Plot – Following the death of publishing tycoon Charles Foster Kane, reporters scramble to uncover the meaning of his last utterance; ‘Rosebud’ – Citizen Kane.
Director – Orson Welles
Released – 1941
Given that this was Orson Welles’ first feature film, one in which he wrote, starred and directed, it must have come as somewhat of a surprise that Citizen Kane became one of the most important pieces of American cinema and probably become the first American filmmaker since the end of the silent era to fully show the possibilities of what a filmmaker could do and the capabilities of the camera. With Welles’ choosing to take the camera mobile rather than treating it as a static device used to merely show locations and faces, while also tinkering with the conventions of traditional film narrative to craft a film today is the norm, but at the time was groundbreaking.
Significant parallels were drawn between Kane and real-life media mogul William Hearst, with Welles’ presenting this powerful and complicated man to the audience as an enigma, convincingly portraying Kane over the decades, while never giving a full-bodied portrait of the man, showing only glimpses of his life through the stories of those that said they “knew him”.
And through these sometimes contradictory stories, you get a sense of how complicated this man was. Was he a Fascist, a Communist, a force for good or manipulating power to his advantage? We never truly know, and the meaning behind his last word ‘Rosebud’ is never discovered by the on-screen reporters or the audience. Did it have some deeper meaning behind it, or was it the crazy babbling of a dying man? We will never know.
Welles’ plays Kane in a way that’s never truly sympathetic, but wholly fascinating none the less. Seemingly lamenting the status and power that wealth he has inherited. His insistence that his first wife Susan Alexander trains as an opera singer feels cruel and shows his unwillingness to accept defeat, even if it means driving those who loved him away.
With only Hitchcock for company and at only 25 years old at the time, it’s clear for all to see that Orson Welles’ was far ahead of his time and Citizen Kane is a testament to that, this uncompromising, unsentimental drama wasn’t what most other filmmakers were producing but Citizen Kane not only stood the test of time for well over six decades, it now serves as a benchmark and source of inspiration to the film-makers young and old not afraid to try something new.