Citizen Kane and Orson Welles are, according to director Martin Scorsese, “responsible for inspiring more people to be film directors than anyone else in the history of cinema.”
This classic story of power and the press starring, produced, directed and co-written by then 25-year-old Orson Welles captured nine Academy Award® (1942) nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director, and won for Best Writing and Best Original Screenplay. The American Film Institute (AFI) later chose it as the #1 film of all time.
Welles himself played Charles Foster Kane in a role that spanned the publisher’s life, moving from a boyish, ambitious young man to the embittered recluse he became in later life. Joseph Cotten made an impressive screen debut as Jedidiah Leland, newspaper reporter and Kane’s longtime friend, from whom he had become estranged over the issue of journalistic integrity. Other actors included Everett Sloane, Agnes Moorehead, Ruth Warrick, Paul Stewart and William Alland as the investigative reporter who delves into Kane’s life and his mysterious “Rosebud.”
The legendary Gregg Toland was the film’s cinematographer and Robert Wise, later a two-time Academy Award-winning director, edited the picture.
After remaining out of circulation for many years, in the early 1960s Citizen Kane was selected by a panel of film critics as the greatest film of all time. During the ensuing years, in poll after poll, Citizen Kane has been consistently ranked as the highest embodiment of film art. Said Roger Ebert, “This towering achievement is as fresh, as provoking, as entertaining, as sad, as brilliant, as it ever was. Many agree it is the greatest film of all time.” And one-time dean of American movie reviewers, Pauline Kael, noted, “Citizen Kane is perhaps the one American talking picture that seems as fresh now as the day it opened. It may seem even fresher.”
The Battle over Citizen Kane is a two-hour Oscar®-nominated (1995) documentary that chronicles the titanic struggle between filmmaker Orson Welles and newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who claimed Citizen Kane was a thinly veiled and slanderous account of his own life. The documentary reveals the fascinating behind-the-scenes story of how Hearst used his formidable power to try to stop production and distribution of the film, and how he ultimately sought to destroy Welles himself.
The 1999 HBO film, RKO 281 (titled for the production number given to Citizen Kane by RKO), won three Emmys® (with 13 nominations), and the Golden Globe® for Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television (2000). Directed by Benjamin Ross and written by John Logan, this dramatic depiction of the making of Citizen Kane stars Liev Schreiber as Welles, James Cromwell as William Randolph Hearst, Melanie Griffith as Marion Davies, John Malkovich, Roy Scheider and Brenda Blethyn as Louella Parsons.
I have just described Citizen Kane. All of the above is true, which makes the fact that it is possibly the greatest film in American Film History even more amazing. Everything is perfect. The script (which Welles co-wrote), the actors (all relative unknowns except Welles and Joseph Cotton), the special effects (listen to Roger Ebert's Commentary on this special edition for details) and finally, the makeup-- You won't believe how great a job they do making 25 year old Welles look 60.
As for the story, it's done in a most interesting fashion. Charles Foster Kane (Welles) dies at the very beginning of the movie and utters his famous last word "Rosebud". A reporter is given the task of finding out just what that one word meant. So he goes and interviews all the people who knew Kane to try to learn the meaning of the word. In the process, we are shown Kane through the eyes of those who knew him. We never see Kane through his own eyes, always what his former associates saw.
This is interesting, because Kane is a tragic figure as seen by just about everyone. He is unhappy and lonely. We as an audience eventually learn the meaning of Rosebud. I have read reviews that complain that the movie is about this one thing (I won't reveal what it is). But long before we learn the identity of Rosebud, the film has made its point. What is the point? My opinion is that the film shows us basically the worthlessness and despair of materialism. Loving "stuff" or money will ultimately lead to unhappiness.
By the way, this movie almost was never seen. The man I spoke of at the beginning of the review is William Randolph Hearst, former newspaper magnate. He saw too much of himself in the film and sued to squash it. Fortunately he lost. The second disc in the set is a two hour documentary on this topic. It is also excellent and well worth a viewing.
One last thing. Although this movie has been ranked on the AFI list as number one American movie of all time, it did NOT win Best Picture in 1941. That film? "How Green was my Valley"