Recently I have got into a mode of watching classic films from the 1950s and 1960s. With this new found interest in old movies, I decided to watch Citizen Kane and see what the fuss is all about. Reviewing an old movie is so much more difficult than reviewing a new one. While watching such classics, one really gets a feel of how far we have developed as an audience in our understanding of movies and how we accept things like colour, edits, music and special effects in recent films as standard filmmaking techniques that have always been there. It is hard to understand the importance of these classic films for the time they were made in and what they represented of and to the culture and lifestyle of those times.
Citizen Kane tells a timeless tale of a very popular, very rich businessman, his journey to fame and to his demise. The film constantly goes backwards and forwards in time and is narrated by different characters giving their perspective on Kane while relaying his biography. Despite the change in narration several times during the movie, Kane remains the central character and the audience is always engaged trying to figure out the mystery behind Kane’s last words ‘Rosebud’. The entire film has a melancholic undertone that points towards a tragic ending when the sad truth about ‘Rosebud’ is revealed.
What the film succeeds to do (and many contemporary films have failed at this) is to create interest and intrigue, if not empathy, for the rather unscrupulous character of Kane among the audience. This has meant that the film does not solely rely on the mystery of ‘Rosebud’ at the end but is also able to showcase the drama, the extravagance, and the characters of the Kane story with equal importance.
Needless to say, Welles plays the character of Kane brilliantly well. The makeup is so effective that I wondered if the old Kane was played by a different actor. The supporting characters are also given sufficient depth to create interest and are played well by the actors. The filmmaking style is inconsistent at times when the beginning of the movie seems to a haunted castle from a horror movie, transcending to mystery thriller with the death of Kane, then becoming a news story as shown on TV, changing into drama, then romantic drama, and finally a tragedy. But the transition from one style to another always remains smooth and the audience rarely realises these genre changes. The editing has been done in a way that explores different types of filmmaking techniques especially with the overlapping dialogue within the movie and the journalistic news story at the start of the movie. The script is undoubtedly well-written and has many popular dialogues that make this movie a classic. I wasn’t a big fan of the music. Perhaps I’m just used to soft background music rather than the loud abrupt one they had in the 1950s. Or perhaps this is one of those movies that you need to watch again to fully appreciate the importance and relevance of the background score. The film had many memorable scenes- my favourite ones being the scene where Kane says his last words, the scene when Kane’s first wife confronts him about his affair and the scene when Kane takes out his rage on Susan’s bedroom when she decides to leave him.
Overall, I found the movie very impressive as a film critic because the technical details of filmmaking are novel and flawless for the time. As an audience the film is memorable because of its narrative style and remarkable script. Definitely one of the must watch movies of all time.