Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Citizen Kane is the first feature film directed by Orson Welles (he had directed two short films previously), and is loosely based on the life of the newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst and the reclusive aerospace and movie mogul Howard Hughes. Internally while it was under production, it was referred to as RKO 281. The film premiered on May 1, 1941. Endlessly discussed and dissected by critics and viewers alike, this innovative film is perhaps the most influential ever in film history.
Produced in 1941, the film deals with the inability of Charles Foster Kane (played by Welles) to love. Instead Kane has only "Love on my own terms". As a result, Kane eventually alienates every loved one around him and dies a lonely recluse in an opulent, but crumbling estate.
Kane dies in the opening scene of the film; this is followed by a newsreel pastiche documenting Kane's public life (this segment was produced by RKO's actual newsreel department). The remainder of the movie is told through flashbacks being related to a reporter trying to improve the newsreel — the newsreel is regarded as functional but not especially profound, and furthermore the reporter is searching for the meaning behind Mr. Kane's dying word, "rosebud".
What is revealed has been described by Jorge Luis Borges, in a 1941 review, as a "metaphysical detective story. [Its] subject (both psychological and allegorical) is the investigation of a man's inner self, through the works he has wrought, the words he has spoken, the many lives he has ruined... Overwhelmingly, endlessly, Orson Welles shows fragments of the life of the man, Charles Foster Kane, and invites us to combine them and reconstruct him. Forms of multiplicity and incongruity abound in the film: the first scenes record the treasures amassed by Kane; in one of the last, a poor woman, luxuriant and suffering, plays with an enormous jigsaw puzzle on the floor of a palace that is also a museum. At the end we realize that the fragments are not governed by a secret unity: the detested Charles Foster Kane is a simulacrum, a chaos of appearances". With the revelation to the audience of what "rosebud" meant to Kane, the end suggests that Kane's inability to love stemmed from childhood abandonment.
The film combines revolutionary cinematography (by Gregg Toland, whom Welles shared a title card with, which was considered massive nod of approval for Toland's overall contribution to the film) with an Oscar-winning screenplay (by Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz -- though most film history circles consider Mankiewicz's contribution to the screenplay to be far greater than that of Welles), and a lineup of first time silverscreen actors, associates of Mr. Welles' from his stint at the Mercury Theater, such as Joseph Cotten and Agnes Moorehead.
Film scholars and historians view Citizen Kane as Welles' attempt to create a new style of filmmaking by studying the various forms of movie making, and combining them all into one (much like D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation did in 1915). Examination of the techniques used by Welles and his crew reveals elements of expressionism in the use of light and shadow, noting the influence of German and Russian filmmakers. The film is even seen as one of the predecessors of method acting, as seen during the scene where Kane vents his anger at his political opponent, Jim Gettys, at the top of a flight of stairs. (Welles actually tripped and broke his ankle during the filming of that scene, but the scene continued and made it into the final print of the film.)
The most innovative technical aspect of "Kane" is the unprecedented use of deep focus . In nearly every scene in the film, the foreground, background and everything in between are all in sharp focus. This was done by legendary cinematographer Gregg Toland through his experimentation with lenses and lighting. Anytime the deep focus was impossible—for example in the scene when Kane finishes a bad review of Alexander's opera while at the same time firing the person who started the review—Toland used an optical printer to make the whole screen appear in focus (one piece of film is printed onto another piece of film).
Another unorthodox method used in the film was the way low-angle cameras were used to display a point of view facing upwards, thus allowing ceilings to be shown in the background of several scenes. Since movies were primarily filmed on sound stages and not on location during the era of the Hollywood studio system , it was impossible to film at an angle that showed ceilings because the stages had none. Welles' crew used black cloth draped above the set to produce the illusion of a regular room with a ceiling, while the boom mikes were hidden above the cloth.
During the filming (June 29, 1940 - October 23, 1940), Welles prevented studio executives of RKO from visiting the set. He understood their desire to control projects and he knew they were expecting him to do an exciting film that would correspond to his The War of the Worlds radio broadcast. Welles' RKO contract had given him complete control over the production of the film when he signed on with the studio, something that he never again was allowed to exercise when making motion pictures.
Conflict with William Hearst
Much of Kane's life is seen by critics as a fictional parody of (or attack on) media baron William Randolph Hearst. The most notable reference to Hearst comes early in the film, as Kane (played by Welles) provides a quote that mirrors Hearst's own comment on the Spanish American War: "You provide the pictures, I'll provide the war." (An often-debated Hollywood legend says that the reference to "Rosebud" was also an attack on Hearst: allegedly, it was a nickname used by Hearst to refer to the private anatomy of his mistress, Marion Davies).
On hearing about the film, Hearst offered RKO Pictures $800,000 to destroy all prints of the film and burn the negative. Although it's often said that Hearst was upset because the film was about him, one alternative theory is that Hearst was more upset about the portrayal of Davies (as talentless singer Susan Alexander) than himself in the film. Davies was a gifted light comedic actress who was talked by Hearst into starring in pompous costume dramas many thought were out of her depth. Roger Ebert, in his full-length commentary of "Citizen Kane," suggested that the Alexander character had very little to do with Davies, but, rather, that it was based on the wife of another famous man upon which the Kane character was developed.
When RKO refused, Hearst was so angry that he banned every newspaper and station in his media conglomerate from reviewing or even mentioning the movie. This struggle was, itself, turned into a movie, RKO 281 . Although these efforts damaged the film's success, they ultimately failed considering that almost every reference of Hearst's life and career made today typically includes a reference to the film's parallel to it.
Although it was little seen at the time of its initial release (largely due to Hearst's blacklisting of the film), and virtually forgotten until its revival in the 1950s, its critical fortunes have skyrocketed since. Many critics consider the film the best ever made; the American Film Institute ranked it #1 on its "100 Greatest Movies" list; it has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry; and the film is consistently in the top 20 on the Internet Movie Database. Beginning in 1962, and every ten years since, it has been voted the best film ever made by the Sight and Sound critics' poll.
- Academy Award for Best Picture - Orson Welles, producer
- Best Actor in a Leading Role - Orson Welles
- Academy Award for Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White - Perry Ferguson , A. Roland Fields , Van Nest Polglase , and Darrell Silvera
- Best Cinematography, Black-and-White - Gregg Toland
- Best Director - Orson Welles
- Best Film Editing - Robert Wise
- Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture - Bernard Herrmann
- Best Sound, Recording - John Aalberg
It should be noted that boos were heard almost every time "Citizen Kane" was referred to during the Oscars ceremony that year. Most of Hollywood did not want the film to ever see the light of day considering the threats that William Hearst had made if it did. The appreciation for "Kane" did not truly surface until around 10-20 years later when critics world-wide began crediting it as among one of the best films ever made. For Welles, however, this was too late. Hearst had been successful in black-listing Welles in Hollywood so that no studio would agree to work with him.
Welles's original master film negative of Citizen Kane was destroyed in a fire in the 1970s. Until 1991, all existing theatrical prints of the film were made from copies of the original. When the film became owned by Turner Entertainment (which bought the rights to the MGM and RKO film libraries), film restoration techniques were used to produce a pristine print for a 50th Anniversary theatrical revival reissue in 1991 (released by Paramount Pictures). The 2003 British DVD edition is taken from an interpositive held by the British Film Institute. The current U.S. DVD version (released by Warner Home Video) is taken from another digital restoration, supervised by Turner.
In 2003, Orson Welles' daughter Beatrice sued Turner Entertainment and RKO Pictures, claiming that the Welles estate is the legal owner of the film. Her attorney said that Orson Welles had left RKO with an exit deal terminating his contracts with the studio, meaning that Welles still had an interest in the film and his previous contract giving the studio the ownership of the film was null and void. Beatrice Welles also claimed that, if the courts did not uphold her claim of ownership, RKO nevertheless owes the estate 20% of the profits, from a previous contract which has not been lived up to.
In the 1980s, the film became the catalyst in the fight against the trend of film colorization. When Turner Entertainment announced plans to colorize the film, both public outcry and a previous clause written by Orson Welles himself led to these plans being cancelled.
References to Citizen Kane in other work
- Russ Meyer's movie Up! - Sweet Li'l Alice (Janet Wood) says "rosebud" and looks at the camera after seeing the flower tattoo of Margo Winchester (Raven De La Croix ).
- The last chapter of the comic book The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck by Keno Don Rosa is heavily influenced by Citizen Kane.
- The White Stripes song "The Union Forever" is made up entirely of quotes from Citizen Kane. A young Kane yells the title while playing in the snow. The chorus, "it can't be love for there is no true love", is originally sung by the jazz band during the camping trip. It also features the "Charlie Kane" song in a breakdown.
- The flash-backs to childhood in Oliver Stone's Nixon closely resemble Citizen Kane stylistically.
- The animated television program The Simpsons has had many, many references to Citizen Kane, including an episode entitled "Rosebud", which concerned tycoon Montgomery Burns recovering his teddy bear Bobo, which he had lost as a young man, ala Charles Foster Kane and his sled.
- In the children's television show The Adventures of Pete and Pete, Pete drops a snow globe in the episode Sick Day just like in Citizen Kane.
- Several animated programs, including Animaniacs and Family Guy have revealed what "rosebud" is in a satirical manner; one of Family Guy's more memorable quotes involves Peter Griffin taping over the film and revealing the ending for the next viewer, exclaiming, "There, I just saved you two boring boobless hours."
- A level in the computer game Oh No! More Lemmings is called Citizen Lemming.
- In an episode of the childrens television show Arthur the rich Muffy has a sled identical to Kane's.
- Ruth Warrick who played Emily Monroe Norton in Citizen Kane became better known later in her career for playing Phoebe Tyler Wallingford on the America soap opera All My Children from 1970 until her death in January 2005. In this show it became a recurring gag to make references to this film when Phoebe was in the scene.
- In 2004 a documentary film titled Citizen Black detailed the career and downfall of newspaper barron Lord Conrad Black.
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