The Movie: Citizen Kane (1941)
One Sentence Plot Summary: Charles Foster Kane thinks he’s the voice of the people as a liberal, but he’s a megalomaniac who could never get over the fact he lost his “Rosebud.”
Why It’s on the List: I remember the AFI’s first version of the best 100 movies of all-time and being flabbergasted at the fact Citizen Kane, a movie I’d never even heard of, was number one. It took years afterward for me watch the darn movie on DVD, but I remember being absolutely blown away by so many aspects of the film. Honestly, even watching this again made me realize just how unique this movie truly is. Citizen Kane is a film ahead of its time. Seriously, go watch a bunch of movies from this time period, even some of the very best ones, and watch this. It’s a different universe. Then you put it within the context of even modern cinema, and it still feels wholly unto itself.
We start with the death of Charles Foster Kane as he utters his titular line. We see a newsreel summarizing his entire life. Then we slowly see people talking about Kane mixed with flashbacks told out of order. One of the best sequences is getting to see the deterioration of Charles and his wife’s marriage simply with them sitting at the dinner table. The fact that it climaxes (giggity) with Mrs. Kane reading a newspaper not owned by her husband is pitch perfect.
The meta-narrative of Orson Welles is almost as fascinating as the movie itself. Imagine creating this work of art at 26 and then trying to follow it up. Although he remains a famous pop culture figure who is also known for his radio version of War of the Worlds, he was never able to truly create something that impacted the history of cinema as this movie did. There’s a good reason for this to be considered the best of all-time. If I created a list of the best movies, then it’s likely this would be right up there. As is, it’s an extraordinary fake biopic. In fact, I almost wish some real biopics could go this route and have such a clear focus.
While so many movies of the time were about the stars and the banter, this film was about a singular man. There are some great quotes and some genuinely funny moments, but this is about a rich man who can never love anyone but himself. Maybe it goes back his awful family situation. Maybe being a capitalist was too much for him to overcome, but in the end, he died alone in his giant home. This is a fate that has seemingly been mirrored by real-life famous people.
I made the decision not to spoil what was Rosebud is because I think it’s worthwhile to see for yourself. It’s a moment that’s been referenced on shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy. What a lot of people know about this movie is the fact that it was number one on both AFI lists. It’s how I came to know this movie. Funny enough, a movie about a rich capitalist who thinks he can buy his way through life has taken on new relevance in recent weeks.
*Charles Foster Kane is an asshole, but the movie goes out of its way to point this out. For a movie made in 1941, the only major issue is the lack of female characters who have any sort of agency (and for that to be the only real problem is a miracle).
MVP and Best Performance: Orson Welles wrote, directed, and starred in this movie. Is there really another option?
Best Quote: “You know, Mr. Bernstein, if I hadn’t been very rich, I might have been a really great man.” – Charles Foster Kane
Is there a sequel? Hell no.