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Archive for February 2nd, 2011

“Citizen Kane”.

The words ring with some kind of eerie familiarity even though its memory has been blurred by the passing of 60 years to this day. But this acclaimed cinematic achievement is all but dead as its character and timelessness resonates to this day to give even the most demanding auteur a true treat, 60 years after its conception.

Ok. Enough with the fancy rhetoric. Auteur I may not be, but as a film enthusiast, I can confidently say that Orson Welles’ masterpiece definitely made an impression in me for its visceral style of storytelling. Citizen Kane may not be the most exciting film to watch in this day and age, but the crisp and defined visual presentation of this motion picture, with its strong performances gave me an idea as to why this movie was considered by many, including the prestigious American Film Institute and Robert Hanks of The Independent (who isn’t as awesome as the AFI, but needs to be cited for a valid class grade), as the best movie of all time.

Orson Welles directs and portrays the story of Charles Foster Kane; a rags to riches character who, from being purchased from his destitute parents at a very early age, forms a newspaper empire at the outset of yellow journalism. The story is rendered as a collection of memories of multiple characters. Some may argue that it was but a vivid mental image of the journalist Jerry Thomson, but the point is that it was portrayed as, technically speaking, a flashback. Thomson sets out to decode the mysterious last word of Charles Foster Kane; “Rosebud”, which remains as a mystery even after the conclusion of the movie. If you were I, you’d figure out that the word “Rosebud” was simply a plot device quite similar to the glowing briefcase in Pulp Fiction and the microfilm laden antique statuette in North by Northwest. In the process of deciphering the mystery of this last word, Thomson takes the viewer through the story of “Charlie” Kane who, starting his business with pure, virtuous intent, turns out to be a power hungry, all consuming monster of a man who successfully manages to alienate himself into a silent, dark corner in his world of riches.

A confident Charles Kane, just before he went bust

The movie was, as I mentioned earlier, of a very distinctive visual style, probably owing to its extensive use of deep focus cinematography. In fact, Citizen Kane was the pioneer of this technique of filming, and employed it to great effect throughout the film, connecting the viewer to all aspects of the images that played out during the story. The film entirely relies on the dialogue and exchanges of its characters, and was played out very effectively using its sharp dialogue and most importantly, the medium two shot, and an uncommon point of view shot pointing up from below the character. These elements combined together with the musical score, held the film’s tense overtone well and contributed heavily to the intensity of the interplay between the characters. The director also cleverly employs close up shots to create distinctive point of view images. The various moments where the shot cuts into a point of view showing a letter, and close up’s of faces occasionally to intensify the emotion of the moment, are effectively used in the continuation of the story. Montage editing can also be seen in many points of the movie such as the scene where all the newspapers in New York carries the headline of the “Traction Trust” being exposed in the beginning of the film, and Kane’s dialogue(s) with his first wife.

An element that deserves a special mention is the lighting. The movie’s dark undertone is mainly created through the effective balance of dark and light, and is well suited to its black and white medium as it creates, rightly, a very sinister feeling in the mind of the viewer. The film uses the effect of kick lights and creates a silhouette effect, especially when the image accommodates Thomson, the reporter (who, by the way, is hardly visible throughout the movie and constantly moves around in the shadows . . . Metaphor of some kind?). Fill lights with key lights that illuminate the faces of characters to build up emotion are also used to great effect. The lighting creates room for many interpretations of the images, and is especially relevant in the scene where Kane discloses his “declaration of principles” in the sinister shadow of his new office, possibly foreshadowing his imminent disaster.

All in all, Citizen Kane was a good movie. Like I mentioned in my North by Northwest post, movies such as these should be viewed with an awareness of historical context to be fully appreciated. Being a person who’s been watching old movies for a few years now, I’m glad that I finally managed to watch Citizen Kane and tick it off from my “to-watch” list.

Oh… And if you thought Orson Welles kinda looked like Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone from the Godfather, say aye!

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