Citizen Kane, USA 1941

Screening on Monday May 25th at 3 p.m.

citizenkane1

The film is screening in a 35mm print, the original format, though unfortunately it is not possible to use a nitrate print. The characteristics of this format will do proper justice to one of the classics of cinema. It managed for fifty years to come top of the  Sight & Sound critics’ polls, held every decade. It turns up again and again, to the delight of those familiar with the film, and as a treat for those who have never seen it before, at least on the large screen and in the darkened auditorium. This occasion follows on from the centenary of Orson Welles, the director, on May 6th.

The script by Herman J. Mankiewicz [with Orson Welles] is at once witty and complex, with a distinctive structure. The cinematography by Gregg Toland makes exceptional use of both deep staging and deep focus, and has passages of beautiful chiaroscuro. And there are impressive special effects by a Hollywood veteran, Vernon J. Walker. The art direction by Van Nest Polglase offers range of fabulous settings from Xanadu to the great opera House in Chicago. Whilst the costumes cover the late C19th up until the present of the film. The cast are terrific, a fine actress like Agnes Moorehead has only a short scene on screen. She, like many of the cast including Joseph Cotten, had worked with Welles in the New York Theatre and radio. The editing by Robert Wise and Mark Robson [both to later become directors in their own right] is finely done: watch the sequence of breakfast scenes between Kane and his first wife Emily. The film is a key innovator in the use of sound, recorded by Bailey Fesler and James G. Stewart, but also benefitting from Welles own experience on radio. And this enjoys the first score in the career of Bernard Herrmann, one of the greatest of Hollywood composers.

All this is orchestrated by Welles, himself appearing as Kane. Both are characters with immense talent and giant egos. Welles claimed that on the night of the premiere he shared a lift in his hotel with William Randolph Hearst, the basis for the film’s fictional press baron. Welles offered Hearst a ticket to see the film, which was declined. Welles remarked:

“Kane would have accepted”.

Hearst got his revenge with a virulent press campaign, aided on the quiet by Hoover’s FBI. So the only Academy Award for the film was Best Screenplay. It did though win the New York Film Critics’ Award for Best Picture. And since then the film has enjoyed success after success. Moreover viewers and critics alike still discuss and argue over the film’s portrait and the famous single word in the opening scene.

A favourite term of praise for me is ‘panache’:

style – swagger – dashing manner

magnificence – brilliance – brazen exhibitionism

Welles had it by the bucketful, as does his most memorable film.

 

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