Citizen Kane – Brilliant or Overrated?

Just type the word ‘Citizen’ on Google and you’d find hundreds of reviews, analysis, controversies over screenwriting credits, the great Orson Welles, explained links & videos on Citizen Kane. Moreover, you’d come across many arguments about why Citizen Kane is the best movie of all time as well as why Citizen Kane is the most overrated film.

But the fact is Citizen Kane is regarded as a benchmark to rate any film.

The film depicts the story of the downfall of a larger than life figure – rich news publisher – Charles Foster Kane. The movie was a directing & writing debut of a prodigy Orson Welles who was just 24 at that time.

Personally, I have attempted to watch this film 2-3 times but couldn’t get past max of 6-7 minutes. But a few days back, I finally watched this film for only one reason – David Fincher, one of the best living auteur of this era. Funnily enough, Orson Welles was given full creative control and unconditional support from RKO studio to make this film which was very rare even today.

What David Fincher is to do Citizen Kane which was made in 1941?

He recently released his film on Netflix which is titled Mank – a story that investigates the true story and inspiration behind the Citizen Kane screenplay through the perspective of Herman J. Mankiewicz, the primary writer of the film and Hollywood’s one of most renowned screenwriters in 30s-50s. We will talk about Mank in another review.

Let’s talk about Citizen Kane

It is brilliant from its story and screenplay to cinematography, the grandeur production design, editing and performances. The more amazing is that the film gazes this story as a biography that walks us through the childhood, adulthood, his love interests, successes & failure, popularity and downfall – all just within 2 hours.

Where Orson Welles comes in this brilliance?

This was originally over 300 pages of screenplay, thanks to Mank (Herman J. Mankiewicz), capturing the essence as well as the grand world of Charles Kane. Orson Welles had edited and converted this into 140 pages shooting script with specifically these noticeable changes.

Giving a brief about the central character through the speech of a news anchor and multiple montages of his empire

Use of actors blocking to combine many scenes at one location into one and use of deep focus lens to keep all subjects (close or far to the camera) on the screen in focus.

Dissolve and switch to jump time for the same characters to show their differences

Camera pan and zoom to capture scenes in a single-shot that requires a solid theatre-like blocking of actors and placement of objects.

As Orson Welles came from theatre background, he utilised the light in order to show the emotions of the character and their atmosphere.

These are some of the well-known methods nowadays but it was invented or effectively utilized in this film to speed-up the film without missing any important moments.

Is it worth watching?

Yes, but if you are not a film enthusiast then you might have to keep your patience first 10 minutes of the film as it comprises of lots of expositions.

The shocking but the hard truth is that despite all its inspiring filmmaking methodology and interesting plot, it failed at the box-office. However, it became a cult classic which has inspired many renowned directors like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and David Fincher.

You can watch Citizen Kane at the cost of Rs 50 if you are in India.

PS: I am not getting into the controversies around this film as I will have an opportunity to talk all about it in my review of Mank, currently streaming on Netflix.

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