1 Year, 100 Movies: #1 Citizen Kane (1941)

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For 1 Year, 100 Movies, I will watch all of AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list (compiled in 2007) in one year- and will complete a goal on my 2013 Manifesto. Come along on the ride with me- oh, and please pass the popcorn!

“Citizen Kane” – the film with the distinguished position of being  on the very top of AFI’s top 100 films. This film made the cut in AFI’s list for the #1 position since the first list was released in 1998, and made the cut again in 2007 with the 10 year anniversary edition that I am following.

This film sets the tone with the opening segment with the ‘No Trespassing’ sign on a chain link fence- a tool of separation from the man and the world. We sweep in past this and that on Kane’s estate Xanadu where he is dying. We see in the window and are at his bedside when he whispers that famous line- ‘Rosebud’- drops a snow globe with a cabin and a wintery scene that shatters – and he passes away. What a dramatic start. We get news reel about the estate, the death of Charles Foster Kane, (Orson Welles) who is a sensation around the world, and the highlights of his life. The men putting togehter the ‘News on the March’ newsreel feel it’s not enough, they need his real story. The men are directed to get in contact with his ex-wife, those who loved and knew him, those who hated him- and bring that story together.

Flashbacks reveal that Kane spent his childhood in Colorado where his parents ran a boarding house. The “world’s third largest gold mine” was found on land his mother had acquired, and so she sent him to live with Walter Thatcher, (George Coulouris) a banker so he could be educated and have the life they couldn’t give him. In the Colorado scenes Kane is seen as a young boy playing with his sled in the snow. The researchers dig more and we see that Kane gained control of his possessions and money at the age of 25, and at that time decided it would ‘be fun’ to get into the newspaper business. He takes control of the New York Inquirer, and steals all the best journalists from the rival paper. We see his rise to power with the paper, his marriage to Emily Monroe Norton, (Ruth Warrick) a president’s niece, and his run for governor of New York State.

Up until this point it was all fun and games, but then Kane’s marriage starts to crumble, and he begins an affair with singer Susan Alexander (Dorothy Comingore). His opponent in the race for governor discovers the affair and reveals it to his wife, simultaneously ending his marriage and his career. Kane marries Susan, and forces her into an operatic career that she doesn’t want (or have the talent for). He builds her an opera house because no one will hire her. Kane finally lets her abandon the singing career after her suicide attempt, but the marriage is not working, she feels stifled and bored, and eventually leaves him. He spends the rest of his years with his incredibly vast fortune building the humongous palatial estate Xanadu, interacting only with his staff.

The film takes us back to the present where Kane’s vast estate is being cataloged- everything from priceless works of art down to worthless junk. Jerry Thompson (William Alland), who was looking into his story, decides that they will never figure out what “Rosebud” meant, and that part of Kane would always be a mystery. The viewers however, get a sweeping shot of all of the mountains of stuff being cataloged, which focuses in on that old sled Kane had as a child, with the word ‘Rosebud’ printed on it. It was in a pile of things deemed worthless, and the film ends with a shot of the sled burning in the basement furnace with all of the junk. It turns out Kane was trapped in what life of what he was made into- he longed for that time back when he was truly happy.

Orson Welles got the influence for the film from William Randolph Hearst’s life. Hearst was enraged and banned any advertizing, reviewing or mention of the film in any of his papers. Following lobbying from Hearst, the head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Louis B. Mayer made an offer to RKO Pictures of $805,000 to destroy all prints of the film and burn the negative. Hearst’ s attempts to suppress the film backfired, because now almost every reference to Hearst’s life and career includes a reference to the parallels in the film. The film is inexorably connected to him, all because of his attempts to separate himself from it. All the Hearst connections aside, it really is a fantastic film. It’s a very technically superior film, which is likely why it ranked #1 on the list. I’m so glad I took on the challenge to watch all of these movies this year- I saw a great many films I loved which I would have probably not watched otherwise.

In my humble, non-professional, average movie-goer opinion this movie earns:

3-and-half-Star-Rating

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