Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Citizen Kane Review

Witness for the Prosecution Review

Number 73 on top 1000 films of all time is what has been labelled by some as the greatest film of all time: Citizen Kane.

The movie opens with the newspaper mogul Charles Foster Kane dying and speaking the word rosebud.  The rest of the film is told in flashback as investigative journalist Jerry Thompson seeks out discover what "rosebud" means.  In his journey he speaks to Kane's second wife Susan Alexander Kane, his mentor and legal guardian Walter Parks Thatcher and his estranged best friend Jedediah Leland.

There's no denying that critics, film-makers and fans alike hold Citizen Kane in high regard.  It won Sight and Sound's best film ever for five decades running, it has 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen and Stanley Kubrick have all said it is one of the best films ever.  But the question is after 75 years does it still hold up to its reputation? I would argue it doesn't.  Of course it is unfair to compare Citizen Kane to modern-day films, but considering the influence that Citizen Kane have had over films and film-makers, it is difficult not to compare it.  Many of the things that made Citizen Kane so ground-breaking at the time of its release are nothing new to us now.  For example, its non-linear narrative is present in so many modern-day films such as Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction or Christopher Nolan's Memento.


Citizen Kane's narrative structure is repeated just three years later in Double Indemnity.  The main character is near death at the beginning of the film and the rest of the film explores how he reaches that stage.  Citizen Kane's complicated narrative with multiple character perspectives is present in Inception and the Matrix.  Whilst this isn't a criticism of the film itself, it definitely did hurt the viewing experience for me.  Everything that made this film so amazing for audiences and critics decades ago held no relevance for me as I've seen it before.


Bearing this in mind, how does Citizen Kane work as a film in its own right? I would say that I didn't particularly like it.  I read a review on IMDB that said Citizen Kane can be boring for a modern audience.  Maybe this is true for me.  Perhaps I have been desensitised by special effects and CGI, but Citizen Kane isn't the first pre-CGI film I've watched.  I've enjoyed films like 12 Angry MenThe Great Dictator and Sunset Boulevard for their interesting characters, subtle, understated writing and use of humour.


I found that Citizen Kane lacked this. Granted it did have little pockets of humans, like Kane abruptly firing Leland when he writes a negative review of Kane's actress wife, but the film was largely dull and unengaging.  Kane was an unlikeable character who very much bullies his way into power.  Not only this, but he bullies everyone around him.  Despite how his wife has no desire or talent for a singing/acting career.  Not only this but he confines her to her house where she is left bored out of her mind.  I also think that the film spent too much time around this subplot.  It wasn't particularly interesting and it slowed the pace of the film to a crawl.  This subplot could have been cut down and the film wouldn't have lost much.


In retrospect, I did really like the film's ending and finding out what "rosebud" is.  Rosebud is the name of the sleigh Kane was playing on as a child before he was adopted by Walter Parks Thatcher. This can be interpreted as a loss of innocence for Kane.  In the space of a few minutes, he is taken away from his family and everything that he knows and thrust into a strange and unfamiliar world.  To see him return to this image was touching and poignant.  It made me pity and sympathise with his character.


Overall I think this film is overrated.  I didn't enjoy it in comparison to modern-day films or as a film in its own right.  It might have been a technically brilliant film at the time of its release, but I don't think that it stands the test of time.

1 comment:

  1. I remember watching Citizen Kane years ago. I thought it overrated then.That was long before CGI or the use of non linear narrative. We were all expected to bow down before Welles, the great all american genius. To be fair Kane's character is based on Hurst, a newspaper tycoon, who was a bully, like many rich successful men are.