Citizen Kane (1941)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Film a Clef, Period Film  |   Run Time - 119 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Lucia Bozzola

Widely considered the greatest American movie ever made, Orson Welles's film debut reconceived Hollywood conventions of story-telling and visual structure, suggesting the essential mystery of a person's inner self and inspiring countless filmmakers with its technical accomplishments. Already famous for his work in radio and theater, 24-year-old Welles was given complete creative freedom when RKO Pictures signed him in 1939. Co-authored with Herman J. Mankiewicz, the Kane screenplay dispensed with linear biographical narrative in favor of flashbacks recounting Kane's life from several points of view, ostensibly to solve the puzzle of Kane's deathbed utterance. Collaborating with cinematographer Gregg Toland, Welles used specially constructed sets to compose the film through a number of long takes in deep focus and high-contrast black-and-white, creating meaning through the juxtaposition of multiple actions and characters in a single take rather than through numerous edits. While the imagery and the carefully choreographed soundtrack provide clues to Kane's nature as he ages from innocent boy to corrupt magnate, he ultimately remains an enigmatic figment of memory. Kane's real-life model, however, was no mystery; newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst tried to suppress what he considered an unflattering portrait of himself. While RKO rejected an offer to reimburse their costs in exchange for burning the negatives, Citizen Kane's release was hindered by Hearst's campaign against it. Though non-Hearst papers recognized it as a vanguard work, and it was nominated for nine Oscars (four for Welles himself), Kane was not a popular hit. Despite the film's artistic approbation and subsequent wide-ranging influence, from 1940s film noir to the French New Wave to American film school grads, Welles never again had creative control in Hollywood.