Citizen Kane

It's hard to write about a film as famous as Orson Welles' 1941 Citizen Kane. It's hard to join the discussion when so much has already been said about it. I had a professor who told us, when we were writing thesis papers, we had to read everything about our topic before we could even start join in on "the discussion". Unfortunately, I don't have the luxury of being able to read everything about Citizen Kane, and  I don't want to waste time summarizing it or explaining what everyone knows. Orson Welles! Deep focus! Ceilings! The breakfast table scene! It's been said. Why repeat it? We've all heard it, yes? I want to keep this more about my feelings about it, and more about my experiences with other people and the film.



A lot people I know don't enjoy this movie. Someone I dislike once said, in a room full of film majors, "I hated Citizen Kane. It had too much talking." We were all a bit silent. One of my friends said, "Well, you at least have to appreciate what it did for movies." This is true. There are people who hate Nirvana, or The Beatles, but you do have to at least acknowledge how influential they were to music. The difference is more people care about music than film history, or at least that has been my experience of it. Film history can be sort of boring, and hard to access for a lot of people. That's ok. It's not like I expect everyone to care about it. I am more curious why people are put off by this movie, in general, than why people don't care about film history.

 It's sort of an inaccessible plot for people my age. It's not as though any of us read newspapers anymore, or can really understand having a newspaper empire. Right now, it's sort of a total joke that anyone could make money in newspaper. We also all grew up hearing how amazing Citizen Kane is. "The best movie ever made!" Of course, this makes people go into with sort of strange expectations, and come out feeling disappointed. Anything that is hyped too much always suffers in this way. The things that are important to film history are so commonplace that it's not really exciting anymore. Lots of movies use deep focus and show ceilings. Cameras move through time and space freely now. Matte painting backgrounds are dull, because now we have CGI to do whatever we want with. Unless you have studied film history, which most people haven't (understandably), it's harder to get why this was such an important movie.

I told my friend Barry today that I was going to be watching Citizen Kane. "Blegh," he responded, as I expected. We started to talk a bit about the movie, though. He mentioned something really interesting about why people can't relate to it anymore. "Maybe we of the internet generation just don't really know what it feels like to be without a childhood, since we're simultaneously taken from it early, and perpetually endowed with it." People are forced to grow up earlier - we can go online and see every kind of sex, stupidity, hate, and crime possible. Yet, many of us exist watching cartoons and reading comics well into adulthood. We don't have to try, like Kane, to get back our childhoods. We can have them always, and it's ok. Kane lost his childhood and his innocence when his parents took it from him, and he mourns this loss. We, however, have ours taken away, but can exist childishly forever, so we don't mourn for what we don't have anymore. I think this is another reason why it's so difficult, I think, for people to relate to him anymore. 

So, this might be a stretch, but I can't stop thinking it. When The Social Network came out, a lot of critics started saying it was my generation's Citizen Kane. It had a similar themes but with characters we could relate to and understand. It's easier to get that you can become successful with a good idea for something on the internet (just look at stuff like Groupon - if you get a good enough idea, maybe Google will offer you six billion dollars). With The Social Network, you see selfishness and arrogance and someone who is too inept to connect socially, much like Kane, but in a way that makes more sense for a modern audience. However, because everyone said that The Social Network was like Citizen Kane in some way, a lot of people didn't go to see it. Most people just sat around posting on Facebook about how stupid a Facebook movie sounded. It's sort of sad, because film history aside, the plot in Citizen Kane is good, and updating those themes to fit a modern audience is a good idea. There is something deeply sad to see characters, like Kane or Zuckerberg, who simply cannot connect with other people for whatever reason. That's what makes a film moving and meaningful, so if we can't even start to relate to Kane, how can anyone see that? I feel like The Social Network can create, for modern audiences, the same feeling that Citizen Kane once created past audiences.

I know I haven't said a lot about Citizen Kane, but there isn't much left to say. I was curious why people my age dislike this movie, and I would rather write about that then re-tread why it is historically important. If you want to learn about Citizen Kane, I put some really great, informative links at the bottom that do a way better job talking about it than I could. I hope this was at least somewhat interesting!

Have any thoughts about Citizen Kane? Share them with me in the comments!




Links:
Ebert's Great Movie essay on Citizen Kane
Ebert's Companion to Citizen Kane - this explains better than I could everything that is important and interesting about the movie, and gives them historical context.
Trailer
Orson Welles' famous frozen pea commerical
Orson Welles attempting to do a champagne commercial

City Lights

Chinatown