Making the Grades
When William Randolph Hearst (multimillionaire and media tycoon) got wind of what 25-year-old Orson Welles was creating at RKO's film studio, he feared his life was the inspiration for the main character. In response Hearst and his newspapers employed all their influence to try and stop Citizen Kane's 1941 release.
With RKO brow-beaten by Heart's response, Orson Welles had to threaten to sue the studio before his movie appeared on the silver screen. As writer, producer, director and lead actor, it could be argued that Welles also shared traits with the main character, Charles Foster Kane.
It is Kane's death that begins the story, sending a reporter (William Alland) to interview the closest associates of the multimillionaire and media tycoon in order to write a eulogy.
From their perspective we discover that after Kane's mother inherited a gold mine, she placed her money and young son in the care of a banker until his twenty-fifth birthday. Kane was cocky and aloof when he took control of the world's sixth largest personal fortune. Perhaps because he didn't work to earn it (or maybe out of spite for his guardian) the only asset in his portfolio of interest to him was a newspaper acquired in a foreclosure.
With money to burn, Kane builds his paper into a media empire, marries well, and runs for governor. As his self-importance grows (and he becomes entangled in an affair), he discovers pride is so expensive; he can't afford to have ethics. Yet no matter what price he is willing to pay, love still eludes him.
Although Citizen Kane has a lot to say, it is how it is said that makes it a masterpiece. Unfolding like a jigsaw puzzle--here a piece and there a piece, until a picture emerges--it introduced an out-of-sequence storyline to Hollywood movies. Exalting the camera from a recording device to an integral part of the storytelling, it pioneered such devices as shadow (to obscure or emphasize character's expressions), camera angles (to infer dominance), and montage sequences (to compress time). Considered revolutionary in cinema history, Citizen Kane helped define the art form of film.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Citizen Kane.
The reporter in the film was assigned to discover the meaning of Charles Foster Kane’s last spoken word—Rosebud. What do you think Rosebud represents?
Citizen Kane implies that there are some individuals with so much influence their opinion can become fact, start or stop wars, or get a candidate elected. William Randolph Hearst’s reaction to this movie demonstrated there really are people who can impose their views on the public. Who has that kind of power in our society today? Do we, as average citizens, sometimes facilitate these individuals to exercise control over us when we turn them into icons?
Francois Truffaunt (a critic, who later became a film director) claimed “everything that matters in cinema since 1940 has been influenced by Citizen Kane”. Have you seen any of the techniques introduced in Citizen Kane used in modern movies? (It might be a shorter list if you look for any that don’t!)
This new release of the classic heralded by many as “the greatest film ever made” provides plenty of features certain to increase the viewer’s understanding and appreciation of Orson Welles’ greatest claim to fame. Listening to the commentaries (one by Roger Ebert—Critic, and the other by Peter Bogdanovich—Orson Welles biographer) is akin to attending film school. The documentary on disc 2—The Battle Over Citizen Kane, produced for WGBH’s The American Experience—details the lives of both Welles and Hearst, and explains the disastrous results of this clash of two Titans.