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Citizen Kane

Year: 1941
Studio: RKO
Director: Orson Welles
Producer: Orson Welles/George Schaefer
Writer: Orson Welles/Herman J Mackiewicz
Cast: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten
Spoiler
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Like international political affairs after September 11 2001, the world can be divided into those who have and those who haven't seen Citizen Kane.

It's an interesting phenomenon. Welles is like Edmund Halley, who died the year before he saw his prediction (that comets revolve around the sun like all planetary bodies) come true. He died in 1985, before there was ever talk of Citizen Kane being the best movie ever made.

Movies in the modern DIY era are a supremely cool medium. Up until the early 1990s, filmmaking had none of the urbane chic it has today, it was just another medium like TV or radio that was owned by rich people and operated by professionals in a class of their own; there was none of the current groove that you can grab a DV camera, win Tropfest and be a Hollywood filmmaker in twelve months time.

So at the end of Welles' life and career he wasn't as venerated as he is today for being the father of all independent filmmakers, he was an increasingly less prolific, old Hollywood guard figure, more famous for doings ads for Nashua photocopiers than film acting.

And part of the reason for his elevation in status in the current climate is because he was what so many people aspire to now; writing, directing, editing and starring in his own movie, the seminal tale of the world's first media mogul.

If any the story of 1999's HBO production of RKO281 is to be believed, Welles' motivation and battle to make a different kind of film is as interesting as the end result. I have a friend who says that every editing and cinematography trick or tool that still works can be found somewhere in Citizen Kane, and it certainly is worlds away from the cheesy ragtime movie aesthetics of the day in many respects. It perfected the brilliantly subtle fractured narrative of Pulp Fiction 50 years earlier, for one thing.

It's definitely a great film and one of the best, but the best ever? I don't necessarily disagree, but that widely held belief can probably be attributed to three factors (aside from the simple fact that so many people just love it).

First is the current Blair Witch inspired movie landscape mentioned above. The second is that 'buzz' is very powerful as a marketing tool, and distributors of the current copyright holders have doubtless been eager to fan the flames and propagate the belief of some influential critics that it's indeed the best movie ever made.

And lastly, it's completely true that Welles' filmmaking vision broke new ground in disciplines from screenwriting to editing, aspects of which still hold sway today, a massive achievement that comes as close to earning the title 'Best Movie Ever Made' as anything.

If movie lore is to be believed, it was Welles' take on the life of William Randolph Hearst, and he was both satirising and warning about the danger of so much power over public opinion in the hands of one man (in the current world where virtually all media commentary control rests with less than five people, Hearst and Welles himself would roll in their graves).

Charles Foster Kane dies alone in his palatial home of Xanadu, whispering the word 'rosebud'. As we follow the trail of a reporter trying to uncover the meaning behind his last utterance, we see the life he lived through flashbacks given by Kane's closest friends and confidantes.

The meaning of rosebud is never discovered, the boyhood sled that bears the name thrown on a fire when Kane's considerable possessions are being packaged up for sale by his estate and revealed only to the audience, but we've lived the life of an extraordinary man by the film's end.

Taken away from his boyhood Colorado home to live with a financial benefactor in New York, Kane chooses the running of a newspaper from the businesses he inherits from the riches gained through a lucky mining strike.

Building it into a media empire, Kane believes he works for the interests of the common man, using his media outlets to trip up and subjugate the abuses of government and corporate power, but we follow a very interesting character study as his ideals lose their way and - as observed by old friend and co-worker Leland - his pivotal realisation is that he demands love on his own terms, but that's all any man can demand.

Through two marriages and a failed bid for State governor, we see Kane evolve and unravel as effectively as any film character ever has even in the modern era, and it's where the script and direction triumph, using the medium to paint a riveting picture of a man.

Every aspect from performance to camera angle is brilliant, although there were some of the cheesy 'gosh darn' flourishes that were still fashionable in the day. For realistic acting I still preferred It's a Wonderful Life, which had none of the mid century aesthetic and rivals plenty of modern films for acting prowess.

So while I can't agree to the exclusion of plenty of other films, nor am I going to completely disagree with the accepted mantle of Greatest Film Ever Made.

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