Citizen Kane is a drama film , directed by Orson Welles, in which he also plays the title role of Charles Foster Kane; a feat which has been repeated only by Mel Gibson in Braveheart. It also features Joseph Cotton as Jedediah Leland, Ruth Warrick as Emily Monroe Norton (wife No. 1) and Dorothy Comingore as Susan Kane (wife No. 2).
The film traces the life of a newspaper magnate, Charles Foster Kane. It begins with Kane dying and uttering his last word, “Rosebud”, as he drops a glass vial which smashes on the floor. We then see a newsreel depicting the events of Kane’s life. The producer of the newsreel, however, is not satisfied, and asks Thompson, a reporter, to delve into Kane’s private life and personality, and find out the meaning of his last word, ‘Rosebud’, in order to get a better understanding of the man’s life. Thompson interviews all the people who had figured prominently in Kane’s life, and with their accounts, a typical American tragedy unfolds in front of us, in a series of flashbacks.
Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane simply overshadows everyone. His initial enthusiasm at building a newspaper empire and his commitment to serve the people and the nation; his transformation into a ruthless bigot, devoid of integrity and morality, wanting things to go his way and “proving” to people that he is right through eccentric ways; and the profound sorrow on his face when he remembers his” Rosebud”; have been brilliantly and unforgettably portrayed. Joseph Cotton as Kane’s ideologically opposite and idealistic friend also deserves mention.
Without Gregg Toland’s excellent cinematography, this film could not have been what it is. He has made use of the deep focus technique, where the background and foreground are both in equal focus. This serves a very important purpose. For instance, when Kane is typing out Jedediah’s incomplete review and Jedediah comes from behind, we can clearly see the features and expression of both Jedediah and Kane. Moreover this technique, combined with the breathtaking mammoth interiors of the Xanadu mansion (Kane’s retreat. For a good mental picture, think of Bill Gate’s Lake Washington mansion) gives an electric effect. Toland’s cinematography is also a major reason why no one has dared to make a colourised version of the movie.
The film’s ending is eerie, unexpected and ironical. Thompson, after interviewing everyone, finally gives up and says that for all of them; ‘Rosebud’ still remains an enigma. The camera then slowly and deliberately pans over to Kane’s possessions, and it is then, when we finally see Rosebud.
The movie was a box office disaster and was shunned by Hollywood and the media. This can be largely attributed to the efforts of William Hearst on whose life the film was allegedly based. It was only revived as a timeless classic in the 50s. The film received an Academy Award for Best Screenplay and was nominated for eight including best picture, actor and director.
The film is not a politically didactic nor is it a parody of William Hearst, which is proved by its ending. I feel that everyone can relate to the film and after watching it, reach a kind of communion, between the film and our own personal life. The film indeed gives out a message, but it is different for different people, and the simplicity of this message is what makes this film a great one.
[image courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Citizenkane.jpg]