Friday, March 3, 2017

Directorial Debut: Orson Welles' CITIZEN KANE

Welcome to another installment of DIRECTORIAL DEBUT, where we look at some of the best, most interesting, and iconic directors and the films that launched their careers. This week I'll be reviewing CITIZEN KANE, which Orson Welles's co-wrote, directed and starred in.

Citizen Kane tells the story of publishing tycoon Charles Foster Kane's last word, Rosebud, and the investigation into finding out what it truly meant. The character of Charles Foster Kane is reportedly loosely based off of newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst. Hearst was adamant that he didn't want any mention of the film in his newspapers. Welles never actually confirmed a source for the character of Charles Foster Kane, so I guess that will remain a mystery to film fanatics.

The film starts from Kane's death to the beginning of his life. His obituary is shown through a newsreel and reporter Jerry Thompson is given the tumultuous task of interviewing the tycoon's friends and family to find out what the mysterious word "Rosebud" really meant. It seems that Foster started his career as an idealist and turned into a prick when the money started piling up. No wonder Hearst was upset at the idea that this character was based on  him.

I remember watching Citizen Kane in film class and the professor saying that this film was considered, by many, as the greatest film of all time. At the time, I didn't understand why this film was so acclaimed. But, after studying all the elements that go into making a film, I ended up with a deep appreciation for Citizen Kane. It's narrative structure was innovative for 1941 and done mostly through flashbacks of the protagonist's life. The cinematography of this film was also groundbreaking.  Cinematographer Gregg Toland had chosen a technique called deep focus. It refers to having everything in the frame, even the background. This technique was important because it was most effective in scenes where the audience was able to see Kane's emotional responses to loss of power and isolation.

Orson Welles was only 25 years old when this film was released and was considered by many to be a gifted genius. Before doing Citizen Kane, Welles had worked on an adaptation of MacBeth with an all African-American cast. He also found fame as the narrator and director of the controversial 1938 radio adaptation of H.G. Well's novel War of the Worlds.

After Citizen Kane, Welles went on to do other films such as The Magnificent Ambersons, Journey Into Fear, and quite a few others. However, none of them matched the success of Citizen Kane.

Even though it was a critical success, the film didn't do that well at the box office. It faded from the public eye until it was praised by French critic Andre Bazin and revived in 1956. The film celebrated it's 75th anniversary last year.

Every serious filmmaker/student needs to watch/study Citizen Kane because of its storytelling techniques and its groundbreaking deep focus cinematography. This film is not important for entertainment value, but for bringing all the elements of a film together and creating a well-written masterpiece.

Lisa's Score: 8.5/10

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