Citizen Kane: and why it makes me uneasy about the film ‘industry.’

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Originally published here in passionforcinema.com

I didn’t think that Citizen Kane could live upto the hype. No: 1 movie in so many ‘best 100 films’ lists, including that of American and British Film Institutes- well, overexpectations always rigs the returns.
But here I was pleasantly surprised.

After beginning with the last moments of Kane uttering the word ‘rosebud,’ what we see is a documentary on Kane’s life for the next 10 minutes. All the major twists and turns in the news paper tycoon’s eventful life is laid open before you in that 10 minutes.
Here is the tricky part. Now we know the basic trajectory of Kane’s life. But as a journalist sets off to find out what this ‘rose bud’ is,we walk through the same roads again. The journalist meets with different players in Kane’s life, who illuminate different times and aspects of his life. His banker, second wife, friend turned critic, butler and so on. The most brilliant part of the script is that none of them continue the story where the other one has left it off. (Which is what usually happens when we try to write the story of a person from flashbacks/ others’ memories). Every person’s recollection is discrete, starting with beginning of their relationship (when Kane was young) and to the end/final point of the relationship(when Kane is old). Then the next person begins from a different earlier point. Still movie maintains the dramatic structure of an unfolding story.

What comes out of those independent sketches is the picture of a man who was idealistic but a megalomaniac. Warm but hot headed. Intelligent but rash. Successful but alone. Altruistic and narcissistic.
In the words of a journalist ’some one who had it all before losing it all.’ Worshipping or demonising Kane would be easier rather than understanding him. You realise that truth is something labyrinthine that any attempt to dissect it out will only kill it.
Journalist fails to find what ‘rose bud’ means. But we do before the movie ends. And in that moment Kane does touch your heart.
A real good piece of art moves you in an emotional manner even before you intellectualises about the art of it. Its true with ‘Citizen Kane’ also.
But what I wanted to really talk about is the creator of that art- Orson Welles, the co- writer, director and actor of the film. And also about the fact that though he directed many other movies, he was never given complete creative freedom on any other movie until his death in 1985.
One reason for that? Citizen Kane didnt make enough money at the box office. And also that his vision was too radical and chaotic (in commercial terms) for the studios.
Orson Welles was 25 when he made Citizen Kane. So the question naturally arise. If Welles was left alone to make his own kind of movies, what else would we have got? ( Agreed, his other movies are also considered very good even after the extensive cutting, reshooting and re-editing by the studios and he won Palme d’Or for Othello despite all this)
Rephrasing the question, does the film ‘industry’ push the real geniuses back to mediocrity? Movies being an expensive art form, is it that we would never see the perfect and complete expression of a genius in cinema because even the masters of cinema had been forced to make some compromises in their vision due to economic and pragmatic reasons?
A novelist unlike a film maker is not under pressure to insert a happy ending to satisfy the audience. He dont have to make sure that the hero wins or even that his story needs a hero.
But take our current Indian cinema. What is the place for a real genius who can play with even the basic concepts? who can destroy the current structure of story telling and may be even discard the story telling altogether? Will he be able to make a movie?
Or will he be forced to fall back in line to do what others are doing and work in terms of ’smaller packets of innovative increments?’
Or may be he will abandon it all and spend the rest of his life running a puppet show.

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One thought on “Citizen Kane: and why it makes me uneasy about the film ‘industry.’

  1. Citizen Kane certainly deserves the top spot on these ‘greatest films’ lists. People are always expecting a dull, inaccessible piece of pretentious arty nonsense, but I have never known anyone watch it and not enjoy it. I wish we had more pure Welles…’tis pity…

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