60/60 Review #26: Citizen Kane.

It's considered the greatest film ever made. Between the cinematography, writing, and acting, everything is seen as a masterstroke of cinema. This, ladies and gentlemen, is my official review of... The Room. OK, kidding. But seriously, Citizen Kane is a loose biographical take on the life of William Randolph Hearst, a man who rose as one of the greatest publishers in the world with the New York Journal and entered an epic war with Joseph Pulitzer's World. Coincidentally, Kane is played by Orson Welles, who was the inspiration for the voice and mannerisms of The Brain in Pinky and the Brain. Needless to say, I was so waiting the entire time to hear Welles drop a "The same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over The World!" (You thought I was going for a War of the Worlds joke, didn't you?)

Joking aside, I can see why many consider this to be the greatest film ever made. The first big noticeable thing is the cinematography. Doing a bit of research, I found out that Citizen Kane didn't come up with all the fancy angles and whatnot--instead, it studied many films that came before it and all the masterful things already done. Then they put almost every single one of these tricks in the movie, making it a film with the most masterful techniques than any other. For instance, almost every scene has everything in focus, background and foreground. I noticed this before I even realized I had. Even at the beginning when a young Charles Kane is playing in the snow while his parents are giving him away, I noticed how busy everything was, how every inch of the screen was being used to show something--anything--in clear focus. Then I noticed the interesting camera angles; besides just fascinating choices, there were quite a lot that were shot at an upward angle toward the ceiling, something apparently rare for its time (due to sets not having ceilings and whatnot). And more. So much more.

The next big thing I noticed was the script, the dialogue, and the acting. Between the witty comments, the talking over each other, the basic plot, and the overall story structure... it reminded me a lot of The Social Network. And I'm not just saying that because of this. But I won't get into a comparison in this review. To me, the dialogue wasn't in and of itself outstanding; don't get me wrong, it's an incredibly well written film--that's what it won an Oscar for, after all. I felt it was the acting that actually took that dialogue and made it fantastic. And I know this isn't technically part of what I'm talking about in this paragraph, but I thought I should mention here that the makeup and stuff they did for the aging process was completely superb.

But here's where I start giving my negative side. The opening scene is great, even giving us an amazing shot through the glass globe. But then there's about a 10-minute newsreel segment that gets old pretty dang quick. Thankfully the movie picks up and gets really fascinating for the next 45 minutes or so. I loved the flashback technique the movie uses to move the story forward, and Kane's rise to power is both fun and entertaining. The next hour or so, though, starts to lose me. It might have been a more original story for its time (at least in film), but today, I've seen this story a thousand times, so it got slightly boring to me. And because I already knew what Rosebud was going into the film, the mystery wasn't there to keep me enthralled.

So this movie is considered the greatest film ever made. But is it? Or is it just the greatest movie of its time? Certainly in the more technical aspects, Citizen Kane is masterful, and it has inspired many films today (this isn't a camera thing, but did you know that the look and construct of Malfoy Manor in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 was actually based on and/or inspired by the Xanadu mansion?). Personally, I feel that the movie is certainly the greatest of its time; however, I do not think that it is the greatest movie of all time. I did enjoy it. I do respect it. I do see where people come from when they speak of its greatness. But if you take away the fancy cinematography and the fun story structure, you have a story that's not really my bag. And despite the great acting, the story just didn't hook me all the way through.

Note: Because of this film's status, I think it deserves special treatment with 2 ratings. First, the "quality" rating, which indicates how I feel it ranks with all the technical things I've mentioned. Second, the "entertainment" rating, which will tell you how I felt about this movie, well, entertained me. So here you are:

Rating System.
Royale With Cheese


I Am McLovin!

(P.S. I suppose if you averaged them together, you'd get a Keanu 'Whoa', but I don't think this film deserves one simple rating. It's too complex for that and leaves me with emotions too conflicting for that. So I'll leave you with what I gave.)


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Good review. I like the extra tidbits about what it's influenced today. Glad you liked the movie.

  3. Thanks for the mid-post linkage. A few questions/comments...

    The dialogue wasn't in and of itself oustanding

    Why not?

    There's a 10 minute newsreel segment that gets old pretty dang quick

    It gives you the guy's whole story in a nutshell, and sets up everything that you're about to see. What made that feel "old"?

    The next hour or so, though, starts to lose me

    Funny thing, in that post of mine you linked to, I mention that that second hour is the true crux of the story. Not the man's manipulation of the media and his rise to power, but his tragic fall. Welles makes us hold his hand all the way down - and that's a long drop - but that's what seals the deal. watching a man who could have anything he wants, but still can't ever seem to get what he wants to give him any sort of happiness.

    I've seen this story a thousand times

    For example?

    And finally...

    If you take away the fancy cinematography and the fun story structure, you have a story that's not really my bag

    You're not the first person to say such a thing so I don't mean to pick on you, but it's sort of a moot point. Sure, without those elements the film isn't as special...but those elements *are* there, and thus the film *is* special. No?

  4. PS - Even with all of my questions, this is likely the best post of the series so far.

  5. I concur. I think one of the things you're both pointing out is that this movie is greater than the sum of its parts - both in a cinematic and historical context.

  6. BAH. I typed out this whole huge response, but Blogger wouldn't post it and I lost it all. Now my lunch break is almost over. Sorry, you'll have to wait 'til I get home later to get my answers.

  7. Actually, got a little extra time. Let's try this again.

    Dialogue: I found myself liking how the dialogue was given more than the dialogue itself. It wasn't bad, of course, like I said. I just wasn't like "Wow, those are some amazing words. I'll remember that." But I will remember how the dialogue was given.

    Newsreel: I didn't mean old that way. I just meant that it got boring after a while. I thought it was clever at first, but after 10 minutes I was getting tired of it.

    Second Hour: I don't argue the importance of the second hour of the film at all, actually. I agree with you. It's just that I liked the first half more personally.

    Other Examples: No title actually popped into mind. But what I meant by that was more the "Rise And Fall Of Greatness" formula. It's similar to how when people argue they're tired of the monomyth-type formula (an argument I hear a lot). It's not really the formula itself, but how it's done. Like I said in the review (I believe), I'm sure this was more original and fresh when it first came out, but it just didn't feel all that new and fresh as I watched it now.

    Sum Of Parts: Sure, the film is special. No argument there. But in a film that gives us both style and substance, I want to like both. I love the style of it, and I understand and respect the substance--I just don't love it. It's no fault of the film, though. Just personal preference.

    I hope all that made sense (and I'm sure I was slightly more eloquent in the first version. I tried to remember what I put best I could. Don't you hate when that happens?).

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  9. I don't always see the need for it, but in this case I can totally get behind giving this movie two ratings, one for quality, to other for entertainment value. I also like what you said about it being "the best movie of IT'S time". I feel similarly; even though I love Citizen Kane, it's not my favourite movie of all time. But I can see why some people think it is

  10. @ Jess... The sum of its parts angle wasn't quite where I was going, but you're right to say that is where Nick's going (which I follow). For me the sum of it's parts is actually a rather great sum, and it's what makes the film so special.

    @ Nick... I should first begin by mentioning that I always advise people watch this film twice off the hop - once straight through, and once more with Roger Ebert's commentary track running. It's rather fascinating and points out a lot of the nuance that sometimes gets missed on first watch.

    (That said - you've mentioned quite a bit of the nuance in this post. Ebert, of course, gives even more)

    There are lines in this film that have teeth, which was why I asked what underwhelmed. I've always come back to moments like:

    "You provide the prose poems and I'll provide the war"
    "You want love Charles, but you want it on your own terms"

    Or the one that landed hardest for me last time I watched it: "There's no trick to making a lot of money if all you want to do is make a lot of money".

    Great stuff there, if subtle.

    I got what you meant with the newsreel, as I mentioned though I've always thought it was a fantastic way of skimming the surface of the man's life and sketching an outline of who we're going to meet. As something that reporters put together it stands in stark contrast to the real story we learn over the rest of the film's runtime. It's supposed to sum up the man's life to the world but it never goes more than skin deep - what Leyland, Carter, and Susan Alexander tell us goes down to the bone. It's necessary to show that for such a public figure, the world really didn't know him all that well.

    Can't argue that you didn't like the second hour. Again, something that might grow on you with further watches.

    Ah, so! Not to nitpick, but if you can't think of a lot of examples you shouldn't write that you've heard the story a thousand times. KANE might seem to follow the formula, but when you look closer, you realize that very few films have followed this formula when it comes to telling a rise/fall story. KANE comes together in bits and pieces - like one of Susan's jigsaw puzzles. And even though we think we understand the man in the end we realize later that it's a puzzle that ends with so many pieces missing.

    The rise & fall stories you're thinking of all come at the tale in a very linear way. The structure of this film is more unique - even if SOCIAL NETWORK steals some of the structure - which is part of what makes it so great.

    I follow what you're saying now with the sum of the parts point, again, i might have just phrased it differently. For what it's worth, when I first watched this film I thought "Cool". It took three or four more times for me to truly love it...as in top twenty love it. But like you say, personal preference.

  11. Going back to the formula, you're arguing the same thing I tend to argue with the monomyth haters: The formula is the same--it's what they do with the formula that counts. Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Beowulf, Percy Jackson, Eragon, Harry Potter, etc., all might follow the same formula, but they all do it in their own unique way (granted, some better than others).

    The same is true with Citizen Kane. It does follow the Rise/Fall formula as so many other stories, but it does take its own spin on it (as we've both said). Regardless of how well it stylizes the formula (and it does it pretty dang well), my feelings aren't really that it does it well or poorly, but rather I just don't care for that type of story in general.

    I must say this is probably our best (and most civil) discussion about a movie we've had. :)

  12. OK, I hear what you're saying.

    One last question - This film was made at the dawn of media being able to truly shape people's opinions and perceptions (something Welles himself knew first-hand after the War of The Worlds stunt).

    Does the fact that the film would be quite prophetic make you dig it a little more? That within the framework of the film "People will think what I tell them to think" is deplorable, but has now become the norm?

  13. Actually, yeah, I do like that. It's a big reason I liked "Network" as much as I did (Not Social Network--the actual movie "Network").

  14. Really excellent discussion guys. And I reckon KANE/NETWORK/THE SOCIAL NETWORK makes for a really awesome triple feature.

  15. Honestly, the label 'Greatest Film Ever Made' bestowed unto it by AFI was one of the worst things to have ever happened to this movie. Sure, lots of people watch it. But I honestly can't go five seconds without hearing people hate it, not because they actually hate it, but because it has this arbitrary title that they feel is an insult to their taste in movies (why? because we're all a bit fickle).

    I've held this movie in high esteem since before I even knew what AFI was, or any of its social context. To me it's just an out and out great film, and one of the best character films ever told.

  16. I had problems with the newsreel on the first watch or two, but after that, I think it's a good setup because it shows us how the film could just be a very superficial, public understanding of a man and then the rest of the film goes on to be a deeply personal take on his life.

    And yes, it didn't pioneer some of the techniques it gets credit for. Greg Toland was experimenting with some of these techniques on other films he worked on and didn't fully realize them all until this film.

    And yes, it's an important film for a lot of reasons, but I always find myself endlessly entertained by it. I think the writing is top notch and I love all the dialogue.

    Good stuff, man.

  17. @ Univarn... Not to argue, but it was being called "Greatest Ever" long before the AFi did their first list in 1997. Matter of fact it was in 1962 that the BFI that first gave it that 'title' in their once-a-decade poll.

    People been loving on this film a l-o-o-o-n-n-n-g-g-g-g time hombre. makes you wonder what will eventually knock it from its perch.

  18. @Mad But AFI is what most of 'my' generation reference when they point it out as the greatest film ever. Can't all be old farts like you :P.

  19. Actually, I don't really reference anything. To me, it's always been considered common knowledge.

  20. Not touching this one with a 200-foot pole.

    But good post and discussion, Nick and all.


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