It Was His Sled…

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

Just for my WordPress (and Facebook) readers to coincide (near enough) with its 70th anniversary, here is my exclusive review of Citizen Kane, a movie with one of the most famous spoiler endings in history. In fact, it’s so well known, it’s no longer a spoiler!

Commonly hailed as one of the best movies of all time, it’s not really surprising that the newcomer might be a bit intimidated. However, I think I am hardly alone in saying that this movie is not the best of all time (although reviews are subjective). Good, certainly, and very well made, but not the best of all time (in my mind, that honour belongs to The Man From Earth or Star Wars Episode IV). The film is hard to describe in one sentence, but if I had to, I’d say it’s “a film about a reporter trying to find out the secret of a newspaper mogul’s last word (“Rosebud”) through flashbacks”. Actually, I think I did admirably. An appreciation of classic film is needed, as it might not hold the attention of viewers used to explosions, gunfights and the comedy of Jack Black.

Interesting fact about Rosebud as a name. The film took inspiration from William Randolph Hearst (whose daughter held up a bank in an example of Stockholm Syndrome), whose nickname for his mistress’ clitoris was, you guessed it, Rosebud.

There are good performances all round, and I have to say that my personal highlight was seeing Old Jed in the nursing home, when he keeps asking for cigars on the sly. Not forgetting the performance of Welles himself, of course. (Incidentally, I’ve heard a radio talk that he was in with H.G. Wells in 1942 or so. One was a potential Darth Vader, and the other sounded very much like Droopy from the Tex Avery cartoons.)

However, where this film excels is the use of filmic techniques. The first shot of the film is a fade into the house of Xanadu, with the light from one of the same windows always in the same place in the frame, no matter the angle, which is an impressive achievement. He also mimicked one of the old-style newsreels and made it look authentic. What films don’t do enough of nowadays is the one-shot, a continuous shot throughout the scene. Cuts are preferred instead and are easier to do as you can cut between them in the edit suite.

This movie is best appreciated as a study on cinematic techniques, what came afterwards and how people improved on the ideas developed here. It also helps that it is an interesting story and that Orson Welles has one of the best voices I’ve ever heard. Seriously, the man could have been paid to read the phone book. It’s not like he was shy about taking voice-over work in his later years. If you’re ever on a film studies course, this film is a must. As it’s a classic, it shouldn’t be too hard to find (I believe it’s on iPlayer for the next day or so). Comes recommended from your friendly neighbourhood reviewer.

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