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Educate me - What makes Citizen Kane so great?


starkhome
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My wife and I watched Citizen Kane over the weekend.  While we are avid classic cinema fans and usually watch about a dozen old films a month, it was the first time she'd ever watched it and it was the first time I had watched it in many years.  Both of us thought it was a good movie.  Neither of us, though, would put it in our top 50.  I wouldn't even call it my favorite movie with Orson Wells and Joseph Cotton (I like The Third Man much, much more).

 

It seems there is almost universal agreement that it is one of the greatest, if not THE greatest film ever made.  AFI calls it #1.  Obviously I'm missing something.  I really liked the cinematography.  There were interesting shots from low and high angles.  I also really likes some of the sets, especially the scenes of Xanadu from far off.  The acting was fine (a bit understated maybe), but not great.  The story... that's where it really loses points for me.  I suppose it was among the first megalomaniac movies - so it is groundbreaking in that aspect.  Rosebud?  The sled?  Huh?  I guess it was an allusion to the fact that the last time he was really happy was before he was taken away from his family.

 

Don't get me wrong.  I didn't dislike the film.  I just can't wrap my head around it's being among the very best movies ever made.

 

Am I alone?  Or can this forum convince me I'm missing something?

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I think the cinematography is outstanding and innovative for its time.  This is probably why a lot of people rate it #1.  The sets are great, too.  I also like how the time frame of the story unfolds in a unique way like in the breakfast table scene with Cane and his wife, which is my favorite scene in the movie. 

 

I doubt you're alone.  Remember that CANE was at the top of the list (I forgot exactly what list - ****'s the one that comes out every 10 years) until displaced by VERTIGO this last time around.

 

Is it the best ever?  I don't know but is it #1 favorite?  These can be two different things.  Heck, VERTIGO isn't even my favorite/best HItchcock movie but I know a lot of people love it.  I do think CANE's overall story, camera techniques, editing and art direction place it very, very high on the list.

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The most obvious innovation in this film is the non-linear storytelling, which starts from the end, then zigzags back and forth within different time periods, sometimes even showing the same events more than once.  Such complete abandoning of a straight narrative was not common at all in those days.  Whether or not the film is great is, of course, a matter of opinions.  Yes, there have been many polls, including those from AFI, that routinely put "Citizen Kane" as number 1, but many of those polls were done long ago.  Opinions change all the time, just like back in 1941, "Kane" was not thought of as a great film.  The annual, authoritative poll from the British "Sight and Sound" magazine has picked "Kane" as the No. 1 film in every poll since the 50s.  But in its latest poll, done in 2012, in a shock to many but not to me, "Kane" was dethroned by "Vertigo."  It wasn't a shock to me because in the previous poll, in 2002, "Vertigo" only trailed "Kane" by 4 votes.  So you probably should be asking: what makes "Vertigo" a great film.  If AFI would do another such poll today, "Vertigo" might beat "Kane" as well.

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ROSEBUD.

 

Yes, I hear it is advisable to gather as many as those while ye may. ;)

 

Actually of course and re the film in question...

 

I think Christine's "outstanding and innovative cinematography" and DVDPhreak's "innovative non-linear storytelling" hit the mark in regard to why this film has been so highly regarded for so many years.

 

However, I'll now offer one more aspect to it which might also help explain this.

 

It was made in an era when most Hollywood movies contained happy endings in order to please the majority of the movie going audiences back then, and this film bucked that trend. And with "serious movie critics" very often inclined to dismiss films with "happy endings" out of hand, CITIZEN KANE's more solemn and dark ending would be more acceptable to their tastes.

 

(...just a thought...I could be wrong)

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Citizen Kane is propped up like movies are today with Oscar nominations. Recently people claimed Unforgiven is the best western of all time.

 

It is done so people that don't follow closely will assume it must be true.

 

Citizen Kane would be a flop if it was released today. You would think something being the greatest could stand the test of time. Gone With The Wind would do well if released today.

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Citizen Kane is propped up like movies are today with Oscar nominations. Recently people claimed Unforgiven is the best western of all time.

 

It is done so people that don't follow closely will assume it must be true.

 

Citizen Kane would be a flop if it was released today. You would think something being the greatest could stand the test of time. Gone With The Wind would do well if released today.

 

Hmmm...maybe.

 

But for some reason somethin' tellin' me here that that Gable/Leigh movie MIGHT not be all that big a hit in the urban centers of our country now days.

 

(...although once again, I COULD be wrong here, I suppose) ;)

 

LOL

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Citizen Kane is propped up like movies are today with Oscar nominations. Recently people claimed Unforgiven is the best western of all time.

 

It is done so people that don't follow closely will assume it must be true.

 

Citizen Kane would be a flop if it was released today. You would think something being the greatest could stand the test of time. Gone With The Wind would do well if released today.

 

 

 

My family has a motto:  We may be wrong, but we're never in doubt.

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My family has a motto:  We may be wrong, but we're never in doubt.

 

That's okay, slayton.

 

We'll only have to START worryin' about your family IF there was some kind'a additional line to that motto of yours like say:

 

"And if we're ultimately proved wrong, then we never apologize for it, because that's the sign of weakness."

 

(...uh-huh...now people like THAT worry me) ;)

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That's okay, slayton.

 

We'll only have to START worryin' about your family IF there was some kind'a additional line to that motto of yours like say:

 

"And if we're ultimately proved wrong, then we never apologize for it, because that's the sign of weakness."

 

(...uh-huh...now people like THAT worry me) ;)

 

 

 

But--but--that's what we say!  We call it the John Wayne Rule.

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But--but--that's what we say!  We call it the John Wayne Rule.

 

Okay, NOW I'm worried, slayton!!! ;)

 

And besides, shouldn't your family consider updating the name of that rule of yours? I mean, Duke only said it that one time, and that was way back in '49, ya know.

 

(...'cause as I'm sure you know, some OTHER guy seems to me makin' this dumb "rule" HIS practice of late, TOO!)

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Okay, NOW I'm worried, slayton!!! ;)

 

And besides, shouldn't your family consider updating the name of that rule of yours? I mean, Duke only said it that one time, and that was way back in '49, ya know.

 

(...'cause as I'm sure you know, some OTHER guy seems to me makin' this dumb "rule" HIS practice of late, TOO!)

 

 

You're treadin' some perilous ground, there, pilgrim.  The Duke is forever.

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Gone With the Wind is a Civil War and Reconstruction movie that pretty much glosses over and ignores the most monumental outcome of the war, the end of slavery, as the former slaves at Tara just keep on doing the same jobs, only now they're servants instead of slaves. In the era of Hashtag Oscars So White, I'm not sure at all it would be a hit if it was released today. It would have to be radically re-imagined in its depiction of African-Americans for sure. That line about "simple-minded darkies" alone would probably cause riots. There's enough backlash against it already that I recall at least one thread on here where someone thought it shouldn't even be aired on TCM anymore.

 

Citizen Kane is justly lauded for all the reasons discussed: its disjointed, multi-perspective narrative structure; its technical innovations (lots of ceilings, which certainly weren't common at the time; the multi-focus shots); its not-so-subtle take on the life of a real figure; its stylistic choices (the reporter's face always being in shadow or turned away from the camera; the jarring transition from the dreamlike opening to the March of Time documentary style); its grand, successful use of an overarching mystery (oh my God; it was the sled all along!); and some really nice performances from actors pretty much all making their film debuts. Having said all that, it is also a film that calls attention to itself as a film while you're watching it. it's hard to become completely engrossed in it as a story separate from the story of Orson Welles, Boy Genius. As such, I think it ultimately lacks some of the gut punches of Vertigo, which is maybe why that film has usurped it on Sight & Sound. But it's still great.

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I don't think GONE WITH THE WIND would be a hit today.  Maybe a hit with protesters . . . but not the general, movie-going public.  My 2¢ worth. 

 

     In regards to CITIZEN KANE I don't recall Orson Welles ever saying he thought it was his best work.  Maybe I missed it?  I do like the movie, but I'd go for TOUCH OF EVIL before KANE.

    

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I don't think GONE WITH THE WIND would be a hit today.  Maybe a hit with protesters . . . but not the general, movie-going public.  My 2¢ worth. 

 

     In regards to CITIZEN KANE I don't recall Orson Welles ever saying he thought it was his best work.  Maybe I missed it?  I do like the movie, but I'd go for TOUCH OF EVIL before KANE.

 

On the legendary 1939 GWTW your right on the moolah. Protesters-(where ant there anymore thesedays these???)

 

But I still believe it would still a behemoth in ticket sales

 

Most don't realize that 24yrs earlier the first big event motion picture Griffith Birth of a Nation" was literally overrun with protestors but, his 1946 follow-up 'Intolerance"-(even greater) & is still ranked among the all-time greats!

 

Up until his 2, most were shot films, comedies, Keystone Cops,etc

 

True story he was outside a premiere on H. Blvd around 1938 & some cop pushed him to the ground, yelling get out of here old man unquote

 

He passed away in The Knickerbocker Hotel-(Fred Mertz also died as leaving on it's sidewalk in '66 & an art-director jumped to her death from one of it's window! Rumors had it the hotel was almost as haunted as The Roosevelt Hotel-(NOTE: Can't ever find if Kinckerbocker is still there, one of you should know, typical progress & especially in HOLLYWOOD, it's gone???

 

 

As for Kane, I musta' studied this since about 1985 & I'll not say it's the greatest ever made, because I've not seen everything of course, but it is on every single level the best picture I've yet to see!

Even went to it after already watching it many, many times at an old fashioned movie place-(yeah down here in Tampa Bay, FL) Tampa Theatre-(perfecto place for such a classic) music-(B. Herrman)camera angels, use of B & W, art-direction, editing & arguably thee greatest cinematography yet by Gregg Toland. Then there is Orson is what rate among the top 5 greatest by an actor & a lot more But, rumor mill disliked it for many reasons, NY actors, W.R. Hearst, Louella Parsons, Hedda Hopper, So when Oscar came around it wonly took home screenplay, & Tinsel-Town voted instead for a maginificent film as well "How Green Was My Valley" (Fox) An irony here, Orson truly idolized Ford & studios "Stagecoach" throughout his prod at RKO & Culver Studios-(non tours) & here it is, John "Pappy" Ford wins again & over him. 1942's "Ambersons" was his true heartbreaker though only 88 minutes, RKO brass-(w R. Wise as a cutter) most say may have cut as much as 40min out of it!? & locked him out of the studio too, after he came back from s. American filming the locals in a docu "It's All Tre" (***) Peter Bogdanovich was later write Welles & Peter's family were sitting down to dinner & Ambersons came-on, making Welles cry right there!

 

(TRIVIA: Touch of Evil was actually shot in & around Venice Beach, CALIF-(all smoke & mirrors)& the famed sled has also been around. I recall just before died in 85 USA Today said Spielberg bought it at auction-(think it was only $1m. recently went for $3m Truly thought Steven would keep it, but didn't? When it was first sold Orson replied I thought we burned all three

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My wife and I watched Citizen Kane over the weekend.  While we are avid classic cinema fans and usually watch about a dozen old films a month, it was the first time she'd ever watched it and it was the first time I had watched it in many years.  Both of us thought it was a good movie.  Neither of us, though, would put it in our top 50.  I wouldn't even call it my favorite movie with Orson Wells and Joseph Cotton (I like The Third Man much, much more).

 

It seems there is almost universal agreement that it is one of the greatest, if not THE greatest film ever made.  AFI calls it #1.  Obviously I'm missing something.  I really liked the cinematography.  There were interesting shots from low and high angles.  I also really likes some of the sets, especially the scenes of Xanadu from far off.  The acting was fine (a bit understated maybe), but not great.  The story... that's where it really loses points for me.  I suppose it was among the first megalomaniac movies - so it is groundbreaking in that aspect.  Rosebud?  The sled?  Huh?  I guess it was an allusion to the fact that the last time he was really happy was before he was taken away from his family.

 

Don't get me wrong.  I didn't dislike the film.  I just can't wrap my head around it's being among the very best movies ever made.

 

Am I alone?  Or can this forum convince me I'm missing something?

 

To starkhome, another thing nobody else had considered. To be able to get a good viewpoint on the ceiling, he had huge ditches dug for the camera.

 

& I almost agree 1950's-(the yr it won best B & W Cinematography) is brilliantly made on every arena He deserved a 2nd nomination-(s. actor) as Harry Lime) The first time you see him with a cat in a doorwell was among Ebert's #1st ever!

 

BFI-(BritishFilmInstutute) voted itvall-time greatest U.K. film in it's own 1999 poll)It's a Selznick/Carol reed prod but his finger prints are all it

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IT'S PC OF TIME! DISNEY/RKO SEEMINGLY ALRREADY GOT RID OF "SONG OF THE SOUTH?" (l947) & by the way James Baskett as Uncle Remus won a special Oscar for his work

 

Gone With the Wind is a Civil War and Reconstruction movie that pretty much glosses over and ignores the most monumental outcome of the war, the end of slavery, as the former slaves at Tara just keep on doing the same jobs, only now they're servants instead of slaves. In the era of Hashtag Oscars So White, I'm not sure at all it would be a hit if it was released today. It would have to be radically re-imagined in its depiction of African-Americans for sure. That line about "simple-minded darkies" alone would probably cause riots. There's enough backlash against it already that I recall at least one thread on here where someone thought it shouldn't even be aired on TCM anymore.

 

Citizen Kane is justly lauded for all the reasons discussed: its disjointed, multi-perspective narrative structure; its technical innovations (lots of ceilings, which certainly weren't common at the time; the multi-focus shots); its not-so-subtle take on the life of a real figure; its stylistic choices (the reporter's face always being in shadow or turned away from the camera; the jarring transition from the dreamlike opening to the March of Time documentary style); its grand, successful use of an overarching mystery (oh my God; it was the sled all along!); and some really nice performances from actors pretty much all making their film debuts. Having said all that, it is also a film that calls attention to itself as a film while you're watching it. it's hard to become completely engrossed in it as a story separate from the story of Orson Welles, Boy Genius. As such, I think it ultimately lacks some of the gut punches of Vertigo, which is maybe why that film has usurped it on Sight & Sound. But it's still great.

 

Nice piece (except to bring PC into the history of cinema myself) The are pieces of time & must remain this way Like a very old record, album or book. I did take notice on that stunning & I mean stunning 2012 Sight & Sound upset after a 1/2 a decade, where Vertigo upset Kane-(both eeasily in my personal top ten ever produced) (NOTE: Kinda' ironically, TMZ-(loath that garbage) quicky interviewed Scorsese-(now his #1 fav. picture for decades was The Searchers-(think back to where he even squeezed it into there) & the just asked him his fav. movie & he said Right Now, Vertigo"

 

& on Kane's dialogue he was trying to mix up the dialogue as Hawks had always done

 

(NOTE: TO ALL,TCM HAS ALREADY STARTED A POLITICAL STANT-(Vasquez, most of the memners that win that camera contest)& I KNOW THEY ARE ALSO $SUFFERING$ FINANCIAL & TRYING TO REACH A WIDE AUDIENCE, PLEASE DON''T GET POLITICAL)

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What makes any film "so great"? 

Any art that touches people is a success. A movie is a visual narrative, using action & dialogue and I think CITIZEN KANE is a huge success as a movie. The non linear story, the visual image, the fantastic acting all frame really interesting charactors & situations.

 

The heart of Kane's story is money vs love. How many of us wish for more money, think our lives would be better if we didn't have to think about making money? Kane's story is all about a person who never had to worry about "earning a living" and what becomes of him.

It's Kane's struggle to understand others' motivations, others' needs and his inability to really connect with people is much much more debilitating than being "poor". Rich Kane is the tragic figure and watching his tragedy unfold is painful while reassuring to us that WE'RE not in the same boat!

 

If Kane had no passion, he'd be as cold as Thatcher's statue. The beauty of the movie for me, is every little piece of the movie "says" something-it was exhaustedly well thought out.

This story could never work as well as a play or book-it needed to be told as a movie, and it was executed perfectly.

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"Citizen Kane" for me is a perfect example of a man standing up against William Randolph Hearst who thinks he's above all.  Rich bully! :angry:

 

wrh.gif

 

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/kane2/

For me, it's the unique style of the film which is most noticeable. Out of CITIZEN KANE, CASABLANCA, and GONE WITH THE WIND, I think CITIZEN KANE is by far the best. It is in my top 50, though not in my top 20.

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A lot of the posters here have hit the mark, I feel, in emphasizing the stunning cinematography and non linear story structure as key components in the success and praise of Citizen Kane.

 

Look, Welles was a gifted ambitious film neophyte when he made Kane. The overused word "genius" does not seem inappropriate when applied to him. Having said that, however, he obviously leaned heavily upon his cinematographer to see what visual effects could be achieved, therefore I have always maintained that Greg Toland should be almost as celebrated as Welles for the success of this production.

 

One more thing, Citizen Kane was a marvel when it came to the success of its many matte and glass paintings. So much of Xanadu and the visuals for which the film are acclaimed were achieved through the work of uncelebrated artists. The movies are a world of make believe, and Citizen Kane's visuals are often just an illusion.

 

Story-wise and character-wise, though, I have never found the film particularly compelling, and I receive far more enjoyment with Orson Welles' film noir ventures (Lady from Shanghai and Touch of Evil). In many respects, I have a love for Carol Reed's The Third Man as a light hearted thriller with noir overtones that I will never have for Kane. That film probably has my favourite Welles performance, as well.

 

But sometimes it's the little things that stay with you about a film. In Kane, one is the scene in which an elderly, white haired and shriveled Everett Sloane sitting behind a big desk talks to a reporter about a beautiful young woman that he saw a half century before, enchanted by her appearance yet dared not speak to her. "I bet that a day doesn't go by in which I don't think about her," he says. There's something terribly sad about that statement, a reflection of a long lost opportunity, a regret that, all these years later inspite of his financial success, still haunts Sloane's character.

 

Then again one of the moments of Kane that I often think of, trivial as it is, is the sudden appearance of that squawking cockatoo with the missing eye (an optical error of some kind). That bird stays with me, maybe even visually haunts me a little, much as the thoughts of that beautiful young girl from so long ago stay with Everett Sloane.

 

88TH5.png

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A lot of the posters here have hit the mark, I feel, in emphasizing the stunning cinematography and non linear story structure as key components in the success and praise of Citizen Kane.

 

Look, Welles was a gifted ambitious film neophyte when he made Kane. The overused word "genius" does not seem inappropriate when applied to him. Having said that, however, he obviously leaned heavily upon his cinematographer to see what visual effects could be achieved, therefore I have always maintained that Greg Toland should be almost as celebrated as Welles for the success of this production.

 

One more thing, Citizen Kane was a marvel when it came to the success of its many matte and glass paintings. So much of Xanadu and the visuals for which the film are acclaimed were achieved through the work of uncelebrated artists. The movies are a world of make believe, and Citizen Kane's visuals are often just an illusion.

 

Story-wise and character-wise, though, I have never found the film particularly compelling, and I receive far more enjoyment with Orson Welles' film noir ventures (Lady from Shanghai and Touch of Evil). In many respects, I have a love for Carol Reed's The Third Man as a light hearted thriller with noir overtones that I will never have for Kane. That film probably has my favourite Welles performance, as well.

 

But sometimes it's the little things that stay with you about a film. In Kane, one is the scene in which an elderly, white haired and shriveled Everett Sloane sitting behind a big desk talks to a reporter about a beautiful young woman that he saw a half century before, enchanted by her appearance yet dared not speak to her. "I bet that a day doesn't go by in which I don't think about her," he says. There's something terribly sad about that statement, a reflection of a long lost opportunity, a regret that, all these years later inspite of his financial success, still haunts Sloane's character.

 

Then again one of the moments of Kane that I often think of, trivial as it is, is the sudden appearance of that squawking cockatoo with the missing eye (an optical error of some kind). That bird stays with me, maybe even visually haunts me a little, much as the thoughts of that beautiful young girl from so long ago stay with Everett Sloane.

 

88TH5.png

With respect to films with which Welles was involved, only THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS comes close.

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With respect to films with which Welles was involved, only THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS comes close.

 

Ambersons is a fine film. But, as I said, his noirs are the most entertaining to me.

 

I gather by your statement that Kane is your favourite Welles film. If so, I assume that the majority of fans would be in agreement with your preference over mine.

 

Truth is, The Third Man is my favourite film associated with Welles. But it's not a Welles film, belonging to Carol Reed and Graham Greene

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I doubt you're alone.  Remember that CANE was at the top of the list (I forgot exactly what list - ****'s the one that comes out every 10 years) until displaced by VERTIGO this last time around.

 

Is it the best ever?  I don't know but is it #1 favorite?  These can be two different things.  Heck, VERTIGO isn't even my favorite/best HItchcock movie but I know a lot of people love it.  I do think CANE's overall story, camera techniques, editing and art direction place it very, very high on the list.

I dislike both films, particularly VERTIGO; and, that's while listing Hitchcock in my top 5 favorite directors.  CITIZEN KANE, for me, is just meh.  Orson Welles is not one of my favorite directors. KANE is one and done.  It has nothing about it that would compel me to ever watch it, again.  VERTIGO, I kind of love, until the girl goes into the drink, and then the entire thing falls apart, imo.  It's just tedious.  Great score, though.  Not sure why critics thinks it's Hitchcock's best?  It pales by comparison to so many of his films, for me.

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