Citizen Kane (1941)
July 21, 2022 5:53 AM - Subscribe

When a reporter is assigned to decipher newspaper magnate Charles Foster Kane's (Orson Welles) dying words, his investigation gradually reveals the fascinating portrait of a complex man who rose from obscurity to staggering heights. Though Kane's friend and colleague Jedediah Leland (Joseph Cotten), and his mistress, Susan Alexander (Dorothy Comingore), shed fragments of light on Kane's life, the reporter fears he may never penetrate the mystery of the elusive man's final word, "Rosebud."

Written by Herman J. Mankiewicz, Orson Welles, and John Houseman. Photographed by Gregg Toland. Produced and directed by Orson Welles.

Rotten Tomatoes says--wait, what do you care? It's Citizen Kane. If you haven't seen this you really should.

Currently streaming in the US on HBO Max and available for digital rental on multiple outlets.
posted by DirtyOldTown (23 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There are any number of amazing shots, mind-blowing edits, brilliantly efficient bits of storytelling/screenwriting, but my personal favorite part of this film is the breakfast montage, which gives a complete understanding of the Kane marriage's journey from deliriously happy and in love to distant and miserable in just over two minutes, entirely from scenes at the breakfast table.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:46 AM on July 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

Also, can we all take a moment to reflect on the hilariously inept advertising tagline: "IT'S TERRIFIC!!"

I mean, it isn't wrong, but criminy, make an effort.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:47 AM on July 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

...also recently released as the first 4K Criterion Collection blu-ray. But try to pick up one from a more recent batch, as the regular blu-ray included with the set in the initial batches was defective.

When I grew up, "Rosebud" was an old-person way to refer to a mysterious object or person. Then when I finally saw the movie as a young adult, I realized that Rosebud doesn't actually matter at all. They could've [spoilers] right as [spoilers], and made the connection, and it wouldn't have made any difference.
posted by praemunire at 7:44 AM on July 21, 2022

Also, can we all take a moment to reflect on the hilariously inept advertising tagline: "IT'S TERRIFIC!!"
I mean, it isn't wrong, but criminy, make an effort.

I've always wondered about that particular line, too. On one hand, it's not exactly out of line for adverts in the late 30s and early 40s. Things were a bit simpler and more naive, advertising wise, back then.

On the other, if it was a quote from a review, it's quite possible that, given the intense war Hearst was waging against Kane's release, it's not impossible that 'It's terrific" wasn't the only positive quote they could use.

That, or, it's an out-of-context, "fuck you" grab from an otherwise blistering negative review by a Hearst paper, along the lines of "As for Toland's photography, it's terrific.". That would definitely be a Welles thing to do.

I love this movie, and I never tire of watching it. It's one of those rare films where everyone involved is at the top of their game and not holding anything back.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:06 AM on July 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

Semi-related... Orson Welles and his partner Oja Kodar spent a lot of time in Split, Croatia. There is a statue commemorating him in front of a shopping mall there. (I would love to hear his take on that.) Since COVID, the restaurant at the edge of the mall has expanded its outdoor dining and the only way you can look directly at the statue is to enter the patio area, walk up to one particular table and jam your head out from under the awning. I did that and here's the statue.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:22 AM on July 21, 2022 [7 favorites]

I have never seen this, but my local indie theatre is screening it this weekend, and I am so excited!
posted by basalganglia at 8:58 AM on July 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

People I've suggested this to tend to grumble that it's probably one of those "so boring it must be good" recommendations, but after they watch it come to realize that Citizen Kane isn't just a great film, it's a great movie too!
posted by fairmettle at 9:30 AM on July 21, 2022 [4 favorites]

My favorite bit from the movie, from Bernstein talking to the reporter:
A fellow will remember a lot of things you wouldn't think he'd remember. You take me. One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry, and as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in, and on it there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on. She was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second. She didn't see me at all, but I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since that I haven't thought of that girl.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:29 AM on July 21, 2022 [10 favorites]

I've always wondered about that particular line, too.

I think I read somewhere that they had no idea how to advertise it (other than with Dorothy Commingore's cleavage), so sort of threw up their hands.

That statue is amazing!
posted by praemunire at 11:38 AM on July 21, 2022

I’ve always thought the "GALLEONS OF SPAIN OFF JERSEY COAST!" headline (which provokes Thatcher into confronting Kane about his sensationalist journalism) is a cute reference to Welles' infamous War of the Worlds radio broadcast.

Also, whenever I hear about yet another Silicon Valley techbro deciding to fuck around with some aspect of civil society, I picture myself as Thatcher reading Kane’s letter -- scornfully repeating the line “I think it would be fun to run a newspaper!” followed by a turn to the camera and a growl.
posted by theory at 11:45 AM on July 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

I thought it was pretty good but kind of on the dull side (biopics about white male businessmen are not my favorite genre). Maybe my expectations were too high due to its frequent ranking as #1 film of all time, and some of the components (e.g. faux documentary style) that were novel at the time are now commonplace so I don't appreciate them. From that era, The Wizard of Oz is by far my preferred film but doesn't seem to be considered in the same league by critics. At least I get Rosebud references now!
posted by emd3737 at 12:33 PM on July 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

Part of the reason it can seem a little underwhelming to modern audiences is because, as TVTropes puts it in ”Seinfeld” is Unfunny, “It wasn't old or overdone when they did it, because they were the first ones to do it. But the things it created were so brilliant and popular, they became woven into the fabric of that show's genre.”

Citizen Kane set the template for every drama (and much of everything else) in the last eighty years. The technical innovations alone are breathtaking, but they might not register because they look like what everything else since has done. A tiny example: prior to this, movies were mostly filmed the way a three-camera sitcom today is: on a set comprising one or two walls of a room, no ceiling, and a bunch of lights up above. Welles stretched a white cotton sheet taut across the top of the set — this let the light permeate through but let people see a ceiling in a room, which in 1941 was as audacious as Robert Zemeckis’ famous mirror shot in Contact or David Fincher’s tour of the house through keyholes and the like in Panic Room. A modern moviegoer sees a ceiling and shrugs.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:18 PM on July 21, 2022 [14 favorites]

In college 20 years ago, I took a film class (which was pretty mediocre overall but that's another issue) and this was the first movie we had to watch.

I, of course, liked it. Some other people in the class, though, said they did not like it. I really wanted to scream "GET OUT!" because why are you in a film class if you don't like Citizen Kane?

Is it the best movie of all time? I don't know about that. It's surprisingly entertaining and still feels incredibly modern. People still use these techniques now!

(I took another film class about Westerns & we were watching Stagecoach. During a break, one of my classmates turned to me and said "The professor keeps talking about John Wayne. Which one is John Wayne?")
posted by edencosmic at 2:19 PM on July 21, 2022 [4 favorites]

“You might know him as Marion Morrison.”
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:32 PM on July 21, 2022 [2 favorites]

Here's my Citizen Kane story.

Back in the mid 90's, my college did a classic film series at a local theater chain, one showing a week. The first few showings had laughter in inappropriate places by the young audience. I was so pissed off at this that I was tempted to skip the rest of them.

Then I went to see Citizen Kane there.

At the point where Kane has stayed up half the night chatting with Susan, he asks about her toothache. She replies that it's all better now. Of course, Dorothy Comingore communicates through the line read that she's quite enraptured with him and whatever troubles she had before are now forgotten. She's smitten.

A number of college girls in the audience didn't so much laugh at this line as nervously giggle, as if they were right there with her in that moment. That's the power of that film.

Oh and all the audience including myself nearly jumped out of our seats when that damn cockatoo squawks.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 7:06 PM on July 21, 2022 [9 favorites]

Wasn't Welles only 25 when he made Citizen Kane? My God.
posted by Beholder at 7:10 PM on July 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

He was a mere 23 when he did the War of the Worlds radio broadcast, itself a classic and well worth a listen.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:05 PM on July 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

The Beatles are THE BEATLES because they did it first or they did it best. Same goes with Orson Welles.

Citizen Kane is the greatest film of all time because of the many things it introduced to the language and toolbox of film. It's also a great movie.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:39 PM on July 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

A bit of Kane trivia. In the scene of the beach party (I think it’s the beach party. It’s the scene that begins with an extreme closeup of a man singing with a band, and the camera pulls back, revealing the entire set) there are sea birds flying around way in the background. The film of the birds was borrowed from another RKO film...King Kong.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:34 AM on July 23, 2022

because of the many things it introduced

I have always used that line when I hear people (tbh, because let's be honest: kids) complaining about Shakespeare., you know why you think it's boring? Because it's the literal basis of everything you've ever seen; half of your life makes no sense without him having written those things jesus fuck do none of you have any historical awareness at all? If you say you find it boring that only means you have no fucking idea what you're doing, hello narcissist how are you today?

(The answer, of course, is that no, none of them have any historical awareness at all and obviously I am a Babylonian based on the history of these things so far as I am aware. I don't even know what civilization my teacher [who ranted at me about these very topics] would be, perhaps Harappa?)
posted by aramaic at 7:53 PM on July 23, 2022 [2 favorites]

The film of the birds was borrowed from another RKO film...King Kong.

What’s more, they might be pterodactyls!
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:14 AM on July 24, 2022

because of the many things it introduced

I have always used that line when I hear people (tbh, because let's be honest: kids) complaining about Shakespeare.

Are you my 10th grade English teacher? When I groaned at the bad pun* in Julius Caesar, he very gently said, "That's because Shakespeare invented it."

Anyway, just got home from the Sunday showing. Someone had spoiled the secret of Rosebud (as much as you can spoil an 80 year old movie) but it was still very engaging. I can see how it would have been revolutionary when it first came out. There were some uncomfortable parallels to Breaking Wind as well -- tycoon who says they are for the working class but exploits everyone around him, retreats to folly in Florida. Uncomfortable because then you have to be sympathetic toward that POS.

I also had a lot of trouble dissociating Welles' voice from the Brain doing the frozen peas commercial, so I guess I'm just lowbrow all the way around.

*CASSIUS: Did Cicero say anything?
CASCA: Ay, he spoke Greek.
CASSIUS: To what effect?
CASCA: Nay, an I tell you that, I’ll ne’er look you i’ the face again: but those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but, for mine own part, it was Greek to me.
posted by basalganglia at 4:59 PM on July 24, 2022

wait, what do you care? It's Citizen Kane

Nnnno, that’s not it. No, no, no, no — but something like that. It’s, uh, it’s, umm, uh …
posted by Naberius at 4:28 PM on July 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

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