DVD Tuesday: How Great Is Citizen Kane?
Orson Welles' Citizen Kane: A pop masterpiece that plays like breaking news.
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Citizen Kane courtesy Turner Home Entertainment
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Everyone's heard that
(1941) is the best of the best: It just topped the AFI's most recent list of the all-time greatest films, and critics, academics and movie buffs all genuflect before its flawless mix of technical invention and lacerating dissection of the American Dream gone wrong. But what sometimes gets lost in the adulation is the fact that it's a blast, and that's why it's this week's DVD Tuesday pick.
Tell people you're a movie critic and they want to know your favorite movie of all time. There are a lot of ways you can go at that one: After flailing embarrassingly at the question on more than one occasion, I decided to come up with an answer and a rationale. So now I say my favorite movie is the one I'd take to a desert island if I knew I'd be stuck there for years and would have to watch it over and over again. And that would be
, because every time I see it I see something new, and it never fails to thrill me with its sheer, giddy intoxication with what you can do with a camera and an idea. I taught film history/theory/criticism for years, and
never failed me: It hooked students who recoiled at black-and-white and thought anything made before
(1975) was as antiquated as a bunch of cave paintings.
The story was inspired by the life and career of tabloid pioneer William Randolph Hearst (grandfather of kidnapped heiress-turned-brainwashed revolutionary
), but it could have been ripped from today's headlines: Catapulted into the heart of the wealthy WASP establishment through a combination of luck and his steely mother's determination that he not become a drunken wastrel like his father, Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) builds a media empire on idealism and betrays it, grabs for the gold ring of political power and sees it slip away. Kane impulsively buys a newspaper (and then another and another), flamboyantly formulating a declaration of principles - a public promise to his readers of fairness, objectivity and dedication to hard facts over shallow sensationalism - and subsequently breaks every one. He marries a president's daughter and destroys their marriage - and his gubernatorial campaign - for a fling with an uneducated, none-too-bright girl who likes to sing; his relentless determination to mold
into a respectable opera singer destroys theirs. How did a man who once held the world in his hand wind up dying alone in a half-built estate gone to seed, whispering the enigmatic word "rosebud"?
Structured as a reporter's investigation into the meaning of rosebud, Kane is a mystery, a cautionary fable, a psychological drama and an epic tale of hubris going before the fall. Contrary to some claims, Welles didn't single-handedly reinvent cinema with
' script for
The Power and the Glory
(1933) anticipated Welles and
Herman J. Mankiewicz
screenplay and veteran cinematographer Gregg Toland's audacious, stylized, deep-focus compositions (in which everything is unnaturally sharp focus, from the foreground to the farthest recesses of the background) are as much a part of
's greatness as Welles' endlessly inventive storytelling. But Welles brought it all together: off-kilter angles, offbeat but perfectly motivated scene transitions, time-defying editing and vivid performances from
(yes, Endora from
and Welles himself. It's all wrapped around a story that raises genuinely provocative questions about power, wealth, integrity, class, ambition and the million ways in which men and women compromise their ideals, delude themselves and destroy their better natures, taking others down with them.
what I call a movie.
Things to consider:
Is there such a thing as "the best movie of all time?"
Is Charles Foster Kane a product of his environment, his nature or both? Was he ruined by a sudden windfall that made him so rich he never had to work, get an education (he was thrown out of one top-flight college after another for carousing), or shoulder any of the responsibilities that shape most people's lives? Did wealth free him to dream extravagantly? He could buy a newspaper chain and run it any way he wanted, uncompromised by money-based pressure. If he had been a stronger man, might he have resisted the temptation to betray his ideals? Or would he have destroyed himself and others just as surely if he'd been raised as he was born, the son of poor Colorado rooming-house owners whose marriage was poisoned by alcoholism (his father's) and frustrated ambition (his mother's)?
Is there a movie that changed the way you look at movies? What was it and why did it make such an impression?
Do you read them movie lists (best, worst, most influential)? Do you make them? Do they help make sense of the bewildering number of movies there are to see, or do they perpetuate the reputation of a limited number of titles at the expense of others?
Previously in DVD Tuesday
Gone in 60 Seconds
Bob le Flambeur
The Girl Who Knew Too Much
I'm Not Scared
Shocking Grindhouse Double Bill! - Scanners and The Candy Snatchers
Don't Look Now
Kiss and Make Up
Kiss Me Deadly
The Long Good Friday
What Alice Found
The Devil's Backbone
The Devil Wears Prada
The Thief and the Cobbler
Panic in the Streets/Jack Palance Interview
The Pusher Trilogy
In Cold Blood
This week's new DVD releases