The Set of 400: #40 – My Favorite Piece of the Puzzle

Today! Because if I hadn’t been very rich, I might have been a really great man –

Citizen Kane (1941)

Directed by Orson Welles

Starring Orson Welles (x4), Joseph Cotton (x2), Everett Sloane, George Coulouris (x2), Agnes Moorehead (x2), Dorothy Comingore, Ruth Warrick, Erskine Sanford, Harry Shannon, Ray Collins

In the ballsiest decision since including Casablanca back at #74, today we find ourselves face-to-face with the greatest movie ever made, by loud acclaim, for the past eight decades. And while many all-time greats were omitted from this list and I would venture some are far too boring (e.g. Lawrence of Arabia), grim (Schindler’s List), or generally overrated (Psycho) to make any respectable favorites countdown, Citizen Kane nonetheless lands in this very strong position thanks to the sheer entertainment value of the undeniable masterpiece.

“But,” I can hear you asking, “where the hell do you get off?” Which is fair. I weirdly feel that to see Kane is to love it and recognize its brilliance, but that alone doesn’t immediately propel it to the top of a Favorites list. However, there’s nothing wrong with this movie – nothing whatsoever – plus I’ll contend it doesn’t even really have slow, dull, only-mildly-interesting parts. The direction and general visual construction of the piece negates that as a possibility. Say you don’t really give a damn about Charles Foster Kane – maybe he’s just too much a Trumpian asshole to really invest your emotion with – you still have to marvel at the gorgeous cinematography, the thoroughly inventive editing and use of sound, the borderline amazing scene transitions, and the wonderful acting across the board. Maybe all the flashing back and forth in time gives you cinematic whiplash – the driving documentary style narrative still manages to lay the plot out neatly and steadily march us through his life story. Maybe you can’t see Agnes Moorehead without thinking of Bewitched – that’s fair, there’s no work around for that.

I would argue there’s nothing wrong with being reminded of Bewitched, lustily and often

For anyone who hasn’t seen Citizen Kane, here’s a quick test to determine if you should:

1.) Do you like to think of yourself as someone who appreciates good movies? 

If yes, watch it. If not particularly, go to 2.

2.) Are you fascinated with the life of William Randolph Hearst and/or Chicago Civic Opera House founder Samuel Insull?

If yes, watch it. If not necessarily, go to 3.

3.) Have you ever pretended to see Citizen Kane, so as not to lose face at a pool party, car dealership showroom, or axe throwing bar, and nearly been found out as a goddamn liar?

If yes, just watch it already. It’s less than two hours of your life. If none of the above applies, go to 4.

4.) Do you know what Rosebud is? Do you know why it matters in this story?

If not, watch this movie – you’ll be amazed afterward how often this is referenced in society and pop culture to this day. If yes, of course, everybody does, go to 5.

5.) Did you have to watch this movie for a class or have some film dork ram it down your throat, and thus rejected it as “kinda okay” or “not my thing” or “I’m glad you like it” or “it’s in black and white”?

If yes, for god’s sake, watch it again. It’s better the older you are, I firmly believe. If not, go to 6.

6.) Are you only familiar with the season one Saturday Night Live sketch “Citizen Kane II” and therefore feel you’ve experienced all the beats and nuisance of the original film?

If yes, you’re right! You basically have. Move on with your life. If not, really, hunt that down too. Totally worthwhile. Plus, it was a Buck Henry episode, so you get “Samurai Delicatessen,” and Bill Withers was the musical guest, singing “Ain’t No Sunshine.”

Aykroyd’s Kane is wholly wonderful

The long and the short of it is that Citizen Kane is a movie everyone should see and everyone has to see. It’s like skipping Gone With the Wind – there will be gaps in your life experience because of this decision. It has touched too many other parts of society and life to ignore. Now, I didn’t include Gone With the Wind here – a choice the wife found utterly insane when I mentioned this to her recently – but that doesn’t mean it’s not vital cinema. If someone has run across this random blog countdown in decades hence, and is following it as their personal guide to the wonders of 20th/early 21st century film, seriously, do some more research. I’m not that guy for you. Teen Wolf is a surrealistic masterpiece, yes, but it shouldn’t be the 60th film you’re studying, unless it’s for, like, the Goat Ass Film Theory correspondence course, offered to local prisons and senior centers in 22nd century San Angeles.

An artist rendering of my mail order film classroom

Named the top film ever by the AFI in both renditions of their Top 100 lists, Citizen Kane also headed the famed Sight & Sound magazine survey of film critics in each decade of its existence from ’62 to ’02, until it was finally supplanted in ’12 by Hitchcock’s psychological thriller Vertigo, a great if un-cuddly choice. It was in the first group of films added to the National Film Registry and its preservation almost single-handedly ended the Turner-led colorization craze of the 1980s. HBO made a very solid movie chronicling the making of the movie, RKO 281 with Liev Schreiber as Welles, which has been included with some recent Kane Blu-Ray releases. Also, I bought a Citizen Kane magnet in Clarion, Pennsylvania in 1998 that I still have to this day.

This is Orson’s fourth acting appearance on the list, after roles in #100 Catch-22, #79 The Third Man, and narrating #135 History of the World Part I, but it is his only directing effort. I’m sorry! Look, almost all of his movies are great – Touch of Evil, The Magnificent Ambersons, The Lady From Shanghai, The Stranger, Othello, Macbeth – wonderful, but I don’t love any of them like I do Kane. Watch any and every thing he made, though! You owe it to yourself!

I’ve been meaning to get around to watching Chimes at Midnight forever – hopefully by the time you read this I will have!

Coming tomorrow! All I can tell you is, I wish I had a dime for every dime I had –

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