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Citizen Kane

January 4, 2016

Citizen Kane (1941)
Director: Orson Welles
Actors: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore

citizenkanexanaduandgate.jpg.w300h200.jpg (300×200)

Synopsis: Journalists and old acquaintances try to piece together the epic rise and fall story of famed newspaper magnate, Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles), in the aftermath of his recent death….

Review: What more is there to say about the sheer genius of Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane? I’m not sure I can add anything novel to the film’s glowing critical esteem, but having finally seen it again, I can at least re-affirm my ardent and unwavering admiration for it.

The mesmeric opening sequence alone blows you away, not just for its cinematographic virtuosity (more of that in a moment), but with its sheer gusto and masterful scale of storytelling. Any film that opens on a series of dissolves has my attention (I based the opening few pages of my Eivissa on this technique, so it’s nice to know I’ve received inadvertent affirmation of that sensibility from the great Orson Welles!) The sentimental snow-glass being dropped portentously, the strange perspectives refracted through the snow-glass, then the immortal dying utterance of “Rosebud” – these all brilliantly set up the film’s thesis probing the genesis of Charles Foster Kane. Then this opening, extrovert flourish is immediately counteracted by an antithetical, matter-of-fact news report introducing the figure of Kane in a more ‘conventional’ way.

It’s probably boring to non-cinephiles the amount of swooning commentators do over Welles’ command of the medium, but it really is immense, with every second of every frame revealing some kernel of information or emotion through an element of framing, perspective, sound design or storytelling. Most scenes in the film are immemorial, but the melancholic tracking shot to Susan’s washed-up Atlantic City show by use of a magical faded cut crystallises the bittersweet end-destination of Kane’s failed experiment (his second wife), and the imposing, echoing sound design in Xanadu is amazing – emphasising the de facto mausoleum Kane has built for himself.

The slippery nature of who Kane actually was is masterly controlled throughout the narrative discourse, and Welles takes us to all the players in Kane’s life (Thatcher, Bernstein, Leland, Susan) plus the newsreel reportages, yet in doing so he almost creates a mise en abyme refuting the tendency to want to reduce everything to one core sentimental genesis. This receives it stunning apex in the closing sequence, with Kane’s epic posthumous storeroom of possessions resembling a mini-Manhattan skyline (the very locus Kane conquered in his lifetime), until a seemingly unimportant little artefact is thrown into the furnace – eventually revealed as the mysterious boyhood sledge known as “Rosebud”: the late revelation of Kane’s paradise lost, or just the last bluff from Welles in this, perhaps his greatest, hall of mirrors? (January 2016)

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