CITIZEN KANE (1941) B/W 119m dir: Orson Welles
w/Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead, Dorothy Comingore, Ruth Warrick, Everett Sloane, George Coulouris, Ray Collins, Paul Stewart, Erskine Sanford, William Alland
Welles called RKO Studios, where he made his directorial debut, "the best toy train set a boy ever had," and CITIZEN KANE was the first outpouring of his playful enthusiasm for filmmaking. Decades later, many critics and scholars continue to call it the greatest American film ever made. Certainly, it remains unequaled for its dazzling cinematic inventiveness which fills every frame. Welles used little-known actors from New York's Mercury Theater to tell the story of the tumultuous personal and professional life of a newspaper magnate (not-so-loosely based on William Randolph Hearst, whose cronies tried to keep the film from release and who banned advertising for the film from his newspapers). From the opening shots to the last, Welles' genius, wit, imagination, and command of the medium make his first film not only a cinematic milestone but also superb entertainment.
From Georges Sadoul's Dictionary of Films: "Before making his first film Welles had carefully studied films preserved at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Although he took some of his techniques from these films, he refined them to a new and personal level: 'depth of field' (superbly used by photographer Gregg Toland), flashbacks showing the same man described differently by various witnesses who knew him, ceilings on the sets, low-angle shots and chiaroscuro photography.
"The most striking sequences: the 'actuality' montage in the style of a March of Time newsreel; Kane's childhood in a landscape of snow and a family boarding house run by his mother; the entrance of the turn-of-the-century chorus girls at the end of a banquet; Kane's election meetings held under his portrait, a hundred times life-size; his hard work on the newspaper; his married life falling into luxurious boredom; the voice lessons of his untalented mistress and her failure at the Opera (with a brilliant crane shot); the unreal, sonorous emptiness of Xanadu where the second Mrs. Kane works incessantly on gigantic jigsaw puzzles; the final scene after his death, showing Kane's accumulated treasures and junk in an immense warehouse.
"The essence of the film lies in its story, comparable to a great modern novel, and in its often expressionistic style. It studies Kane from every aspect, accentuating his egotism and his loneliness. Welles, who himself had some of Kane's characteristics, incarnated Kane and, despite some misuse of make-up, is an imposing presence who pushes all the other actors (including Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead, Everett Sloane) into the background.
"Well received by the critics and audiences in New York, the film was not understood by the public at large. Its commercial failure allowed the new officials at RKO to get rid of Welles. However, the film has continued to exert an enormous international influence and was included among the 12 Best Films of All Time at Brussels in 1958."
CITIZEN KANE won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay (Herman J. Mankiewicz, Welles) and was also nominated for eight additional Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Welles), Cinematography (Toland), Editing (Robert Wise), Score (Bernard Herrmann), Art Direction (Perry Ferguson, Van Nest Polglase, Al Fields, Darrell Silvera), and Sound (John Aalberg).