Monday, June 17, 2013

Day 36 - Citizen Kane

I have never watched Citizen Kane. Given the film is widely considered by many to be the best in history, I probably put this event off for far too long. Sure, I have always been aware of its stature and importance in American cinema, but seeing Orson Welles' debut film was never high on my list of movies to watch. In fact, I have been so removed from the idea of watchingCitizen Kane that before today I knew nothing of the film beyond its fame and some basic plot elements. Based on that knowledge, there was nothing about the film that appealed to me. In my mind I figured there are plenty of stories out there about rich guys gone bust during the Great Depression, so why would I choose to sit through another film about an oft-rehashed scenario? Despite my perspective, I knew I would ultimately have to watch Citizen Kane at some point if I was to fully understand the film’s reputation. As a result, I decided to make the film the second of the 12 classic movies I intend to watch during my “I have never…” journey. With the end of June approaching quickly, tonight provided the perfect opportunity to follow through on that objective. So, after work today I grabbed a spot on my couch and prepared to see Citizen Kane for the very first time.

With my limited knowledge of its intricate details, I didn’t know what to expect when I first started watching Citizen Kane. After the first few minutes of the film I started to gain some perspective on how the plot would come together, but it still seemed a little disjointed and unsynchronized. I already knew the main character was dead and it appeared the storyline was building around a news agency’s morbid curiosity about his last words. Based on those factors, there was nothing about the plot that seemed to imply there was much of a story to be told. Undeterred by my initial thoughts, I continued watching with anticipation a more absolute plot would soon come together.

My intuition proved correct as the news agency reporter’s search for “Rosebud" brought him to the people closest to Charles Foster Kane. I watched as pieces of Charles Kane's life came together in random bursts of reflection from the minds of the people that cared the most about the man. With each story it became more apparent that Charles was unsettled in his life, searching for something no one, himself included, could fully understand. As the plot moved from the stories told by his work associate, to his best friend, to his ex-wife it became increasingly more apparent Charles Kane was an enigma of man, in relentless pursuit of knowing he was loved.

Political Pursuits
The plot of the film began to wrap around me as I took in the mastery of Orson Welles' cinematography. At times I felt hard to concentrate on on the building story of Charles Foster's life as scenes that were clearly revolutionary for their time unraveled before my eyes. Each frame reflected so clearly the emotion induced by the stories of joy, struggle, heartache, and success told by each person in Charles Kane's life. The words spoken by the characters told the story, but the scenes made the story come to life. With each passing moment, I became more and more aware of why Citizen Kane was credited with its position in the history of cinema. The story of Charles Kane's life building, I waited to find the meaning of "Rosebud" among the Charles Kane's endless pursuit of purpose in the things he built and stood for throughout his life.

Nearing the end
Eventually, with Charles Kane's age came an ultimate point of resolution. With the story of his life nearing completion, I wondered if anyone would ever find meaning in Charles' last word, "Rosebud." As the movie drew to a close around the unbelievable quantity of things Kane had acquired over his life, it was obvious the significance of this simple phrase was lost on the people closest to the man. I felt a sense of something left unfinished as the camera panned over the crates of Charles' belongings lining the floor of his palatial home. I ran through everything I saw in the film trying to make sense of "Rosebud" until the camera focused in on a small wooden sled resting atop the piles of debris cascaded across the camera frame. I recalled the sled was the same one that Charles held on the day his mother turned him over to his adopted father, Herbert Carter. The word "Rosebud" became clearly visible as a worker sorting through Charles' things picked up the sled and threw it into a furnace. The camera focused on the word intently as flames consumed the sled. In the seconds before the film ended it became clear Charles Kane, in all of his success and lofty pursuits, was only seeking the love he never had in his youth. A man of unimaginable success and power gained both only as a result of an effort to replace a mother's love. Suddenly, the meaning of the film hit me as the screen displayed the words "The end" in cursive writing. 

After seeing Citizen Kane I now understand why many people consider it to be the best film in history. The story of Charles Foster Kane's life, coupled with the revolutionary cinematography of Orson Welles, provides an experience unrivaled by any other film I have ever watched. The mystery and ultimate sense of purpose that come with Citizen Kane stand alone in the world of cinema. I know I have never seen anything like Citizen Kane before, and I doubt I will ever see another film that tells a comparable story. As a result, I'm glad I made Citizen Kane a part of my "I have never..." journey. The movie surprised me, and I feel better for it.

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