Citizen Kane

AFI Rank: #1
Year Released: 1941
Director: Orson Welles
Actors: Orson Welles

Citizen Kane was created when Orson Welles was only 26 years old, and came out in 1941, just before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The film is based on the life of William Randolph Hearst and there were many legal battles between Welles and Hearst.

It's always hard to read or watch a "classic" without having huge expectations - and perhaps not just enjoying the film. That's true for books you're required to read in high school as well as for movies. You might really have enjoyed reading "Pride and Prejudice" - but if you're forced to read it and told "this is a great book!" you might not enjoy it at all.

Let me say first why this is a classic. There are a TON of visual puns, lighting effects, production effects, that had never been used before. The in-focus effects were spectacular when this movie came out. It was an incredible groundbreaker - one that inspired thousands of other filmmakers. If you weren't around in 1941, then in essence everything you watch is "based" on this. It's like praising Edgar Allen Poe for writing mysteries, if you love mysteries that exist now. They draw their origin from that spectacular start.

If you were born after 1941, you might say "well that's interesting, but I don't have to like the pyramids of Egypt to like modern architecture. I like Van Halen even though some of their songs were really written by classic blues artists 40+ years earlier; I don't like the blues original songs. I like current stuff and don't care about what it was based on."

That is of course true, and a human trait. So if you're not a fan of "tracing the roots" of movies you love, let's just take the movie itself as a standalone entity - as the story of a man.

Orson Wells made this as his very first movie - and he not only acted in it but also directed it. He was a newbie. He did some amazing things in his very first attempt every to make a movie. To start with, you as the viewer are really "drawn in" to the movie in a way that most movies don't do. The interviewer is usually in the lower right, i.e. sort of where you, the audience, are sitting. You and the interviewer are both directly talking to and interacting with the people on the screen.

Kane was "stolen" from his family at a very young age - raised by strangers, sent off to schools and training. He grew up alone, with only some friends to keep him company. He decides when just out of college to run a newspaper, sort of a lark. He has great ideals - to help the little man. Once he gets a taste of power and public affection, he gets addicted to it. He begins to create stories that don't really exist, to "make world events happen". He starts to manipulate the people around him to get him more and more attention. When he gets abandoned, you feel sorry for him - but you also know it's completely his own fault.

These aren't just random vague events that are happening in outer space. They are very personal events happening to a "real person" - this was of course based on real life events of that era. Not only that, but they could happen to any of us. We all have tasks that we do, that bring us joy. We all have the potential to have growth with our dreams - but if we got that growth, would we do "good" with that power, or would we start to be tainted? If we had power over those we love, would we use it 100% for their own good, or would we do subtle things that made US happy and not necessarily them? How many parents, for example, pushed kids to go to a particular college because it appealed to the parent, even if it wasn't the perfect match for the child's personality?

This obviously isn't a hack and slash movie with a lot of combat and violence. It's a movie about the trade-offs we all make as we go for our dreams, find success, find failure, try to make love work. This isn't the story of a 23 year old having a fun college life. It's the story of the full life of a man - from sad, lonely young child, to idealistic young man, to a sad, lonely old man.

The way life affects us - and the way in which our choices affect our life - are universal concepts that are really important to pretty much every human being. It might be that some particular humans might not care yet. Certainly I remember for example when I was a teenager that I didn't give a lot of thought to the nebulous "long off future". Now that I'm a bit older, though, the thoughts of choices made, opportunities missed and long term goals are very important to me. Citizen Kane is a very touching portrayal of one man's journey through the years.

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