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Citizen Kane More at IMDbPro »

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12 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

All That Ballyhoo!

Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA
5 May 2008

On the Criterion Collection DVD of Orson Welles' classic "Citizen Kane" there is an original theatrical trailer where Welles cleverly advertises the film by introducing us to the cast including the chorus girls, whom he refers to as some nice ballyhoo. That pretty much sums up my opinion of the often over analyzed film that always shows up at the top of the list of greatest films ever made. Even though this was the first time I sat down to watch the film as a whole, I knew everything about it from studying it in film class and from the countless number of essays, homages, and parodies that have come down the pike over the years. It seems impossible now to judge the film against a blank slate, but with great ballyhoo comes great scrutiny.

Released in 1941 by RKO as a Mercury Theater Production, "Citizen Kane" is the tale of an influential and shockingly wealthy newspaper tycoon (Welles) inspired by the life of William Randolph Hearst. The story follows the investigation into the origins of "Rosebud"-the mysterious word Kane utters on his deathbed. Following newsreel footage announcing Kane's death, we are then thrust into a series of flashbacks through interviews with various people who knew Kane that reveal the nature of his character.

From a technical standpoint, Welles' film is as innovative and engrossing today as it was yesterday. Every single piece of cinematic trickery, every dissolve, every long tracking shot, every seamless edit, every play with chronology, every special effect is perfect. Welles was audacious and inventive with his art, and it is for these technical aspects that "Citizen Kane" will always stand the test of time.

However, the story of "Citizen Kane" remains cold and distant. I didn't instantly connect with the characters and the plot the way I did with other classics from the period like "Casablanca" or "The Third Man" or even more recently, "There Will Be Blood." Often, the supporting players over-act, and the flashbacks are tedious (especially the one detailing Kane's second marriage) or emotionless (like the scene showing Kane's snow covered childhood). There's a certain smug arrogance to the whole production that makes it seem like perhaps Welles was secretly making a comedy. It leaves one wondering how it would've come across had Welles actually been allowed to do a straight up biopic of Hearst.

Is it any wonder that so many critics today hail this as THE all time great? Much of today's cinema is geared towards style and technique over substance, and way back in 1941, Welles was the first to author this very modern brand of cinema where the art is not in the story but how it is told and shown to the audience. His "Citizen Kane" is technically rich, layered, and enthralling but narratively vapid. Did I ever really care about Kane or Rosebud? No, but it was fascinating to watch. It's some very nice ballyhoo indeed.

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14 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

Wonderful Cinematography

Author: Lechuguilla from Dallas, Texas
29 June 2008

If ever there was a film that I had a love-hate relationship with, "Citizen Kane" is surely it. Some of the non-script elements are as good as what one would find in any other film. Yet, the story of Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles), an early twentieth century newspaper tycoon is terribly dated and painfully boring.

The film's B&W cinematography is arguably the best in film history. DP Gregg Toland uses high-contrast lighting and murky shadows to create a wonderfully noir look and feel. And in some scenes bright back-lighting puts foreground characters in stark silhouette, creating an authoritarian and oppressive tone to the story. This is true especially in the film's first thirty minutes. Throughout the film, frame compositions are clever and interesting, like one scene in the second half wherein a woman, with her back to the camera, blares out an operatic aria on stage to an audience that we viewers cannot see, amid murky, shadowy lighting; it's like something from a nightmare.

And the film's visuals are laced with strange optical illusions, as a result of Welles' use of deep focus camera techniques. In one scene, for example, background windows appear normal in size relative to characters in the foreground. But when a character walks back to the windows, we see that the windows are actually much larger and higher than first appeared, and that renders the character small, by comparison. The same optical effects show up in the Great Hall of Xanadu, with a fireplace that appears average in size, until a character walks back to it; at which point the fireplace is seen in its true size; it's so big and high as to overwhelm the human figure.

Sound effects amplify these optical effects. For example, in the Great Hall, the cavernous, mostly empty, room strongly echoes human sounds, creating the impression of some huge, dark cave. The whole feel is one of oppression and death. Just terrific.

But the film's story, about a corpulent newspaper tycoon, is so dated as to be largely irrelevant in the twenty first century. Kane starts out with noble intent to help the lower classes. But over time he changes. And throughout, he is egotistical, overbearing, bombastic, loud, and generally too full of himself. His only real belief is in himself. He is fond of possessions, but is emotionally empty. In addition to an unlikeable protagonist, the script's dialogue is very talky.

The film's acting is generally quite good. I particularly liked the performances of Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, and Agnes Moorehead. Special effects are good too and, when combined with lots of stock footage, create the visual illusion of a cinematic epic.

Some viewers love this film; others loathe it. I love the cinematography and sound effects, but loathe the story. "Citizen Kane" should have won several Oscars, including especially cinematography. That it did not has caused Hollywood endless guilt, and to compensate, they routinely vote the film as "the number one greatest film in history".

But it does not deserve that lofty title. Hollywood needs to give the film several postmortem, but well deserved, Oscars, especially for B&W cinematography. Then, they need to let go of the guilt.

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47 out of 83 people found the following review useful:

Love The Cinematography; Story Not That Appealing

Author: ccthemovieman-1 from United States
13 December 2005

Hey, make no mistake: this film does deserve lofty status. It is a good film, fantastically photographed.....but the greatest of all time? I question that, but that kind of question - Who's number one? - is impossible to answer.

I would think to be number one you would have to have a great technical film, great story, great acting, great camera-work as this has, AND have it generally loved by the public. Then you have a true number one picture of all time. I'm not a fan of "Gone With The Wind," but that was a technical marvel, too, for its day and was universally loved by millions of I can see that being listed number over Citizen Kane. The same goes for Casablanca, Ben-Hur and a number of wonderful films.

Anway, concerning this movie, I enjoyed it best for the cinematography. Orson Welles, the "genius" behind this film, was ahead of his time with his inventive camera-work. The acting is good and it's interesting to note that this was Welles' first acting role. Yes, he was an amazing talent, behind or in front of the camera. The story is pretty unlikable and, in this day and age would be too boring for most people under 50, sad to say. However, even older, more "mature" folks find this hard to get through sometimes from what I have read.

The unlikable part mainly comes from the lead character, "Charles Foster Kane," played by Welles. He is simply a selfish egomaniac. Other unpleasant parts of the story include several scenes with his second wife, in which she berates him in this shrill hysterical voice; the fact there is very little humor in here and the ending is anything but uplifting.

For those who find this a confusing story, I suggest giving it another chance. I found this film better the more chances I gave it. It also looks fabulous on the latest special-edition DVD. In summary, it was a great technical achievement but remember professional critics usually have the same mindset and are afraid to be their own person, so don't feel stupid or inadequate if this film doesn't do it for you. You are hardly alone. But, yet, that camera-work has to be seen and appreciated if you really love movies.

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14 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

The Role of Sheer Chance in Life

Author: Tobias_R from United States
16 August 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

One commentator made the original point that Kane may have uttered "Rosebud" as his dying word not because he was nostalgic about his childhood but rather as a symbol of sheer chance in affecting and changing his life. As the commentator pointed out, Kane would never have met Susan Alexander, his mistress and later his second wife, if he hadn't been at a warehouse looking over things from his childhood home. If Kane hadn't met Susan, his life would have turned out quite differently. Indeed, if one looks carefully at the childhood scenes of Kane's life, one would see little that Kane, as an adult, would be nostalgic about. There are strong suggestions his father beat him and that, however caring about Kane's welfare his mother was, she seemed emotionally cold and distant. Indeed, Kane's association of his sled Rosebed with the role of chance in his life would be reinforced by the fact that he was interrupted playing on Rosebud and told by his mother and Mr. Thatcher about the radically different turn his life was taking from that of a poor boy to a quite wealthy one really overnight. Indeed, by subtly showing the decisive role of chance in Kane's life, the filmmakers were undermining the powerful American myth of the self-made man. Hard work didn't make Kane's fortune, it was the result of his mother inheriting the title to a mine thought to be worthless but wasn't.

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15 out of 21 people found the following review useful:

Best sleep of my life !

Author: marolita_7
18 November 2011

OK so you've watched the movie and saw that its terrible and wanted to see what other people think or you're reading reviews before you watch it and you find people giving it 10 stars for the saw called amazing "cinematography" well its not only you who hated this movie i hate it too as well as many others this movie is completely dull and boring !!! I wasted 2 hours of my life, i read reviews before i watched it and saw that some people hated it, i slept when i came to watch it the first time so i said maybe i was tired that day but i gotta admit i slept really good while the movie was still running. Next day i thought that i maybe should watch it again but it was still boring i mean how more pathetic can a movie be !! This movie should never be on the top !! It should be on top of the IMDb's Bottom 100 list !! I regret watching this movie, if you haven't watched it yet i advice you NOT to watch it ! its PATHETIC !

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13 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

A case study in projection

Author: mkauppil from Finland
26 August 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I rented this movie almost accidentally on the route back from shooting pool, without any preconceptions of what it was about, although I was very aware it had been dubbed "the greatest film ever" by many.

Basically, the film asks a highly abstract question of whether we can reconstruct a puzzle from a set of available pieces: are the pieces independent or can there be a piece which fundamentally affects the reconstruction? It also presents a very specific example of how this kind of projection applies to human psychology: can there be a single event or item, a "rosebud", such that a man's life cannot be wholly understood without it? We all project our persona every day to our fellow human beings, but no one else really knows what's running in our minds as we lay in bed in the evening: the portions of our minds with no trespassing.

I especially like how this theme is shown on so many levels at once. At the bottom, the reporter is trying to reconstruct Kane's life by anecdotal evidence; Kane's readers are trying to reconstruct the world state by Kane's newspaper; and finally, we the viewers are trying to reconstruct the meaning of the film by watching it. The film was based on the media mogul William Randolph Hearst, whose persona the writers first shattered to pieces and then reconstructed to form Charles Foster Kane.

An interesting add to the interpretation (forgot the name of the critic behind it) is that the whole movie is imagination, or self-inspection, by Kane himself in seek of his rosebud. In this case, the unseen Thompson could be seen as Kane himself, trying to find his lost childhood innocence from the inner depths of his mind.

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14 out of 20 people found the following review useful:

an over-rated movie

Author: Carma Simonsen from Los Angeles, California
31 January 2008

For the life of me, I have tried hard to understand how and why this movie could possibly be considered the #1 film in the first 100 years of American film-making. The first time I tried to watch it, I got a few minutes and hated it; I couldn't make myself care. I tried again, because it's a "classic" made by a "genius", and I sincerely wanted to understand how it could possibly be voted higher than Casablanca.

It is boring and noisy and the makeup is horrible. I will never understand why this movie was voted #1. I wouldn't even put it in the top 100.

It has failed in every way a film can fail. I don't care about the protagonist. I find it cliché, obnoxious and dull. Perhaps in its day it was fresh, but it doesn't stand the test of time the way Casablanca does.

I don't care what anyone else says about this movie; in my opinion, it is the worst thing a movie can be: boring. I will never force myself to watch it again.

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18 out of 28 people found the following review useful:

Narrative and Eye Disconnect

Author: tedg ( from Virginia Beach
28 May 2002

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Spoilers Herein.

This an extremely influential film, by one of the very few inventors of cinema. But I do not think it is Welles' best. (That's either `Othello' or `Lady from Shanghai' depending on your religion.)

First of all, this is not the work of a genius, but the excellent product of three committed artisans: Welles, Tobin and Mankiewicz.

Mankiewicz, with his brother, were the industry's working intellectuals. Here (aided by Houseman), he simply got a client intelligent enough to know what was up. Similarly with Tobin, who was the Sascha Vierny of his day. These two men pulled on Welles, but as we will see, in independent directions.

The story, Hearst and all that, is irrelevant except for the notion that a writer in the right place can create reality if willing to pay the price. The acting is fine of course, uncharacteristically abstract -- but that's hardly innovative nor groundshaking. No, what makes this film important are two features, and the failed relationship between them.

The first of these is the incredibly complex narrative structure. Things that are normally nested frames: a reminiscent flashback, a text annotated with pictures... are here multiply set up and in turn enfolded into the film proper. We see a newsreel, whose footage later appears in the `real' action; we have a recalled death vision of a childhood but that becomes untenably self-critical; we see her singing and again from her perspective. We have several on-screen narrators but each gets swallowed. There are so many narrative devices at work it keeps us spinning, sledding as each comes into play and is then reabsorbed. The puzzle is assembled several different ways. Nowhere else is such narrative cleverness been even attempted, not by Lynch, Bergman, Wenders, anyone.

The other innovation is the breaking of convention with the eye of the camera. The camera takes positions -- physical and philosophical -- that were previously utterly unknown. Previously, the camera was audience supplemented by `context' shots: perspectives that a human observer might not see but that seemed natural. Now, the camera is something unto itself that we have to accommodate. The camera does things no human would or could. It sometimes (often!) sees two things simultaneously, something that never happens with the natural eye. It has a curiosity that we would not have directed. The eye defines the lighting, not the other way around -- here everything is colored not by what it is, but by how the film's eye changes it.

Both of these experiments are masterful. They changed the world of films, and hence dreams, and hence all of abstract thinking forever.

But the flaw, the lethal problem with this film is that the two experiments have independent lives. They are not coordinated beyond some fairly easy touchpoints and then only in the simplest of ways: an image that is being described by a speaker and the nature of the newsreel. It is as if there were TWO geniuses at work, each doing something important and neither communicating with the other. So when there is a shift or a trick in the narrative, the eye is ignorant of it.

But hey, it was just the man's first film. He quickly fixed that in `Othello' and especially `Shanghai.' The merger of eye and narrative is the real revolution. `Kane' raised the question, which is why it is important. Tarkovsky, some Bergman, Malick, Greenaway have subsequently succeeded with this merger using different devices, but the master is Kurosawa. Welles made Kurosawa possible. It all starts here, but only as a promise. In real terms, the film is a failure.

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7 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

"I don't think any word can explain a man's life"

Author: ackstasis from Australia
12 February 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Orson Welles' debut feature 'Citizen Kane' stands as one of the twentieth century's most revered films, and, indeed, the title of "The Greatest Film Of All Time" has often been bestowed upon it, from as early as Sight and Sound's 1962 rankings, when it indefinitely dethroned De Sica's 'Bicycle Thieves (1948).' After two viewings, I can't say that I find it to be the greatest film of all time, but any work with such a label would find it extremely difficult to live up to impossible expectations. Having said that, however, 'Citizen Kane' is nothing short of masterful. In 1939, in an unprecedented studio contract, RKO offered young prodigy Welles, fresh from his success on the stage and the radio, a two-picture contract with full artistic control (a promise that ultimately wasn't kept). Borrowing elements from the lives of tycoons Robert McCormick, Howard Hughes, and Joseph Pulitzer, but especially American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, Welles and fellow screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz weaved together the tragic story of Charles Foster Kane, poignantly highlighting the inescapable shortfalls of American Dream.

Charlie Kane (Welles) rises from humble beginnings to become one of the most famous and powerful people in America. At a very young age, Kane's mother inherits a gold mine and becomes suddenly wealthy, sending away her son to live with Walter Parks Thatcher (George Coulouris), his mother's banker. Proving something of a disappointment for Mr. Thatcher, Kane shows little aspirations for success until the age of twenty-six, when he decides to head the 'Inquirer,' for the simple reason that he "thinks it would be fun to run a newspaper." Kane eventually becomes rich and powerful through publishing "yellow journalism," which, though frowned upon by most critics, proves immensely profitable. Decades later, after two unsuccessful marriages and a failed bid for public office, Kane sits alone in his massive, unfinished Xanadu mansion (the most massive, impersonal and even sinister abode ever to grace the silver screen), pining for the lost innocence of his childhood. This is the story of a tragic life, and the ultimate testament that money can't buy happiness.

The most remarkable thing about 'Citizen Kane' is its narrative structure. The film opens with Kane's death. As the image fades into a large "NO TREPASSING" sign on the gate of Kane's vast and lonely dwelling, we progressively cut to images closer and closer to his house, witnessing the enormity of Kane's wealth, and yet all his riches seem to be in disrepair. A lone lit window stands eerily amidst the snow, before the light inexplicably goes out, the figure hunched within suddenly plunged into darkness. We see Charles Foster Kane's withered hand clasping at a snow-globe, and his lips utter the mystifying words, "Rosebud." With a sudden crash, the snow-globe slips from Kane's hand and shatters on the floor. A maidservant enters the room and covers the dead man's body with a blanket. Following his death, the producer of a newsreel about Kane asks a reporter, Jerry Thompson (William Alland), to uncover the significance behind Kane's final words, a well-meaning but rather naive attempt to encapsulate a man's entire life in a simple seven-letter name.

A criticism often levelled at 'Citizen Kane' is that it feels less like a warm, involving biopic than a formal masterclass in film-making technique. It's true that Welles was exploring largely unmapped cinematic territory at the time, and there's a certain sense of experimentation about the film. Mankiewicz and Welles constructed the screenplay as a series of fragmented, non-chronological flashbacks, each sequence filling in the missing parts of Kane's life, sometimes even showing the same event from differing perspectives. Greg Toland's elaborate cinematography makes unprecedented use of deep focus, in which everything in the frame – foreground, background and anything in between – is constantly held in sharp focus; the end result is a film that feels far more dynamic and "animate" than anything preceding the French New Wave. All innovation aside, anybody who suggests that the life of Charles Foster Kane is somehow uninvolving really needs to revisit the film; Welles pours his heart and soul into portraying the arrogant, tormented and ultimately lonely millionaire, and it's uncanny how the director's own tragic career drew clear parallels with that of his most memorable character.

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28 out of 49 people found the following review useful:

AFI #1 but not mine

Author: gar_ed07 from United States
26 July 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Peter Griffin of the Family Guy said it best "It was his sled. It was his sled from when he was a kid. There, I just saved you two long boobless hours". Kane was about the only movie I have never been able to finish, maybe I'll try again some day. I can think of many better ways to spend 2 hours like watching the "Godfather" or "Shawshank". I just could not relate to the story. It is about a tycoon who becomes a recluse, it sounds like a good story but it was so long and drawn out I fell asleep and had to stop watching. I was disappointed mainly because the first time AFI came out with the top 100 movies of all time I wanted to see the best of the best. Many of the top 100 films I had seen, many more I hadn't (seen) and a few of the ones I hadn't seen were films in AFI's top ten. "Casablanca" is good I can see that, it is not in my top ten but its good. The "Godfather" is a masterpiece but for all the talk about the "Kane" I was extremely disappointed.

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