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  • Aug 5, 2009
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There are lots of movies we can argue one must see in his lifetime.  Casablanca, Ben Hur, Star Wars, The Godfather, The Wizard of Oz, Gone with Wind... just to name a few, but few stand as high on that list of "Movies you should see at least once," quite like Citizen Kane.  At the time of it's release in 1941, it was hailed as one of the movies which changed the industry.  The reasons why are all but forgotten now.  So all Citizen Kane has to stand on now is it's story, acting and script.  All of which are fine.  It's a movie that has aged somewhat well over the years.  The debate over the greatest movie ever made will rage on fforever (but you mostly see Citizen Kane and Casablanca somewhere on that list).  When Citizen Kane debuted, however, it was incredibly good craftsmanship for filming.  Remember, film was fairly young at this time.  There were still a lot of things that were being played around with and experimented with in film.  Citizen Kane, upon release, was hailed as a technical achievement that, for many reasons may seem like they aren't such a big deal today.  But they WERE a big deal then. 

Almost everyone knows the story of Citizen Kane, but it doesn't hurt to recount it.  The story begins on Kane's death bed.  He utters one last word: "Rosebud..." before he dies.  Because of this, people are in question as to what Kane's last word meant.  What was the meaning behind "Rosebud" and who or what was it?  As people investigate, the audience is treated to Kane's life.  From being taken from his real parents to rising to being the best of the best in journalism.  And ultimately his downfall.  We see as Kane lives his life and becomes of the most iconic people in the world.  We meet several people and learn to really appreciate Kane as a character.  The movie keeps plowing forward until we the audience learn just what Rosebud really is.  It may not seem like much from the get go, but the screenplay in and of itself really plays out really well.  As we learn about Kane we're willing to be taken for a ride.  The last scene in particular--when we learn what Rosebud is--is a really fantastic scene in and of itself.

Yet there were certain things about Citizen Kane that made it unique for its time.  The first is that the movie is essentially a host of flashbacks telling the story of Charles Foster Kane.  It spans so much time, but it gets through it quickly.  Again, it seems like no big deal to us, but the way Orson Welles does it is still a technique very few do.  Even though time is passing in Kane's life, we hardly get that sense.  The time periods seem to mesh together because rather than tons of hardcuts we're mostly treated to it fading through his life, sometimes even in the same room.  Another technique that was done really well that was introduced by Citizen Kane was using makeup to make the characters age.  This, of course, is still done to this day.  The final technique that was quite astounding was the film's camera work.  Again, not a big deal in this day and age, but consider that Citizen Kane truly showed people you could do things with simple cuts and edits and pan shots.  For example, being able to see everything in the background foreground etc. in sharp, clear focus.  This was pretty amazing before.  If you take film classes, I'm sure you may get someone who goes on about this.  Citizen Kane's cinematography seems to be a favorite historical fact of many film buffs. 

It may also seem strange that the cinematography is praised because for the first time in a shot you can see the ceiling of a home.  This is because many films didn't get filmed on location.  Seeing things like this was quite an amazing achievement when Citizen Kane came out.  To put it simply, there's historical significance to what Citizen Kane did for film.  Of course, you don't exactly think of that these days when you think of Citizen Kane.  Most of us, of course, remember "Rosebud" and others of us remember that first scene.  Many of us (myself included) weren't even around when Citizen Kane was the big influence it was.  Put simple, Citizen Kane was like Star Wars.  So innovative and different for its time that it sort of lives on as a result.

Of course, that also means that certain things about Citizen Kane are truly forgotten.  Unless you actually study film or read up on it, those who watch Citizen Kane now might be scratching their heads wondering just what the big deal is.  Indeed Citizen Kane does have things about it which might not bode well in this day and age.  The first being that Citizen Kane just feels long.  It's a two hour long movie, but I won't lie... it's boring.  It's an amazing film that everyone should see at least once, but it can be boring.  And it has little to do with special effects (which I'm not a big fan of anyway) or anything like that.  It's because the movie just moves at a snails pace.  It takes a lot of time to really develop Mr. Kane, but a lot of it can be very boring to watch.  Yet at the same time there are many exchanges that are quite interesting to watch.  The narrative in and of itself is very good.  It's just that... like I said, it's boring.  There are times when watching that you sort of feel like asking "Are we there yet?"  It's mostly in the middle when the film begins to drag, but as we move on, especially that last scene, the brilliance of the film's screenplay can be seen.  

With it's reputation of being among the greatest films ever made, it may surprise people to know that Citizen Kane didn't take home that Oscar for Best Picture.  In fact, of all the awards it was nominated for at the Academy Awards... it only won one.  For screenplay.  Despite all it's innovations in cinematography, art direction, and editing, Citizen Kane was never honored with an Oscar for any of these categories.  And when reading up on Citizen Kane you sort of get the feeling that perhaps the film was cheated out of those awards.

In spite of it all, Citizen Kane is a movie worth viewing at least once if you're a big movie lover.  It's one of those movies that ought to be viewed not just for enjoyment, but perhaps for historical purposes as well.  It is nice to say that the story and narration have aged incredibly well and are still fondly influential.  It's just a shame that the innovations of Citizen Kane aren't realized in quite the same manner.

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October 17, 2011
Great work on this review.
August 05, 2009
It may be of more interest if you have any knowledge of the life of the man the film was based on, namely William Randolph Hearst. Then you can compare the film version of his life with what really happened. That helps keep your eyes open.
August 05, 2009
I remembering hearing about William Randolph Hearst.  I also heard he didn't like the film very much.  Maybe when I know more I'll revise and edit the review.  But I'll have to check up on all that info.
August 06, 2009
And his love interest was actually a very popular and talented comedic film actress who's been featured on one of the movie channels heavily this week, Her name was Marion Davies.
August 05, 2009
Nice review. Yes, everyone should see "Citizen Kane" at least once. It is very different. Had the pleasure of seeing this on the big screen i a theatre a couple of years ago. Thoroughly enjoyed it.
More Citizen Kane reviews
review by . October 17, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Citizen Kane      "Rosebud..."       "Welles's accidental semi-autobiographical film stops trying to tell a good story, but tells a story perfectly."    Is this the greatest film of all time? Well to answer this question we have to understand the type of person who watches this film. When someone out of the blue decides to become a film critic, of course they rummage through various critic's lists and polls', …
review by . August 21, 2010
Hey kid, wanna make a movie?
I think Orson Welles was the greatest creative genius in film who never really reached his full potential.  Having said that, he remains one of the greatest creative figures in American cinema and radio!!!  Since Scotman has done an excellent review about the movie and the plot, I wanted this review to beprimarily about Orson Welles the creative genius and some information on the "back story" about the movie that made his reputation.      After creating a …
Quick Tip by . August 29, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
I think Orson Welles was the greatest creative genius in film who never really reached his full potential.  Having said that, he remains one of the greatest creative figures in American cinema and radio!!!  Since Scotman has done an excellent review about the movie and the plot, I wanted this review to beprimarily about Orson Welles the creative genius and some information on the "back story" about the movie that made his reputation.      After creating a …
Quick Tip by . July 25, 2010
A really classic picture, depicting the attitude of that decade.
review by . March 04, 2010
In 1941 actor/director/writer Orson Welles would release one of the most cherished films to ever hit the silver screen. Many have cited it as the greatest film of all time, and many more agree that Citizen Kane is the quintessential American movie. Like all great films it transcends traditional narrative to become something all its own. The movie almost holds a surreal feel as audiences are thrust into the luxurious, yet lonely life of Charles Foster Kane.     Citizen Kane is …
review by . February 15, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Best movie ever? It makes its case     Cons: Ending no longer a surprise twist - EVERYONE knows it     The Bottom Line: My favorite movies are still Goodfellas, Lord of the Rings, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.     Whenever some film organization gathers up the list of the best movies ever made, Citizen Kane is the perennial chart topper. It doesn't matter what other movies are on it - Battlefield Earth could rank number 2 and Citizen …
review by . September 23, 2007
And so we come to this, the pinacle of American film making. Often cited as one of the greatest films in movie history, and one that I saw for the first time only about three years ago. Does it live up to the hype?    God, yes.    Much is made, and rightly so, about the technical inovations in this movie. There are many and they are notable. The use of zooms before zoom lenses, the use of deep-focus, the appearance of ceilings, Greg Tolland's wonderful cinematography, …
review by . December 13, 2006
This movie is very over rated and if produced today, it would seem rather humdrum. I believe that this movie is as famous and/or popular as it is because of how the film was made, rather than content itself. Allow me to explain, Orson Welles had a heck of a time bringing his vision to the screen. He faced production problems and funding issues and other thorns in the side. Once he was able to finish the film and the end product was like nothing done before, it was and is placed on a pedestal. However …
review by . August 30, 2005
posted in Movie Hype
I'm not going to weigh in on the silly debates over the merits of this film. All I will say is that I've seen it several times before in theaters with decent to mediocre prints, but I just picked up a copy of the "two-disc special edition" and the transfer is stunning. I have to say that up until I saw it on this dvd I merely "appreciated" the film as important; this time I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the compositions that look so fine on this dvd. Whether or not you like the film, this is …
review by . November 19, 2004
A few weeks ago I had the astounding honor of fulfilling one of my lifelong goals; I met Roger Ebert.    Me and my co-directing friend went to the Savannah Film festival with big cheezy grins on our faces. We were going to have a once in a lifetime opportunity to go through a shot-by-shot question and answer session with Roger Ebert. That in itself was incredible, and more than enough to keep this Alabama boy happy the rest of his days. I have spent the last decade reading his …
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Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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Citizen Kane is a 1941 American dramatic film and the first feature film directed by Orson Welles, who also co-authored the screenplay. It was released by RKO Pictures. The story is a fictionalized pastiche of the life of William Randolph Hearst and Welles' own life. Upon its release, Hearst prohibited mention of the film in any of his newspapers. The film traces the life and career of Charles Foster Kane, a man whose career in the publishing world is born of idealistic social service, but gradually evolves into a ruthless pursuit of power. Narrated principally through flashbacks, the story is revealed through the research of a newspaper reporter seeking to solve the mystery of the newspaper magnate's dying word: "Rosebud."

Citizen Kane is often cited as being one of the most innovative works in the history of film. The American Film Institute placed it at number one in its list of the 100 greatest U.S. movies of all time in 1997 and again in the revised list of 2007. In a recent poll of film critics and directors conducted by the British Film Institute, Citizen Kane was ranked the number one best film of all time by both groups.

The film opens in a night setting on a vast palatial estate, on which the sign "No Trespassing" is posted. We are in Xanadu, and witness the last word spoken by enormously wealthy media magnate Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles). He utters the word "Rosebud" while holding a glass globe of a snow scene, which ...
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