Sonny Bupp as Kane’s young son, Erskine Sanford as the newspaper publisher Kane gets rid of, Harry Shannon and Agnes Moorehead as Kane’s parents, and Ruth Warrick as Kane’s first wife Emily who was the niece of the then-U.S. President where their marriage eventually becomes strained. Paul Stewart is very good as Kane’s butler Raymond who reveals to Thompson about the moment Kane’s life falls apart while Everett Sloane is wonderful as Kane’s longtime business manager who very loyal to him as he watches Kane slowly fall apart. George Coulouris is excellent as Kane’s guardian in the banker Walter Parks Thatcher who is baffled by the young Kane’s ambition as he ends up being forgotten by Kane.

Ray Collins is superb in a small but memorable appearance as Kane’s political rival Jim W. Gettys who would be the one to expose Kane that would lead to his own political downfall. Dorothy Comingore is radiant as Kane’s second wife Susan Alexander as a young woman Kane falls for as he tries to make her into a great singer only to find herself unhappy with the role Kane expects her to be as she ends up a worn out woman. Joseph Cotten is great as Kane’s best friend Jedediah Leland who deals with Kane’s ambition as he finds himself overwhelmed and disillusioned where he later reflects on what kind of man Kane was. William Alland is terrific as the reporter Jerry Thompson who tries to piece the mystery about Kane’s final words as he becomes more baffled by what he finds.

Finally, there’s Orson Welles in a remarkable performance as Charles Foster Kane who becomes a man of great ambition. Welles displays great charisma and energy to a man who is larger than life only to be brought back down to earth as he starts to lose everything where Welles’ performance becomes more eerie in its final moments. Notably as he tries to become a man of defiance who wants the people to love him as he only finds himself become a man that people despise. It’s truly a performance for the ages as well as an indication of what kind of actor Welles is.

Citizen Kane is an outstanding film from Orson Welles. Thanks to a great ensemble cast and amazing technical work highlighted by Gregg Tolland’s photography, Robert Wise’s editing, and Bernard Herrmann’s music. It’s a film that definitely lives up to sense of grandeur that Welles wanted to display in the rise and fall of a man who craves to be loved only to lose something far more valuable. It’s also a film that definitely indicates into why Orson Welles is so revered by film buffs and filmmakers as it also serves as a true introduction into his work. In the end, Citizen Kane is a triumphant film from Orson Welles.

Orson Welles Films: The Magnificent Ambersons - The Stranger (1946 film) - The Lady from Shanghai - Macbeth (1948 film) - Othello (1952 film) - Mr. Arkadin - Touch of Evil - The Trial (1962 film) - Chimes at Midnight - The Immortal Story - F for Fake - Filming OthelloThe Other Side of the Wind

Related: Orson Welles: The One-Man Band - The Eyes of Orson Welles - They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead - The Auteurs #69: Orson Welles: Part 1 - Part 2

© thevoid99 2013


Mette said...

Big blind spot of mine too, I'm a little worried because of the split opinions out there. But you seem to have been enjoying the movie.

Unknown said...

I'm so glad you loved it! It's one of my favorites. It has indeed drawn divided opinions over the years, but I still believe everybody should see it at least once. Great review. It really made my night.

thevoid99 said...

@Mette-It takes a while to get into at first yet it is nothing like any other film out there.

@Teddy Casimir-I'm glad I finally saw it. In fact, I've been doing a little marathon on the films of Orson Welles and I like what I'm seeing so far.

Unknown said...

Definitely check out Touch Of Evil and The Trial next.

thevoid99 said...

@Teddy Casimir-I saw Touch of Evil last night. I already have a review done which will come out in a few days. The only films I have on DVR to see next are F for Fake and The Stranger.

Ryan McNeil said...

In certain circles of the blogosphere, I'm mocked for my appreciation of CITIZEN KANE, so I'll try to tone it down a bit.

"What would you liked to have been?"
"Everything you hate."

You *have* to love biting dialogue like that! Not sure if you still have access to the disc of this movie or not, but if you watch it again with Roger Ebert's commentary running, it points out so many amazing details.

Glad 2013 is off to a good start for ya!

thevoid99 said...

@Ryan-I don't have the DVD as I saw the film that I had saved months earlier on my DVR hard drive.

Man, I do love the dialogue. I'll try and get the DVD w/ Ebert's commentary some day. So far, it's my favorite Welles film and my favorite first-timer of the year so far.