In an innovative film, director and writer Orsen Wells, did what others couldn't.
|"Citizen Kane," released in 1941, was ahead of its time in cinematography. Many long cuts, showing action in real time, fill the film. The few short cuts are taken mainly to emphasize dialogue. This story of newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane is based losely on the life of William Randolph Hearst, who fought the release of this film into theaters.|
The story is not told in chronological order. The first impression we get in this film is of a run down mansion, inhabited by a dying old man, whose last word in life was "rosebud." The quest of the film is to discover the meaning of this word, which we discover has nothing to do with the lady-loves of his life.
"March of the News," a satire of the theater weekly "Time Marches On" newsreel, is footage of Kane documenting his lifetime, and gets the audience inside the life of this powerful, yet uncaring man. The story of his life is told through a series of flashbacks, some spanning many years through one dissolve. Kane collects statues, paintings, animals in a zoo, and a vast area for his home and castle in Florida known as Xanadu, based on the "castle" of William Randolph Hearst, who did his best to destroy the film before it was shown to the public. Charles Foster Kane is a montage of several real-life characters, Hearst among them.
Shot in black and white, this film uses the space of the audience's screen to show a qwell focused depth in the field of vision. Lighting is maintained through low key lights, and sharp angles of hard light, with characters all remaining in focus. Characters in the beginning of the film are shot almost in silhouette, focusing on voice and dialogue rather than the visual images. Symbolically, the public is in the dark about who Kane was. The older Kane gets, the darker shots become, reflecting a realism of cinema in the beginning of the film, but changing to baroque and excessive with the passage of time.
As a boy, Kane is removed from his mother's home because she has come into money, and wishes for the boy to be well cared for. In addition, the father is excited about receiving $50,000 each year during the boy's absence. The mother, played by a young Agnes Morehead of "Bewitched" fame, is solid, stoic and almost unfeeling at the loss of her child. Similarly, Kane does not visit his parents during the film, referring only to his mother's passing, and possessions he ought to go through. He is on the way to see about the family's possessions when he is splashed by a passing carriage and covered in mud. By chance a young woman offers him some hot water to clean up, and a relationship developes between them. Susan Alexander, age 22, works in a music store in charge of sheet music. Susan's mother wanted her to be an opera star. In this scene, Kane is a middle aged newspapeer tycoon.
On his twenty-fifth birthday, Kane comes into total inheritance of the sixth largest fortune in America. It is here we see the adult Kane for the first time, preferring to dabble in newspapers of all his assets. Mr. Thatcher, Kane's guardian and personal attorney, keeps Kane informed of his misguided interest in the newspaper which is costing him a million dollars a year. "At this rate, I'll be broke in sixty years," Kane quips.
Kane and his worldy belongings move, claiming his previous editor's office as his home. To increase circulation of the "Inquirer," Kane hires the top ten newspaper men from a rival paper. He always buys the best.
The shot of a portrait of these newsmen of "The Chronicle" dissolves into a new shot of his staff. Kane paid these reporters well to come to work for him. One senses Kane has no scruples, despite the fact he gets his way by being charming. During an office celebration, Kane dances charmingly with chorus girls, his dancing reflected in an elaborate shot with his image reflected in the mirror as his friends Mr. Bernstein and Jedidiah talk of him as a great and famous man, and all sing an original sone about Charle Kane. Kane leaves for Europe, and returns collecting not statues but one who collects diamonds.
Kane announces his engagement, and consequent marriage to the niece of the President of the United States, the dark haired Emily. He wants not only to fit in with the elite, but to have high society to bend to his whims. His is not a happy marriage, shown in a series of montage cuts over the breakfast table. His wife eventually leaves Kane and takes their son because Kane doesn't spend time with them, or understand and empathize with family feelings. Kane is newspaper tycoon bound.
Kane treats his wives like another
of his many possessions, telling the women what they are, what they will think, and what they will do. His second wife pursues a career in opera, which is a mistake because she has no talent. Her misery falls back on him, but he pushes her to continue.
Kane has political aspirations which burst like a bubble once his extramarital affair with the second woman is made public, and his first wife divorces him. The grandiosity in which Kane presents himself is actually very shallow, his work for his fellow man's benefit appears only in his early life. As an old man he is callous and uncaring of anything that doesn't have directly to do with him. "All he ever wanted was love," recollects Jedidiah as an old man.
Kane is a man of wealth and power, and builds an opera house in Chicago for his wife to sing in. As well, his newspapers across the country give Susan Alexander Kane rave reviews. Only his friend, Jedidiah Leland, arts editor, writes a scathing review of her performance which Kane finishes as the man, his friend from college days,
passes out from drunk before he finishes the review. "Some kind of friend he is," whines his lame songstress-wife. His was a friend who returned the now defunct constituion of the paper, written in the early and naive days.
Kane is responsible for the coverage, and perhaps the fighting of the Spanish American war in Cuba, saying he only needed pictures and he could supply the headlines. The "Inquirer" is not a newspaper of solid fact, but rather sensational items.
The second interview the report, getting an angle on a "great American's life," is the interview with his second wife, Susan Alexander Kane, now an alcoholic night club singer. She performs twice nightly for a floor show in a club in Atlantic City, which has no patrons. She sits alone, drunk and getting drunker. She doesn't wish to talk to the man, but is finally persuaded on a subsequent visit from the reporter Thompson.
We learn of the meeting of Kane and his second wife on a street corner, as she leaves the drugstore with toothache medicine, and he has just been splashed with mud by a passing horse and buggy. Thety retire to her boarding house room, and his attempt at first seduction is quelled by her keeping the door open. Their relationship shown on screen is harmless, but the audience knows that more comes to pass between them. Kane loves Susan because she loves him, without realizing he is a wealthy powerful newspaper man. But, the more she knows him, the less she likes him.
Kane pursues the governorship of the state, expressing his concern for the "working man." His dreams for the Presidency of the United States die, but out of his grasp because his affair is exposed. "A toast to love on my terms. That's the only terms that anyone really knows," says Kane when defeated at the hands of his precious working class, now represented by organized labor.
Kane is a man of wealth and power, and builds an opera house in Chicago for his wife to sing in. As well, his newspapers across the country give her rave reviews. Only his friend, and arts editor prints a scathing review which Kane finishes as the man, Jedidiah Leland, his friend from college days passes out from drinking before he finishes the review of her performance. "Some kind of friend he is," shrikes his lame songstress, now wife.
Despite a palace of 49,000 acres of scenery and statues, and the still being built compound/castle of Xanadu, Susan leaves Kane, and he erupts into a violent temper explosion in which he destroys Susan's room. Kane lives his final years alone, in what Leland refers to as his colleseum.
As a group of reporters and photographers survey more possessions than can be counted, the audience sees Kane's sled, burning in an incinerator. Can one word really sum up the wishes of one's life?