Citizen Kane (1941)
Directed by Orson Welles

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * * ½

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After his death, the events of the life of Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles), a barely fictionalized version of newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst, are narrated by various persons who knew him to a reporter who is trying to discover the importance of the man's final word, "Rosebud."

Orson Welles' Citizen Kane is a technically impressive and generally well made film, but it is not deserving of the exaggerated praise it incessantly receives.

In fact, much of the inventive camera work and non-linear narrative for which the movie has been lauded serve little purpose other than showing off the skills and cleverness of the director and cinematographer. There are, for instance, numerous occasions on which this pair convey a given emotion by means of a complex technique when this same feeling could have been better conveyed by a subtle gesture or some other restrained device. This is not to say that these two do not deserve credit for their innovations, but such accomplishments, real though they are, are not, in themselves, sufficient to make a film a work of art.

Many scenes are, however, genuinely haunting and powerfully evocative. For example, that in which Kane stands on a podium before a huge poster of himself during a political rally brilliantly creates a sense of the character's megalomania, as well as of the stirring excitement of the events being portrayed. Other moments arouse in the viewer an awareness of the tycoon's self created isolation in his luxurious but gloomy world. Still others evoke other emotions.

The narrative style is frequently effective as well, but, just as often, it serves only to demonstrate the film makers' ability to piece together a structure different from that generally found in other movies from its time. Although they are frequently successful, and, as a whole, the film is usually engaging, it is certainly not the greatest achievement of cinema as a narrative art.

The framing story, that of the reporter interviewing the people who knew Kane, is particularly unsuccessful and could easily have been discarded. It is consistently forced and never interesting. Even without it, however, the film's narrative would be severely flawed. The events of Kane's life, which largely recapitulate those of the life of Hearst, are imbued by Welles with a sense of tragedy, but, at the same time, they are so tinged with sentimentality that much of the profundity of the character's experiences is lost. The story is simply too melodramatic and maudlin.

Citizen Kane is an impressive film, but it is burdened by a number of flaws few people seem to acknowledge. While it does stand out among the movies made in the same era and has exerted a considerable influence on cinema, when viewed on its own, without reference to such extrinsic elements, it is less than absolutely satisfying.

Review by Keith Allen

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