Citizen Kane (1941)
Directed by Orson Welles
The American Film Institute’s greatest American film of all-time, Citizen Kane, is on my chopping block today. Never the one to hop on bandwagons (disregarding Titanic and Avatar), I will not give AFI any credit for their choice of the number one film. I’ll admit, I have never been a huge fan of old films. Anything before 1970 turned me off. But this year, as you can see by my reviews, I have begun to enjoy some of the classics, including Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Rear Window. Therefore, this 1941 film’s age is not the reason for my genuine distaste.
When newspaper tycoon Charlie “Citizen” Kane (Orson Welles as actor, director, and co-writer for the film) dies in old age, the world both mourns and rejoices at the loss. The news crews, forever changed by the fictional man’s work in the field, wanted a deeper twist to the story of his death. A fairly boring death, Kane uttered a single word, “Rosebud,” on his deathbed. The crew delved deep into the life, interviewing those who knew him and reading diaries of those who had passed before him. A life of tremendous gains and tremendous losses, Citizen Kane lived a remarkable life. But did they find the answers for which they searched? What…or who…was this Rosebud?
Hundreds of thousands of films have been made in America. AFI chose 100 top American movies. For reference, Shawshank Redemption—ranked number 1 by IMDb users (a list that Citizen Kane ranks 38th on)—is 72nd according to AFI. In their top 10, none were made after 1993. Only one was made after 1980. The first time a 21st century film (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) makes the list is at number 50. Silence of the Lambs, winner of Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay, is 74th. It’s one of only three movies to win the coveted “Big Five” Oscars, and it is 74th. Citizen Kane is number one. Citizen Kane wasn’t even good enough in 1941, losing Best Picture to How Green was My Valley (I’ve never even heard of that!). Now I’m sure the list has been met with its share of controversy, but it’s not enough. This movie is good, but not by any means is it the best American film of all-time, and I would love it if someone could offer me an explanation of why exactly it is regarded so highly.
The acting, script (which won the film’s only Oscar), directing, set design, and cinematography are good. Good…not great, not terrific, and certainly not number one. If you are a film aficionado, you owe it to yourself to see the movie. Everyone should, simply because it is regarded so highly. Due to the extremely high expectations set by AFI, it is difficult to watch this movie and point out where it succeeds. The script is great, especially for 1941. But it’s very hard to think this movie is good when AFI thinks it is number one. All of the movies I regarded so highly, diminished to 30s and 50s and 74. I take personal offence. For once, I can barely write a decent review of the film because I knew it was regarded as the best of all-time. Just watch it for yourself; everyone deserves to enter this debate.
EDIT: Eight years on, I’m offended that I didn’t understand what makes “Citizen Kane” one of the greatest films of all time. Updated rating: 9.5/10