By Chris Crymes
Photo courtesy of RKO Pictures
“Citizen Kane” – the name itself brings up your stuffy friend or relative who is too into the movies of yesteryear. While these fans of the films of yesteryear like movies, the thought of a new release bring up a rant. “They don’t make ‘em like they used to!” — they belt at you, and you remember why you don’t participate in conversations with anyone who calls a movie a “film.” They immediately ostracize you for the idea of “old movies.”
Honestly, this whole debacle is what I hate about being a “movie person.” As soon as you mention a movie from before 1990, you’re sure to get eye rolls from your peers. The overbearing gatekeepers of “film” have made even the idea of watching an older movie a labor. Most people I talk to see haven’t seen something like Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” or Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” because they think they’d be bored, so they never give them a chance. Well, I think a lot of these classics have some incredibly pertinent themes and characters who are very relevant to what we still go through today. So, I’d like to make a case for watching what is considered the greatest filmmaking achievement of all time: “Citizen Kane.”
One thing that might be more interesting than the film itself is the historical context of the film. Director and co-writer Orson Welles made this movie about possibly the biggest, most wealthy media magnate in history, father of yellow journalism; William Randolph Hearst.
Hearst had the largest newspaper empire in history and he used it to such an extent that Hearst instigated the Spanish-American War, which is something even referenced in the film. Welles sought out to make a film about the man who Hearst was and to show the faults of this giant façade.
This director, with his first film, wanted to take on the head of the world’s largest media empire with a movie. Hearst was less than thrilled when he caught wind of the this. Going as far as to threaten the shutdown of theatres who played the film. New research for the 2016 book, “Citizen Kane: A Filmmaker’s Journey,” found Hearst and his organizations used extortion, media manipulation and more to keep the film from being made. Welles and his team stood strong and finished their film against all odds and a mountain of production costs.
Orson Welles made a movie to reveal a media mogul as the deeply flawed individual he was. So, what? None of that matters if the movie is “old timey!” Well, it’s a good thing “Citizen Kane” is an incredibly modern movie to have released in 1941, a full four months before America’s involvement in World War II.
It was a spectacle for a moving sequence to take place in a movie, but then came “Citizen Kane” with its moving shots, and flashbacks literally framed inside the scene they’re being recalled from. This sent audiences’ brains through the high-vaulted ceilings of their red curtained theatres. Not only that, but after Hearst’s smear campaigns the film had a reputation. It was now, “the film that the media doesn’t want you to see.” So, of course it became sought after, and when people started to see it they couldn’t help but talk about its charm, performances and scale.
On the topic of performances, one has to bring up Orson Welles himself. This man went from theatrical productions to directing, co-writing and starring in the biggest production of its time. Even with all this pressure, the man kills it as the titular Charles Foster Kane. Compellingly ranging from Kane’s 20’s to his elderly death bed, Welles masterfully crafted Kane to be as real as the man he based him on.
This being said, I have to stress the importance of a team in filmmaking. A man is not an island and nowhere is that truer than in movies. One person does not make a film, and “Citizen Kane” is no different in that fact. The film goes down as Orson Welles’ personal achievement and that is a true disservice to everyone else involved. From now looked over performances from then-newcomers Joseph Cotton and Dorothy Comingore, to the cinematography by Gregg Toland, this production is littered with boatloads of talent.
Take a look at the past few years. Long standing members of the entertainment industry like Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein have been revealed to have been using their public influence to take advantage of practically anyone they wanted to, famous or not. The president, who was elected on promises of standing up for the working man, has been revealed to pay fewer taxes than our professors. We live in a world of Charles Foster Kanes. Abusers of power who believe what Kane believed: “People will think what I tell them to think,” and this is a film from 80 years ago that tries its hardest to fight against that.
I personally think the purpose of art is to make you feel, whether that be fear, love, anxiety, etc. It’s even better when a piece of media can give an audience insight. I believe a movie made to reveal and inform as well as to delight and inspire is just as important as it is entertaining. “Citizen Kane” used to be absent from streaming services, due to the tenuous nature of the film’s rights, but it has now found a home on HBO Max. So, if any of this sounds interesting to you, seek out “Citizen Kane” either there, by renting it digitally on Amazon Prime Video, or by supporting our local video store Entertainmart. It’ll be well worth your while.