Welcome, welcome dear readers, to this, the first installment of Required Viewing, the series where Annemarie and Brooke take it in turns to enlighten one another culturally. We’re starting things off with a classic of American cinema: Citizen Kane.
Brooke: I chose Citizen Kane for a number of reasons, including the most obvious one: it’s widely considered the best American film ever made. Even so, it’s staggering how many people have never seen it. Still, the more pressing reasons for its inclusion here were more personal. AM and I both come from a journalism background and this film is steeped in the history of the Fifth Estate. And as an undergrad dividing my time between film and journalism, well, let’s just say it made an impression.
Annemarie: Let’s get this out of the way: I know about Rosebud. The fact that I hadn’t seen Citizen Kane didn’t mean I’d missed the cultural impact and the occasional Oscars or AFI montage. However, I didn’t know the full context or the full meaning until I actually watched the film. I didn’t get the benefit of the shock of seeing the sled thrown on the fire, but I did get to enjoy all the foreshadowing and hints with my extra knowledge.
Also, Orson Welles of 1941 was a stone cold fox.
B: So attractive. Or perhaps he just had such a good makeup team that he just looked attractive? We don’t have a firm source listed, so take it with a grain of salt, but if true, this changes everything we know. Which is to say, the makeup in Citizen Kane could potentially be even more impressive than we previously thought.
Let’s also take a moment here to appreciate that he pulled this off between the ages of 25 and 26. I mean, come on. That’s staggering. For this picture, as he did many times throughout his career, Orson Welles took up the mantle of star, director and co-writer. Not that this is news to anyone, rather, it is known. Still it is remarkable to consider that Welles not only had the vision and measured maturity to deliver a tale that takes in the entire scope of a man’s life, but also that he did so in the face of great adversity. The very man who inspired so much of Charles Foster Kane, William Randolph Hearst, did everything in his considerable power to stop this picture being seen, and still Welles persevered. Imagine if he had given up. If Hearst had succeeded in suppressing and destroying the film as he hoped. What would American movies look like without Citizen Kane?
A: Everyone should also note that my not seeing Citizen Kane isn’t an anomaly. I haven’t seen hardly any classic Hollywood films. I’ve seen the occasional holiday classic (White Christmas and It’s A Wonderful Life come to mind), and for some reason, I’ve even seen more than one Clark Gable flick (Gone with the Wind and It Happened One Night… those are both his films, yes?), but by and large, I’m a film rube. So my appreciation of a film is as such. I was also impressed with the makeup aging effects. Because Brooke insisted I see a restored HD copy of the film, I saw all the detail, and it looked amazing. You could see some of the effort behind the camera, makeup effects included, but you were also pretty convinced you were seeing Welles and his co-stars age 40 years or so (and back to his youth) during the course of the film.
And on a related note, it should be said that while I didn’t know that Citizen Kane pioneered the non-linear storyline, I was impressed by it. It made the entire mystery and story more compelling, although it should be said that it lost me once. I am still uncertain why Thatcher takes Kane as a surrogate son. Something about a mine and his mom had packed his trunk a week ago, and this set into motion the entire story. It’s curious that this should be the moment of least certainty for me, as Kane’s separation from his childhood home, mother and toys (including the infamous Rosebud sled) was the defining moment in his life, and one that would forever change his relationship to money and to women.
B: See. This is why I insisted we hold out for that glorious HD restore. We needed to see all of the magic. What struck me most about Citizen Kane when I first saw it was how modern it feels. I wonder if this was true for Annemarie, given her confessed lack of Golden Age and earlier viewing — do let us know. As I would quite soon learn, this movie feels modern because it was the birthplace of so many modern storytelling techniques. I won’t get into the myriad examples here, but Neatorama has an extremely thorough accounting of why Citizen Kane is kind of a big deal (read: the biggest deal in this respect), read it. Charles Foster Kane compels you!
This modernity is particularly palpable in the news reel that plays early in the film, and in the breakfast scene. The latter is my favorite in the whole picture.
Indulge me, AM. What was your reaction?
A: It does feel like a movie that could have been released in 2016. Black and white film aside (although that didn’t stop The Artist — also, didn’t see that movie!), it could easily be a period piece set in the 1940s but filmed 70 years later, or really at any time. The Breakfast Montage is my second favorite scene, and it works on a lot of different levels. One, the costuming and set decoration make it clear time has passed and these two people are increasingly disconnected. For another, we’re used to seeing scenes skip time to show a sequence, and I understand how that must have been pretty confusing back in 1941, but that’s clearly the best way to tell the story. I like in particular how his wife’s morning garb transforms from flirty and sexy to buttoned up and restrictive to show the character transformation.
What’s my favorite scene, you ask? I am particularly fond of the first time Kane descends on the serious, silent newsroom. Brooke and I both worked in newsrooms and we can both tell you that’s definitely NOT how a real one operates in modern times. It’s exponentially more loud, and thankfully, exponentially more diverse. I thought the scene was a nice way to show that Kane had grown up, but not too much. It’s also a bit of a hint to his later crazy, grandiose ideas to show that he was ahead of his time in the newspaper biz.
B: That is a really great scene. And this has nothing to do with Citizen Kane, but also everything. I did see The Artist, and for me the cute dog was the only thing that worked? Why you ask? Because it’s a picture made decades after the silent/talkie transition period, but even with all of that perspective and the technological advantages, it couldn’t manage to bring anything new to the table. At the time people talked about it breathlessly, like it was something so novel. Those people probably have not seen any silent cinema to speak of, or they wouldn’t have been so easily impressed. And they must not have seen Citizen Kane, or they would have known what it looks like when something new is happening up there on the silver screen.
That’s all for this first edition of Required Viewing. Next time, AM will make Brooke watch something decidedly less classic and more, shall we say… sun-soaked?