In August 2012 the British Film Institute announced that, after a 50 year reign at number 1 on their ‘Sight & Sound poll’, Citizen Kane had finally been ousted by none other than Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’.
Given that the poll is taken from “846 critics, programmers, academics and distributors” (as opposed to the hundreds of thousands of inept imdb voters), you might think that their top list would be a little more reliable.
You’d think wrong.
Citizen Kane is what I would call a “thinking man/woman’s film”, in that it is probably best appreciated following in-depth study. The kind of study a HSC English teacher might only dream about.
Coming to the film blissfully ignorant of anything of its historical significance (having instead been subjected to copious quantities of Jane Austen at my all-girls High School), it was a pretty difficult film for me to swallow. Thankfully, as always, where school had failed me, I had the Simpsons education. I therefore recognised the opening snow globe sequence from the obscure ‘Mr Plow’ advertisement, and could readily identify Mr Burns’ beloved teddy bear ‘Bobo’ as his very own ‘Rosebud’.
For those who have likewise never seen this original film, I will give you the basic plot (hopefully free from spoilers). It opens with the death of Charles Foster Kane, a filthy rich yet not entirely morally bankrupt newspaper tycoon. At his death, Kane utters his last word “Rosebud”. A journalist, inspired to find the meaning of this final utterance, interviews the surviving few who knew him well, and the story of exactly who ‘Citizen Kane’ was is then told through the rather differing perspectives of these few.
Interestingly, it reminded me of the dying words of Steve Jobs, which were, reportedly, “Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow”. Life indeed imitated art as fans and detractors of Jobs raced to uncover the meaning of these words… and were similarly disappointed.
Thompson: … Mr. Kane was a man who got everything he wanted and then lost it. Maybe Rosebud was something he couldn’t get, or something he lost. Anyway, it wouldn’t have explained anything… I don’t think any word can explain a man’s life. No, I guess Rosebud is just a… piece in a jigsaw puzzle… a missing piece.
I won’t spoil the mystery for you, but I will say that the meaning of ‘Rosebud’ is eventually revealed to the viewer (though not the characters themselves). The interesting thing is that this revelation does little to explain the man. Little, at least, that you couldn’t have already worked out for yourself by the time the movie ends – summed up perfectly in the following quote:
Leland: That’s all he ever wanted out of life… was love. That’s the tragedy of Charles Foster Kane. You see, he just didn’t have any to give.
Or by his second wife as she finally walks out on him:
Susan: Love! You don’t love anybody! Me or anybody else! You want to be loved – that’s all you want! “I’m Charles Foster Kane. Whatever you want – just name it and it’s yours! Only love me!” Don’t expect me to love you.
As I am writing this review I am already enjoying the film far more than I did last night while watching it.
Last night Andy’s “highlight of the film” was the hilariously uncoordinated trashing by Kane of his room. My own highlight was moments earlier, when a cockatoo comes squawking onto the screen for no apparent reason. Either way, it’s clear that the highlights for us were a small break from what was otherwise a pretty dull story about a pretty unlikable man.
Now, however, as I come to understand the intent behind the film, its symbolism, and the themes it explores, I can enjoy it for what it was. This explanation by Orson Welles himself (spoiler alert), which I read on my iPhone as the closing credits rolled, did more to inspire my interest in the film than anything that happened in the preceding 119 minutes.
Nevertheless I find it hard to stomach that this should have even held number 1 place for 50 years, let alone still linger on at number 2 in 2012 (or number 40 on the imdb list) when so many far superior films have been created. To me, ‘Vertigo’ is a superior film, not for its plot, but for its superior ability to at least sustain one’s interest.
I can appreciate that, with study, ‘Citizen Kane’ might indeed prove superior to most… but with such soaring levels of popularity, I don’t think I should have to work that hard to appreciate it.
Watch it if you must, just don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Have you seen ‘Citizen Kane’? Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments below.