Film History & Research
Citizen Kane Film Essay
Orson Welles' Citizen Kane
Success the first time around is very uncommon. Orson Welles's first feature film richly realizes the full potential of excellent craftsmanship. Citizen Kane is almost indisputably the greatest achievement in the history of filming. In 1941, this film was considered by many as the best film ever made. This film is about the enormous conflict between two twentieth-century icons, publisher William Randolph Hearst and the prodigy of his time, Orson Welles. The rather overwhelming beginning of an opening sequence is still as electrifying as any in the history of movies. That ...view middle of the document...
Nowadays, a film has to be emotionally involving and have an original plot to get recognition. Back in the 40s, no one had ever seen some of them before, and so it was new and original.
Conversely, the film features rapid montage sequences permitting sudden ellipses of time and space for the first time. This was a special technique that Orson Welle used time progressing. Opening and concluding with the famous NO TRESPASSING sign outside of his palace, Xanadu, the film depicts newspaper giant
Charles Foster Kane's economic and spiritual rise and his eventual ruin. The film opens with a long shot of Xanadu, the private estate of one of the world's richest men. In the middle of the estate is a castle. We see, inside the castle, a dying man examining a winter scene within a crystal ball; as he drops it, it smashes, and one word is heard, “Rosebud.” What follows are pieces of newsreel like footage detailing how Kane amassed his fortune, and turning around full circle at the end. Rosebud becomes the elusive focal point for a newsreel reporter's investigation into the life and times of Citizen Kane, an exploration that provides the plot framework for the movie. The viewer first watches as Kane speaks his dying word, "Rosebud" and then follows newsreel journalist Thompson who interviews Kane's closest associates, hoping to find the meaning of "Rosebud", and perhaps Kane's life. The structure of "Citizen Kane" is circular, adding more depth every time it passes over the life.
The movie opens with newsreel obituary footage that briefs us on the life and times of Charles Foster Kane. They provide a map of Kane's trajectory, and it will keep us oriented as the screenplay skips around in time, piecing together the memories of those who knew him. Curious about Kane's dying word, "rosebud," the newsreel editor assigns Thompson, a reporter, to find out what it meant. He triggers every flashback, yet his face is never seen. He questions Kane's alcoholic mistress, his ailing old friend, his rich associate and the other witnesses, while the movie loops through time.
Welles and Mankiewicz created an emotional chronology set free from time. But in 1941, film had only been around for a few decades, making it remarkably easy for a film to be original, not only because technology was improving, but because the ideas were from fresh, new directors. Yet, Citizen Kane is still original today. A film that can use so many different techniques and still incorporate a good story has to be good.
Namely, that Citizen Kane is a complex, engaging story told with consummate skills. At any rate, Kane seems to summarize quite well within the above described, "layer" framework, and I hope to quickly demonstrate how below.
In the search of "Rosebud" the death of publishing lord and leading American Citizen Charles Foster Kane, a reporter is given the assignment of finding the key to the manner and ceremony of his life. He is directed to discover what Kane meant by the...