Citizen Kane

Written by Joe D on December 3rd, 2007

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TCM did it again. They showed a movie that got me thinking and then got me writing. The case in point, Orson Welles incredible directorial debut Citizen Kane.

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Welles was a wunderkind, playing The Shadow and directing and starring in his Mercury Theater Radio dramas, a lot of which were adaptations of great literature. But it was The War Of The Worlds that really launched young Orson into the Stratosphere of Fame. It was a huge scandal with stories of panicked listeners drinking poison, committing suicide, going crazy. My father heard the broadcast as a youngster, he said the thing that really unnerved him was the use of real street names in the broadcast, “They’re attacking the Pulaski Skyway…”. I am reminded of the beginning of another Cinematic career that started with a scandal. Luis Bunuel andUn Chien Andalou. The slicing of the Eyeball vs. the Shattering of the Snow Globe.

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Violated Optical Orbs
Due to his gigantic popularity Welles was offered carte blanche at RKO, an unprecedented amount of creative control. He began developing an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness, the type of material he worked with on his Mercury Radio productions, but after a few months abandoned the idea due to budgetary limitations. Many years later another Cinematic Giant would struggle to bring his version of this story to the screen, I’m referring of course to Francis Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Welles then switched gears and developed a screenplay with Herman Mankiewiscz, Kane. Another coincidence, I know Christopher Mankiewiscz, the nephew of Herman, he told me he was related to Joseph Conrad! Welles kept it in the family!

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Orson Horsin’ around with the dancing girls, Kane rehearsal

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Shooting Kane

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Despite protestations to the contrary it certainly seemed that Kane was based on the life of William Randolph Hearst. Hearst’s fortune was based on a silver mine in Colorado, so was Kane’s, Hearst created the Spanish American War through his muckraking newspapers, so did Kane. Hearst obsessively collected Art in Europe and sent it back to his Xanadu (Hearst Castle) , the married Hearst carried on an affair with a blonde entertainer(Marion Davies) so did Charlie, and finally as legend has it, Rosebud was Hearst’s nickname for Marion Davies clitoris! That’s pretty wild! Probably the most well known, important word ever uttered in Cinema and it refers to a woman’s sex organ! Not only that but the shot where Kane utters his fateful last word is an extreme close up of his mouth, his lips fringed on top by a mustache mouthing “Rose..Bud, the image is undeniably sexual, vagina-like.
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Rose…Buddd…
The snow globe drops, rolls from Kane’s paralyzed hand, loss of control, then bursts with a splash, ejaculation! What happens next? He dies, the orgasm is also known as the little death, another parallel to Un Chien Andalou.

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Un Petit Morte
It’s fitting, it captures the whole phenomenon of Film, a creative endeavor capable of flights of the most amazing beauty, of the loftiest intellectual speculation, rumination operating through our emotions, our sex drive, our blood lust.

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There is a man, A certain Man…Good Old Charley Kane!

Watching Kane again I was struck by it’s tone. It’s emotional tone is unique in Cinema, kind of a melancholy, removed storytelling. You’re never involved in Kane in a normal identifying way. You don’t sit there and think ” Come on Charlie, don’t fire Jed Leland! or Don’t leave your wife for that floozy!”. You watch fascinated, I think Welles chose not to manipulate the audience through conventional emotional storytelling. It’s got an icy cold grip on your mind. Maybe this is why I didn’t love Citizen Kane as a kid watching it on TV. I watched it mesmerized but I enjoyed King Kong more. Kane succeeds where Radio succeeds. Radio conjures worlds of fantasy in your mind through dialog, acting, sound effects, music. Kane through it’s incredible technique does the same thing. The Freedom of Creativity expressed by it’s images, it’s brilliant , light years ahead of it’s time. The scene where the investigating reporter reads Mr. Thatcher’s manuscript for example. The perfect Victorian handwriting, obviously done with a quill, the whiteness of the paper gradually giving way to a young Charles Foster Kane playing in the Colorado snow. The low angles in the Kane household, Agness Morehead’s beautiful performance as The Mother who wanted to give her boy a better life.

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Deep Focus- Let Me Know If You Find The Snow Globe

Someone told me they saw the snow globe somewhere in this scene, where Agness is signing the papers to give control of her fortune and her son to Mr. Thatcher, but I can never see it! Maybe I get so caught up in this scene every time I watch it that it eludes me. You look for it and see if you can find it. The amazing scene outside the Kane house where Mr. and Mrs. K introduce young Charlie to Mr. Thatcher.

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Just listen to this scene, the perfect timing and this is with a child actor! It’s like a Radio Play, brilliant.

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Sloppy Joe’s, Watchamacallit,Xanadu
Maybe because it’s all about remembrance, the past. Old people talking about their youth. Does anyone in this movie love Charles Foster Kane? Even his mother? She sent him away. What a strange story for a young Orson Welles to tell. A story of the ultimate “primitive accumulator” trying to fill his empty life with things.

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5 Comments so far ↓

  1. Dec
    4
    4:44
    AM
    filomeno

    El Mundo a sus pies

  2. Dec
    4
    9:33
    AM
    admin

    Si, verdad.

  3. Jul
    27
    11:04
    AM
    Robyn H

    I just watched Citizen Kane for the first time. I’d heard about it but never got around to seeing it. The movie puzzeled me regarding WHY his mother sent him away. That, in my opinion, is the main reason he had no “love to give” and behaved the way he did. The answer is NOT to give him a better life, as in education, etc. That doesn’t even make sense. The mother was rich now and could pay tutors and afford to send him to great schools. What she couldn’t do, at least in those days, was protect him from his father. Mr Kane Sr seemed nice enough in those scenes at the boarding house but when he said Kane Jr needed a good thrashing for kicking Thatcher, Mrs Kane said “That’s why he’s going to be brought up where you can’t get at him.”
    As for the snow globe, look in the picture you supplied!! A snow globe is sitting right in the lower left-hand corner! ;-) ta

  4. Jul
    27
    3:44
    PM
    Joe D

    I heard that Orson Welles real mama had a tutor around taking care fof Orson from a young age. Also Mama Welles died young, maybe this gave rise to the theme of maternal abandonment in Kane.
    p.s. I’m not sure that is a snow globe! I can’t tell.

  5. Oct
    12
    7:36
    PM
    matt

    I agree with all that you wrote here. My mother, not a terribly educated woman, none the less let me stay up late when I was about 10 to watch this movie on TV. She said “You should see this. It’s important.”

    For mom to say “important” meant something back then, and in fact she was right. I loved the film, even though I found it somehow eerie. I still do on many levels, not the least of which is it’s sheer greatness and that of Welles himself.

    There is Welles, Citizen Kane and then everything else. It will always reign as the greatest film of all time, and Welles will always be (to my mind) the greatest American actor ever.

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