Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Greatest film of all time?


Now celebrating its 70th anniversary!
In 1998, and again in 2008, film experts polled by the AFI voted Citizen Kane the best movie ever made. From the first reviews onward, that opinion has never wavered.  So what makes it No 1? Welles was "a master of genre" says New York Times film critic A.O. Scott. "It's a newspaper comedy, a domestic melodrama, a gothic romance, and a historical epic." This immense, mythic film is a puzzle the audience must solve through its groundbreaking narrative style of flashbacks and through the revolutionary camerawork of top cinematographer Gregg Toland. As D.B. Grady writes in The Atlantic,

"Citizen Kane is perhaps most studied for its use of deep-focus photography, wherein the entire frame remains in focus at all time. This technique challenges audiences to search the screen for crucial pieces of the puzzle, and allows for cinematic sleight of hand. An otherwise ordinary fireplace, for example, is a background piece in Kane's mansion. It's not until Kane steps next to it that its massive size is revealed, and Kane's captivity to his outsized riches fully expressed. In another scene, when Kane loses control of his media empire, he dominates the frame, signing away his holdings while claiming a moral superiority to his new corporate masters. He then turns and walks to a window at the far end of the room, and is visually diminished. Through deep focus, the camera captures the magnitude of Kane's defeat without a single word spoken."


The film is a puzzle in more ways than one
Let's not forget Bernard Herrmann's outstanding score, Herman Mankiewicz's contribution to the screenplay (quotes from the film on one internet site number 304), and the stellar bunch of Mercury players (yay for Bewitched's Agnes Moorehead!).

Critic Kenneth Tynan claimed that "nobody who saw Citizen Kane at an impressionable age will ever forget the experience; overnight, the American cinema had acquired an adult vocabulary, a dictionary instead of a phrase book for illiterates." Do you remember your first impressions of this masterpiece? Or do you not think it is one? And what are your favorite lines? One of mine is "I'm the one that gets the raspberries!," which is shrieked by Kane's vocally challenged mistress as he tries to fashion her into an opera singer.

7 comments:

  1. Though hardly my favorite film, It may perhaps be the most ambitious. Even as a child, I was mesmorized by the scope and monumental feel of this film. Granted, I didn't understand a word at the time! An absolute monolith of a film every bit as timely now as it was then. That this film pre-dates around-the-clock, claustrophobic media remains puzzling. It manages to be so timelss, so classic and yet, so forward-thinking.
    As for my favorite lines? Both by Kane, of course: "I always gagged on the silver spoon" and "The news goes on 24 hours a day."
    How tru, Citizen, how true...

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  2. "Citizen Kane" is just as startling and original in the 21st century. Movies are generally less innovative these days, and filmmakers seem afraid to make films that require multiple viewings. The
    film ruined Welles' career, so I have to consider him one of Hollywood's greatest martyrs.

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  3. Thanks for your great comments guys. So many people say Magnificent Ambersons would have been every bit as good if RKO hadn't wrecked it. Supposedly there may be an uncut version in South America... we can only hope.

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  4. Despite its reputation as a classic, it wasn't until I was in my 30s that I first saw it. Coming to it 50 years after it was released, I found it hard to see what all the fuss was about. The flashback technique, the scoring, the mystery of Rosebud had all entered the vernacular and much of what had so impressed the Kenneth Tynans had been used everywhere from Columbo to Saturday Night Live. It was a long time before I realized that all these things were fresh and original when Citizen Kane was released.

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  5. It is hard to select any one film as 'the best'...but CK does deserve it's place in the pantheon of great films...who, today, could make a movie so daring that would involve the fictionalized life of a prominent person? NO ONE, that's who...what with all the 'political correctness' and so on, it will never happen again...today all the moviegoing public wants is cartoon characters, special effects, and once in a GREAT while, a film that really makes us think....so Bravo to Welles for this piece of art that we can treasure now and in the future.......!!!

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  6. I FIRST SAW CITIZEN KANE YEARS AGO, AFTER THE AFI GREATEST FILMS OF ALL TIME CAME OUT. I WAS A YOUNG TEENAGER, HARDLY IMPRESSIONABLE AND IT SORT OF BORED ME. IT WAS NOT UNTIL I WAS TAKING A FILM CLASS FRESHMAN YEAR OF COLLEGE, I REALIZED THE FULL SCOPE OF HOW INCREDIBLE THIS MOVIE REALLY IS.

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