Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Black and White Wednesday: Brief Review of Citizen Kane (1941)

I'm going to do my best to keep this short because one could spend ages discussing the American Film Institute's pick for the #1 greatest American film of all time. Citizen Kane is truly worthy of this high honor. I mean, seriously! You could write an entire book over particular scenes from the film. 

I'll first say that anyone interested in film history or just curious about old films in general should see Citizen Kane. The film was made over 70 years ago, and it still surpasses many of today's best films in its use of camerawork, storytelling and makeup. Also, the film is a fictional tale, but many believe that the movie was inspired by the life of William Randolph Hearst. Although this was probably true, Orson Welles denied this (wikipedia has some good info on the myth and history).

The film is an extreme example of nonlinear storytelling combined with realistic film techniques. It begins with Charles Foster Kane's death. His dying word, "Rosebud." The hidden meaning behind this word pushes the whole story forward. Following his death, a newsreel is shown covering the now deceased Kane's whole life. This practically sums up the movie we are about witness. When the newsreel ends, we are in a dark room with reporters, one of which being Jerry Thompson. I call him the faceless reporter because Welles never quite gives us a good look at him.

Thompson is on a mission to uncover Rosebud's meaning. We follow him as he interviews various people from Kane's past, and with many flashbacks we have our movie. We see Kane young and old and everywhere in between, and thanks to the great make up, Orson Welles, along with many of the other actors, is made to look old and fat when the time is right. 

I don't want to ramble, so I'll just get into the most impressive parts to watch for when viewing this classic. 

The consistent use of long takes and deep focus photography is what makes the film feel realistic. Some of the scenes are breathtaking for a film made in the 40's. Making the background, middle ground and foreground all in focus was something relatively unseen at the time. They would use matte shots, optical printers and other camera techniques to pull of such difficult shots. 

Like I said before, the storytelling methods were ahead of its time. Other than the nonlinear flashbacks, there are many time-lapse techniques used to reveal meaning and push the narrative. I found six instances when Welles uses some form of a time-lapse technique, but the most famous is the one at the dinning room table. Sometimes it is called 'The breakfast scene.' The scene shows the slow demise of Kane's first marriage in the form of various meals at the table. 

If you don't normally watch black and white films, this is probably a good one to get your feet wet with. The story is entertaining, the camera work is sure to impress and Kane's hotshot, cocky attitude is good for more than a few laughs. Give it a shot, and I'm sure you'll find something in it to like. 


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