Thursday, August 5, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #26

26. Citizen Kane (1941)

Now this one may seem like another odd choice, not because of the film, but because of the rank at which it is placed. By several reputable standards (including the Library of Congress, the American Film Institute and many many many film critics), Citizen Kane is considered to be the single Greatest Film of All-Time (and I would be hard-pressed to argue with any of those sources). So I already realize that by placing this movie at #26, I may have invalidated an entire quarter of my list as a whole. And it may be practically heresy for me, as an Arts and Media critic, to say that there are 25 films I happen to like better than Citizen Kane. Since this is a personal favorites list, just chalk it up to personal taste because my opinion in NO WAY diminishes the greatness of this fantastic masterpiece.

Orson Welles was the up-and-comer when he began work on this film in 1940. After a dinner at famed publisher William Randolph Hearst's home (and we'll get to that in a bit), he had the idea to make this film about a wealthy man as seen through the eyes of those who knew him. With co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz, they created the character of Charles Foster Kane, a newspaper magnate to be played on film by Welles himself. At the beginning of this jarring film, Kane passes away with one word on his lips: Rosebud. The rest of the movie, a reporter tries to figure out what "Rosebud" means by interviewing those who were closest to him. Each of them have their own fascinating point of view about a man who had the world in his control. Most people know the haunting and almost devastating conclusion to this film as audiences discover what "Rosebud" really is. The film noir-ish quality of this movie (it's stunning photography by Gregg Toland and brilliant editing by Robert Wise) has been labeled phenomenal by many people, and deservedly so. It has certainly been an influence on several films since. Its ensemble cast is handpicked from Welles' company of players (whom he used on the radio as well) including Joseph Cotten, Everett Sloane, Agnes Moorehead and Dorothy Commingore.

The film was released in 1941 and the firestorm ensued. Welles had not hidden the fact Charles Foster Kane was a blatant adaptation of real-life newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst (Hearst's San Simeon Castle was replicated in the film as Kane's Xanadu). Hearst was infuriated at this upstart Welles making a film about him and did everything he could to stop it. He threatened the studio, RKO Pictures, with lawsuits and libel action. He had his head writer, the famed Louella Parsons, write scathing and scandalous editorials about Welles, Mankiewicz and anyone involved in the making of the picture. By the time of Citizen Kane's release, Hearst had mounted such a campaign that several theaters had refused to carry it. The film practically flopped, not making back the investment that RKO had put into it. The movie had a final insult when, at that year's Academy Awards, where Welles and his picture were nominated in several categories (including the top ones) was snubbed in everything but Best Original Screenplay. It has only been over time (and through the art and advocacy of film preservation) that this movie has gained the status it has. It is a phenomenal film and, while I do not put it in my top favorites, it certainly has earned its place in the pantheon of the Greatest Films of All-Time.

Next Post: #25

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